Friday, November 15, 2019

Raza in the Ozarks: The C.D. Wright Women's Conference

Melinda Palacio

Camille T. Dungy presented her keynote speech Friday evening

Last week, I brought my code-switching poetry to the C.D.Wright Women Writers Conference at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway. Before Bill Clinton's presidency, I admit I gave Arkansas very little thought. My poetry pal, Gina Ferrara, whom I've shared many a poetry stage with, asked if I would agree to read my poetry with her and Julie Kane, Poet Laureate Emerita of Louisiana. All of the conference presenters and most of the attendees with a handful of exceptions were women. I enjoyed the strong sense of female camaraderie, and visiting a state I had never been to was an added bonus.

Our panel and moderator

Early attendees grab a good seat.

Arkansas experiences autumn in its full bloom. I had only heard stories about the vibrant colors of autumn leaves and how one friend had to rake up all the leaves in their backyard and would jump into the pile before bagging them, a ritual repeated until winter. I felt like a kid as I stopped to photograph the leaves and gave my camera to Gina so that I could scoop up and handful of red, gold, and yellow confetti that I threw up in the air. I was in awe of the simple pleasure that I didn't have growing up in the inner city of South-Central Los Angeles.

Autumn wonderland at the University of Central Arkansa

The conference honors a poet of the Ozarks, C.D. Wright, who died in 2016 at age sixty-seven. She was the daughter of a judge and a court reporter and published over a dozen books. Her work has been labeled experimental, socially conscious, and elliptical. I find her poetry fascinating. She was married to the poet Forrest Gander and together they ran Lost Roads Press for over 20 years. The conference featured two keynote speakers: poet Camille T. Dungy and novelist Jami Attenberg who now lives in New Orleans. Readings, workshops, and a book fair were crammed into the two-day conference. I was surprised so many attended our panel and even more impressed by the large turnout of diverse women. The format is one to emulate: small, focused, and inclusive. The exciting thing about this conference is that the content always changes, unlike some conferences that keep the same workshop leaders year after year. The food was good, the goody bags packed with pen, paper, candy, a schedule, an eyeglass cloth, and a coaster.

The handful of leaves I packed in my folder are as vibrant as those fallen in the photo. 

One of the most useful sessions was Caitlin Hamilton Summie's 75-minute workshop: Shout about It: Promotion Basics for Writers. She emphasized knowing your market and being prepared to start promoting your book well in advance of its publication. The big take-away was if you have an idea for a book, start thinking of how you want to market it. Most writers don't want to think about the business side of writing. I've made the mistake of relying too much on my publisher to get the word out about my books. Thanks to this workshop, I will be better prepared to market my next book. I also had the chance to do some further research for my next novel as the road back involved stops along Route 66, the setting for the novel I am currently seeking representation for, fodder for what I hope will be a future La Bloga post.


The 36th Annual San Luis Obispo Poetry Festival
I will be reading, along with Luke Johnson, Jeanie Greensfelder, and Toni Wynn at the SLO Library, 996 Palm Street, San Luis Obispo
Sunday, November 17 at 1:30 pm

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