Indiana Daily Student

Black Voices: IU Writers’ Conference helps transform writers of all backgrounds

<p>Participants of a previous<strong> </strong>IU Writers’ Conference engage in conference activities. The IU Writers&#x27; conference will run virtually from June 3 -6.  </p>

Participants of a previous IU Writers’ Conference engage in conference activities. The IU Writers' conference will run virtually from June 3 -6.

The IU Writers’ Conference aimed to help Bloomington writers improve their craft for the past 81 years and is the second oldest continually-operating writers conference in the U.S., according to its website.

The conference helps Bloomington high school and IU writers improve their ability to tell stories by having seasoned writers come and lead workshops, associate director L. Renée said.

L. Renée said the conference is a right of passage for writers everywhere. 

“There is this tradition in the literary community of writers in the summer going to workshops and conferences where they may be able to meet other writers, build their own literary community and circles where they receive instruction on craft techniques to employ in their own work,” L. Renée said.

This year, the conference will be virtual and will run from June 3-6. The conference is open to anyone with a passion for writing. The cost of attendance this year is $475.00 which includes all classes, panels, readings and special anniversary events. 

L. Renée said there is no requirement for attendees to have ever published a written piece before. 

“We just accept people who pay in full until the workshop reaches its cap. This is a benefit for writers at all different levels,” L. Renée said.  

The conference offers four scholarships in order to ensure Bloomington South and IU students of various backgrounds are able to participate.

A list of scholarships available include the Don Belton Fellowship, which is awarded to people of color who wish to participate in the conference, according to its website. 

The deadline to apply for scholarships is March 15th, and recipients will be notified early April. 

Bob Bledsoe, director of the IU Writers’ Conference, said the conference has been making strides in the field of diversity, equity and inclusion. 

“As I took over from the previous director, I understood she had an awareness of maintaining a diverse faculty,” Bledsoe said. “I was aware of her commitment to representing a diverse faculty that would attract a diverse population of participants, whether that be writers of color or queer writers.”

Bledsoe said during this process, participants experience major breakthroughs. 

“I experience these breakthroughs with conference participants all the time, ” Bledsoe said. “I see them nervous and unsure at the beginning of the week and notice them grow. This experience is brief, but is also rather intense.”

Among the conference's diverse group of faculty members, 26 have won Pulitzer Prizes, including world renowned poet Gwendolyn Brooks

This year the conference will feature two phenomenal Black writers, including ZZ Packer, a fiction writer, and poet Tiana Clark, L. Renée said.

“We have people on our faculty who are Black writers, and writers on the team putting the conference on who are also Black,” L. Renée said.“We also have other writers of color, including Hannah Bae and Shawna Ayoub.”

Poet and non-fiction writer Lydia Johnson, who participated in the conference in summer 2017, said it was the first time she had multiple Black women attend a poetry workshop with her. 

“There were a number of Black women poets attending the conference when I was there in 2017,” Johnson said. “Connecting with these Black women poets, sharing our work and our experiences was something I didn’t realize I needed until I had it.”

The IUWC has been a life-changing experience, Johnson said. The conference had a major impact on her life and led to significant connections with people she still interacts with today, she said

“IUWC provided me with connections that led to friendships I value to this day,” Johnson said. “I cherish the community of writers I met in the poetry workshops.”

This conference has been a space for people of color to increase representation within the field, according to L. Renée.

“Looking at the history of IUWC, the conference has included writers of color very much in its recent years,” L. Renée said. “It has prioritized the diversity of voices in the literary community.”

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