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Write back at it

MONTE DRAPER | BEMIDJI PIONEER Novelist Ron Carlson, the distinguished visiting writer at this week's Minnesota Northwoods Writers Conference at Bemidji State University, addresses about 50 writers Monday afternoon as he discusses his craft.

BEMIDJI -- The Minnesota Northwoods Writers Conference has returned.

After taking a hiatus in 2008, the writers conference was resurrected this week as nearly 50 students and aspiring writers from across the country convened on the Bemidji State University campus to work with visiting faculty members.

"There's a real tradition of the community writing conference," said Ron Carlson, this year's distinguished visiting writer. "It wakens people up to the importance of literature and also wakens them to the elements, the key elements of craft for their own work."

Carlson, an award-winning novelist, short story writer and poet, whose latest novel, "Return to Oakgrove," was published Monday, led a two-hour discussion with conference registrants Monday afternoon and then gave a public reading on campus.

The director of the graduate program in fiction at the University of California, Irvine, Carlson

has won an NEA Fellowship, the Cohen Prize, the Tim McGinnis Award, and the Aspen Literary Award. His 2008 novel, "Five Skies," was named One Book Rhode Island in 2009.

"I'm a teacher," Carlson told the Pioneer. "I'm one of these guys who wanted to teach and wanted to write. I got to do what I wanted to do. I feel lucky.

Forty-seven people registered for this year's Northwoods Writers Conference, including 22-year-old Sean DesVignes, who came to Minnesota for the first time from Brooklyn, N.Y., having heard of the conference through visiting faculty member Jericho Brown, an assistant professor at Emory University. Brown won the American Book Award in 2008 for his first book, "Please."

DesVignes, not yet published but named best rookie at the 2013 College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational, had hoped through the Northwoods Writers Conference to work with visiting professor Camille Dungy, professor of creative writing at San Francisco State University who has won an American Book Award, two Northern California Book Awards and a California Book Award silver medal.

But Dungy's poetry conference was already full, so DesVignes instead is working with Brown in the novice poetry workshop as he prepares for a Master of Fine Arts program.

"I just wanted to experience something close to that," he said.

Poet Alex Egertsen, whose collection of about 80 poems, "Flames of a Phoenix: Tears of the Past," was published in 2011, decided to come to Bemidji from Laurens, Iowa, for the writers conference because he has a friend with a lakehome nearby.

"I just wanted to see what more I could do, what I haven't learned," he said. "My passion has always been writing."

About the conference

The Minnesota Northwoods Writers Conference, which began Sunday and concludes Thursday, went on hiatus in 2008 following the retirement of Susan Carol Hauser, who in 2003 co-founded the event with fellow BSU professor Rose Weaver, according to Sean Hill, the new conference director.

Hill, who had been involved with the event from 2004 until 2008, was serving as an adjunct BSU professor in spring 2012 when he was asked if he would be interested in restarting the conference.

"It is exciting," he said of the conference's return.

This year, the 47 attendees are registered in one of five weeklong workshops: creative nonfiction, fiction, poetry, novice poetry, and literary translation. Each workshop is led by a successful, visiting faculty member.

"We seek them out," Hill said. "We look for faculty that are both teachers and writers."

Joni Tevis leads the creative nonfiction workshop. An instructor of literature and creative writing at Furman University, Tevis is the author of "The Wet Collection: A Field Guide to Iridescence and Memory," a finalist for the Minnesota Book Award.

Leading the fiction workshop is Danielle Evans, a literature and creative writing instructor at American University whose first book, "Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self," won several awards, including the 2011 Paterson Prize for Fiction and 2011 Hurston-Wright award for fiction.

Dungy, professor of creative writing at San Francisco State University, leads the the poetry workshop. The author of "Smith Blue," "Suck on the Marrow" and "What to Eat, What to Drink, What to Leave for Poison," she has won an American Book Award, two Northern California Book Awards and a California Book Award silver medal.

Brown is leading the novice poetry workshop. Brown, the assistant professor at Emory University, won the American Book Award in 2008 for his first book, "Please." His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in journals and anthologies such as "The American Poetry Review" and "The New Yorker."

Leading the literary translation workshop is Geoffrey Brock, an instructor in creative writing and translation at the University of Arkansas. His first collection of poetry, "Weighing Light" won the New Criterion Poetry Prize. His poetry has been featured in several anthologies, including "Best American Poetry 2007."

Visiting faculty participating in the Minnesota Northwoods Writers Conference will perform public readings this week on the Bemidji State University campus.

Readings, to be held in the lower Hobson Memorial Union, will feature:

• Tonight, Joni Tevis, 7:30 p.m.

• Wednesday, a double-header featuring Geoffrey Brock and Danielle Evans, 6:30 p.m.

• Thursday, Jericho Brown, 7:30 p.m.