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The Philadelphia Writer's Conference

I spent the past three days (well, two and one half of them, anyhow) at the annual Philadelphia Writers Conference. It happens to be the oldest continuous-running writer's conference in the United States, I believe, and there's a reason it continues on from year to year.

It's because (a) it's great at getting quality faculty and (b) it's really, really reasonably priced.

Many of the hour-long sessions run all three days.
I signed on for the Humor & Blogging, one on the Heart & Craft of Memoir, and one on Authenticating Rhythm in Free Verse Poems.

Humor & Blogging turned out to be about writing humorous essays. The sessions were with Donna Cavanagh, who has taught at the Erma Bombeck humor conference and is the founder of Humor Outcasts: The Place to Take a Humor Break, which includes about a hundred writers, some of whom are newbies and everyday sorts of bloggers and some of whom are comics, writers for TV, and executive producers. The site is seriously funny, and Donna was entertaining but serious about her presentation, including concrete tips on how to craft a humorous essay. This isn't one, but I hope to get there eventually, or at least use some of the techniques in my other work. Donna is currently working on a book about humor writing, and I look forward to snagging a copy.

The memoir session was with Doris Ferleger, author of four memoirs (the fourth is coming out this fall). Doris is also a poet and a psychologist, which makes her that much more faceted and interesting, and she has spent a lot of time studying with Natalie Goldberg. Her exercises to get us into uncovering what we might want to write about was great, and the workshop focused more on the writing of a memoir than on technical structure. As a person who has not yet written any memoir, I found it excellent, and again, even if I don't write memoir-memoir, some of what we did will certainly help me in my poetry and other work.

Poetry in the afternoon was with Paul Martin, who has taught at a variety of colleges in the area. (I couldn't find a website for him, alas.) The focus was on different techniques used by poets to create rhythm within free verse, and his examples and explanations were terrific and have given me lots to work with going forward.

All of the above came with my conference tuition of $220. Plus there were other sessions of things available earlier and later in the day, and a couple of meals if I'd been inclined to pay and stay, which I wasn't, because I am trying to be a bit more protective of my energy levels and health these days. (With varying results, I should note. But I digress.) Had I wanted, I could have gotten a critique from each of the three teachers, but I didn't have a memoir piece to submit, and settled for two. That's right - two critiques, one in humor/blogging and one in poetry.

I also paid extra for a two-day Master Class in Poetry with noted poet A.V. Christie, who focused on "the poem as a field of action", a concept taken from the rather obtuse essay written by William Carlos Williams that I referenced the other day. Thankfully, (a) we weren't quizzed on it and (b) I had gotten the salient points correct. It was an examination of tactics and techniques used by poets to drive the action of the poem throughout, and it was brilliant. A.V. also had us bring in a short poem, which she took home and critiqued as well. (Total critiques, if you're counting, now three.)

There are also contests (which come with prize money), but no prizes were given in poetry this year, and it was the only category I submitted to. There were also agent and editor pitch sessions (you could sign up for several if you wanted, but I didn't because none of them were into poetry or children's books). And the other faculty members were brilliant. One of them was Judy Schachner, author of the Skippyjon Jones series - she was talking about strength of character. Another was Gregory Frost, with whom I've studied (and been on a panel) before. He is amazing when talking about science fiction, fantasy, or short stories. (Short stories was his gig this time.)

I'm only sorry that I couldn't stay for the afternoon sessions yesterday, but my sweetheart and I had to drive to Maryland for a 5:30 p.m. birthday party for his cousin, and hey - cousin Sam is only going to turn 75 once, right? Right.

To sum up: Great time. Learned lots. Great value. Highly recommended. And now, I need sleep.




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