Tuesday, May 27, 2008

10 inspiring places to write

School may be out, but summer reading is always in. So enjoy this vacation season by visiting literary gatherings "held in some of America's most desirable destinations and offering a chance to hear an array of our finest living authors talk about their craft," says Pam Houston, author of Sight Hound and Cowboys Are My Weakness and director of creative writing at the University of California-Davis. "Reading and writing are solitary pursuits, so it's rewarding to be with people who share your passion." Here, she talks with USA TODAY's Shawn Sell about inspiring literary events.

Aspen Summer Words Writing Retreat and Literary Festival
Aspen, Colo.

"The Sundance Film Festival of literary publishing, held Sunday through Thursday, is on the verge of celebrating its 30th anniversary," Houston says. It brings together "first-rate writers, some of the brightest lights from New York's publishing community, in a town that has been among the writer-friendliest since Hunter Thompson showed up a half-century ago."970-925-3122; aspenwriters.org

Fine Arts Work Center
Provincetown, Mass.

From Sunday through Aug. 28, "the party goes on all summer long with week-long and weekend classes in the daytime and open-to-the-public readings in Stanley Kunitz's Reading Room nearly every night," Houston says. "The Fine Arts Work Center is the oldest continuous art colony in the country, where writers and visual artists compare notes in one of the most accepting and inspiring locales on Earth." 508-487-9960; fawc.org

Iowa Summer Writing Festival
Iowa City

"Even the sidewalks bear the names of literary artists here," Houston says. "Along the Iowa Avenue Literary Walk, bronze panels celebrate the voices that have come together at the renowned Iowa Writers Workshop, now until July 29, from Flannery O'Conner and Kurt Vonnegut to John Irving and James Tate." 319-335-4160;www.continuetolearn.uiowa.edu/iswfest

Sewanee Writers' Conference
Sewanee, Tenn.

"Tennessee Williams specified in his will that a memorial fund be established to encourage creative writing, and many years later his wishes are carried out each July," Houston says. "This year's gathering, July 12-24 on the idyllic mountaintop campus of the University of the South, features up-and-comers alongside the tried and true." 931-598-1654;www.sewaneewriters.org

Centrum's Port Townsend Writers Conference
Port Townsend, Wash.

"Held each year in this beautiful town, Centrum hosts the most impressive summer literary gathering (July 14-24) in the Northwest," Houston says. "Michael Collins, Michelle Cliff and Kim Addonizio head this year's list of faculty, in a town that Ray Carver and Tess Gallagher put on the literary map." 360-385-3102; centrum.org/index.php?page=WC-intro

Taos Summer Writers' Conference
Taos, N.M.

"Held July 9-15 in a charmingly weathered adobe inn, this conference feels like a family reunion, as everyone catches the relaxed spirit of the desert that has been inspiring artists in northern New Mexico for years," Houston says. "In addition to the readings, panels and lectures, members of the Taos Pueblo bring dance, drumming and song to the banquets, a paradise of spicy New Mexican food." 505-277-5572; www.unm.edu/taosconf

Squaw Valley Community of Writers
Squaw Valley, Calif.

"If you like your literature mixed with mountain hikes, bungee jumping and a swim in the blue waters of Lake Tahoe, this event offers poetry (July 23-30) and fiction, non-fiction, memoir and screenwriting (Aug. 6-13), along with inspiring scenery," Houston says. "Morning classes are followed by afternoon panels and evening readings by writers including Robert Hass, Dorothy Allison, and Sharon Olds." 530-470-8440; squawvalleywriters.org

Bread Loaf Writers' Conference
Middlebury, Vt.

"The granddaddy of all literary gatherings, Bread Loaf is in its 80th year of bringing writers, students and lovers of words together in the Green Mountains of Vermont, from Aug. 17 to 28," Houston says. "There is nowhere in America where you can hear more great writers reading more great work in such a short space of time." 802-443-5286;middlebury.edu/academics/blwc

Maui Writers' Retreat/Conference
Maui, Hawaii

"If you are a fan of genre writing (mysteries, thrillers, romances, science fiction) but want a little mainstream literature thrown in, then this is the gathering for you, held Aug. 26-Sept. 5," Houston says. "More commercially driven than the others — agents and editors come here to sign up writers — and significantly less highbrow." 888-974-8373;mauiwriters.com

Tomales Bay Workshops
Marshall, Calif.

"New on the scene but promising to be very special, these workshops will close out the summer season, Oct. 19-24, just when the weather turns perfect on the Northern California coast," Houston says. Workshops "promise writers such as Richard Bausch, Kim Barnes and Brady Udall. Participants can let the drama of the Pacific Coast inspire them." 530-757-8753; extension.ucdavis.edu/arts/index.asp

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