UND’s 45th annual Writers Conference returns April 2-4 with three-time U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky


Amy Halvorson

Document Type

News Article

Publication Date


Campus Unit

College of Arts & Sciences


The 45th Annual University of North Dakota Writers Conference , "Imagine: A Literary Festival on the Prairie" is set to take place April 2-4, featuring authors such as three-time United States Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky and UND alumnus Brian Maxwell.

Each year, literature lovers from all over North Dakota and beyond attend this event to listen to panel discussions, readings and ask questions of internationally prominent authors.

Joining Pinsky and Maxwell on this this year's lineup of authors are Jessica Lott, Geoff Dyer, Sarah Leavitt and Colson Whitehead.

Lott, Dyer, Leavitt, Maxwell and Whitehead are slated to present readings during the conference, which is set to take place in the North Dakota Museum of Art, with time reserved for audience members to ask questions. Book signings are scheduled to follow each of the readings.

In addition to the author readings, the Writers Conference will have three panel discussions, where a group of authors answer questions posed by a moderator and those submitted by the audience.

There is no need to be familiar with an author's work prior to the session. People who are interested in brushing up on a particular author can refer to the official 2014 Writers Conference reading list.

There will be public readings scheduled at 10 a.m. each day as well. And on April 2 and 4, event organizers will present retrospective films about past Writers Conferences.

Also, on April 3, there will be a performance by Pinsky and the UND Jazz Ensemble at 8 p.m.

All Writers Conference sessions are free to attend and open to the public and will take place at the Museum of Art unless specified otherwise on the schedule.

Wednesday, April 2:

Noon, Panel Discussion, "Muddy Waters: Literature and Culture" with Geoff Dyer, Jessica Lott and Sarah Leavitt. Moderator: Joel Jonientz

  • 4 p.m., Jessica Lott, author reading
  • 6 p.m., Film, "UND Writers Conference Flashback: 1970s"
  • 8 p.m., Geoff Dyer, author reading

Thursday, April 3:

Noon, Panel Discussion, "Literature, Art, and All that Jazz" with Robert Pinsky, Geoff Dyer, Sarah Leavitt and Brian Maxwell. Moderator: Lauren Reuter.

  • 4 p.m., Sarah Leavitt, author reading
  • 6:30 p.m., Voices of the Valley
  • 8 p.m., performances by Robert Pinsky and the UND Jazz Ensemble

Friday, April 4:

Noon, Panel Discussion, "Standin' at the Crossroads: Literature" with Colson Whitehead, Robert Pinsky, Jessica Lott and Brian Maxwell. Moderator: Eric Wolfe.

  • 4 p.m., Brian Maxwell, author reading
  • 6 p.m., Film, "UND Writers Conference Flashback: 1980s"
  • 8 p.m., Colson Whitehead, author reading

About the Writers Conference authors:

Robert Pinsky

Pinsky's first two terms as United States Poet Laureate were marked by such visible dynamism, and such national enthusiasm in response, that the Library of Congress appointed him to an unprecedented third term. Throughout his career, Pinsky has been dedicated to identifying and invigorating poetry's place in the world.

As Poet Laureate, Pinsky founded the Favorite Poem Project, in which thousands of Americans — of varying backgrounds, all ages, and from every state — shared their favorite poems. Pinsky believed that, contrary to stereotype, poetry had a vigorous presence in the American cultural landscape. The project documents that presence, giving voice to the American audience for poetry. The anthology Americans' Favorite Poems, which includes letters from project participants, is in its 18th printing. The most recent anthology, An Invitation to Poetry, comes with a DVD featuring 27 of the FPP video segments, as seen on PBS. In April 2009, WW Norton published Essential Pleasures: A New Anthology of Poems to Read Aloud.

Elegant and tough, vividly imaginative, Pinsky's poems have earned praise for their wild musical energy and ambitious range. Selected Poems, (spring 2011) is his most recent volume of poetry. His The Figured Wheel: New and Collected Poems 1966-1996 was a Pulitzer Prize nominee and received the Lenore Marshall Award and the Ambassador Book Award of the English Speaking Union.

Pinsky's Tanner Lectures at Princeton University were published as Democracy, Culture and the Voice of Poetry (Princeton University Press, 2002). His other books about poetry include Poetry and the World, nominated for the National Book Critics' Circle Award, and The Sounds of Poetry, a brief guide treasured by many young poets.

Pinsky's landmark, best-selling translation of The Inferno of Dante received the Los Angeles Times Book Award in poetry and the Howard Morton Landon Prize for translation. He is also co-translator of The Separate Notebooks, poems by Nobel Prize winner Czeslaw Milosz (Milosz was a featured author at the 1983 UND Writers Conference. A video clip of his reading can be found at http://library.und.edu/digital/writers-conference/1983/). Pinsky's prose book, The Life of David, is a lively retelling and examination of the David stories, narrating a wealth of legend as well as scripture. Pinsky also wrote the libretto for Tod Machover's opera Death and the Powers: A Robot Pageant, which premiered in Monaco in fall 2010. His book, Selected Poems, was published by Farrar Strauss & Giroux in spring of 2011. Pinsky's newest book is Singing School: Learning to Write (and Read) Poetry by Studying with the Masters. He is also editing The Best of the Best American Poetry, the twenty-fifth volume of the popular Best American Poetry series. In March – June 2013, the Shakespeare Theatre Company performed a newly commissioned adaptation and translation of Friedrich Schiller's Wallenstein by Pinsky. His newest project is a devised a collaborative program which showcases his two great passions: poetry and jazz. This offering is titled Poem Jazz and presents the human voice -- the reading and performance of poems – along with a variety of jazz musical improvisations.

Pinsky appears regularly on The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, and publishes frequently in magazines such as The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, The Three penny Review, American Poetry Review, and The Best American Poetry anthologies. He teaches in the graduate writing program at Boston University. Pinsky is also the winner of the PEN/Voelcker Award, the William Carlos Williams Prize, the Lenore Marshall, the National Foundation for Jewish Culture's 2006 Jewish Cultural Achievement Award in Literary Arts, and the 2008 Theodore M. Roethke Memorial Poetry Award. He is one of the few members of the American Academy of Arts and Letters to have appeared on "The Simpsons."

Colson Whitehead

Whitehead is one of America's greatest young writers. His novels and essays tackle the questions of race, class, and commercial culture with candor and wit. He has been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and a recipient of several awards including the Whiting Writers' Award and the MacArthur "Genius" Award. Esquire magazine has called him "the coolest writer in America" and more than 116,000 people follow him on Twitter.

Born in New York City in 1969, Colson graduated from Harvard College in 1991. After graduation he went to work as a popular culture critic for The Village Voice writing television, book and movie reviews. It was during this time that he honed his writing skills and began drafting his first novels. The Village Voice has since described Colson as "a scientist of metropolitan encounters."

Colson is the author of six books. His first novel, The Intuitionist, was published in 1998 and was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award. According to Time it's the "freshest racial allegory since Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man" and GQ named it one of the "novels of the millennium." John Henry Days, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award, was published in 2001 and his non-fiction homage to New York, The Colossus of New York, was published in 2003. His most recent novel Zone One was published in October 2011. The Washington Post described this latest bestseller as "a zombie story with brains" and The New York Times selected it as an Editor's Pick calling it "cool" and "thoughtful."

Colson's reviews, essays, and fiction have appeared in a great many publications, such as The New York Times, The New Yorker, Harper's and Granta. He has spoken across the country and has taught courses at several universities including Columbia, Princeton and the University of Houston. He lives with his daughter in Brooklyn, New York.

Jessica Lott

Lott is a New York City–based fiction and arts writer. Her first novel, The Rest of Us, is now out from Simon & Schuster and garnering rave reviews from NPR "Fresh Air," The Chicago Tribune, The Boston Globe, The Daily Beast and elsewhere.

Her novella Osin won the Novella Award from Low Fidelity Press, judged by Aimee Bender. In addition to Osin, she has published short fiction, essays, and art reviews in the U.S. and internationally, including the New York Times , frieze and The Modern Spectator ; her art criticism won the Arts Writer's Prize from the Frieze Foundation in London, and has been translated into Spanish. She holds an MA in Creative Writing (Fiction) from Boston University, where she won the Graduate Fiction Award, and an MA in English and American Literature from Washington University in St. Louis. She was an editorial advisor for the opening of The Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum, the first of its kind in the U.S., and was on the selection panel for Feminism Now, a symposium on contemporary feminist art scholarship; she has been a Solomon Resident in Art Criticism with the Tang Museum at Skidmore College, and is currently on the advisory board for With Food in Mind as well as several art nonprofits in New York.

Lott has taught writing at universities and workshops and edits and consults on art catalogues for the New Museum, The Studio Museum in Harlem, Joan Mitchell/CUE Foundation, Philbrook Museum, and Brooklyn Museum. She writes a monthly column, "Alchemy of Inspiration," for PBS: Art21.

Sarah Leavitt

Leavitt's first book, Tangles: A Story About Alzheimer's, My Mother, and Me, a graphic memoir, has been published in Canada, the U.S., U.K., and Germany to international critical acclaim (LA Times, Vanity Fair, Globe and Mail, The Guardian). Her prose and comics have appeared in anthologies, magazines and newspapers in Canada, the U.S. and the U.K.

Leavitt holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia, but is largely self-taught as an artist and cartoonist. She has taught workshops, developed an introductory university course on comics, and read from her work at numerous festivals.

Leavitt is currently working on her next book, a graphic novel set in mid-nineteenth-century British Columbia.

Brian Maxwell

Maxwell is a Florida-based writer, particularly interested in the short story form. His fiction has appeared in Fugue, Evansville Review, Louisville Review, The Beloit Fiction Journal, Rio Grande Review, 580 Split, 2 Bridges Review, Sierra Nevada Review and elsewhere.

His story, "Listen as the Bells," was translated into Italian and included in the anthology, Orbite Vuote, published by Intermezzi Press, and his book reviews have appeared in the North Dakota Quarterly.

Maxwell has an MFA (Fiction) from Eastern Washington University, and a Ph.D. in Creative Writing from UND, where he won the John Little Prize in Fiction and the Thomas McGrath Prize for Poetry.

While at UND, he was also twice awarded the Henry and Mary Doak Scholarship for Excellence in Writing and nominated for the Best New American Voices series. Maxwell currently resides along the Space Coast in Florida, where he is an assistant professor at Eastern Florida State College.

Geoff Dyer

Dyer was born in Cheltenham, England, in 1958. He was educated at the local Grammar School and Corpus Christi College, Oxford. Geoff lives in London.

He is the author of four novels: Paris Trance, The Search, The Colour of Memory, and Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi; a critical study of John Berger, Ways of Telling; two collections of essays, Anglo-English Attitudes and Working the Room; and six genre-defying titles: But Beautiful, The Missing of the Somme, Out of Sheer Rage, Yoga For People Who Can't Be Bothered To Do It, The Ongoing Moment and Zona, about Andrei Tarkovsky's film Stalker. He is the editor of John Berger: Selected Essays and co-editor, with Margaret Sartor, of What Was True: The Photographs and Notebooks of William Gedney.

A selection of essays from Anglo-English Attitudes and Working the Room, titled Otherwise Known as the Human Condition, was published in the United State on April 2011 and won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism.

He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and is currently a visiting professor at Columbia University in New York.

A new book by Dyer will be published in the U.S. and U.K. in May: Another Great Day at Sea: Life Aboard the U.S.S. George H.W. Bush (Pantheon, U.S.; Visual Editions, U.K.).

Community Writers Workshops:

This year's Writers Conference organizers are pleased to offer three Community Writers Workshops. The workshops are limited to no more than 20 participants.

For additional information about the Fiction workshop please register online at http://und.edu/orgs/writers-conference/current-conference/wc-writing-workshop.cfm. Registration is based on a first come, first serve basis.

All workshops will be held in Merrifield Hall, room 121.

  • Wednesday, April 2, 2 p.m., poetry workshop
  • Thursday, April 3, 2 p.m., fiction workshop
  • Friday, April 4, 2 p.m., creative non-fiction workshop

Conference background:

While the English Department traces its roots to the very founding of the University in 1883, the Writers Conference only began in 1970. Founded by the late Professor John Little, the conference had a modest beginning with the Southern Writers Conference of the Arts. Funded by the College of Arts and Sciences as well as by some of the visiting writers themselves, the conference was so successful that it became an annual event, almost immediately.

Though the conference quickly had university wide appeal and, since the mid Seventies, significant attendance from the community and region, it has always been organized by faculty, staff, and students of the English Department. In more recent years it has become known nationwide as one of the most distinctive conferences of its kind, in part because it remains free and open to the public, probably the only way it could function.

Financial support for the conference has always come from a variety of sources, depending on a particular conference topic or other factors in shifting personnel and circumstances at the university. Historically, the steadiest support has been from student organizations, the President's office, the Provost's Office, and grants from outside agencies, as well as donations from alumni and other individuals. This year, the College of Arts & Sciences has generously provided the majority of the funds necessary to run the Conference. The UND Writers Conference is also actively working to grow various endowments, managed by the UND Alumni Foundation, to ensure that the UND Writers Conference will continue in the future and is planning fundraising events with that goal in mind.

UND Writers Conference Digital Collection:

The UND Writers Conference Digital Collection is also available online. This collection currently has about 112 hours of past conference footage freely available online, including footage from the past eleven years, so that anyone with an internet connection can watch.