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Literary award winners take on human-animal connections at Annual UND Writers Conference this week

Posted on 3/28/2012

Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Jane Smiley headlines another stellar group of literary laureates this week at the University of North Dakota's 43rd Annual Writers Conference, which has been bringing legends of pen and verse, such as William S. Burroughs, Alex Haley, N. Scott Momaday and Salman Rushdie, to the Red River Valley since 1970.

The theme of this year's conference is "Humanimal," a scholarly investigation of the connections and interactions between humans and the animal world. The Conference began Tuesday and will hold events on campus through March 31. Unless otherwise noted, all Writers Conference readings and panels will take place in the Memorial Union Ballroom. Films will be show in the Memorial Union Lecture Bowl. All events are free and open to the public.

Smiley, who hails from Los Angeles, grew up in St. Louis and now raises horses in northern California, will be the featured guest of a Great Conversation at 8 p.m., Friday, at the Chester Fritz Auditorium, with moderator Sally Pyle, director of UND's Honors program. Smiley also will participate in a panel discussion the same day at noon, with fellow authors Mark Doty, Pam Houston, Brenda Miller and Lee Ann Roripaugh. Colleen Berry, a professor in the UND languages department, will moderate.

Smiley is the author of numerous novels including The Age of Grief, The Greenlanders, Ordinary Love and Good Will, A Thousand Acres, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992, Moo, Horse Heaven, Good Faith, Ten Days in the Hills, and the young adult novel, The Georges and the Jewels, as well as many essays for such magazines as Vogue, The New Yorker, Practical Horseman, Harper's, The New York Times Magazine, Allure, The Nation and others. She has written on politics, farming, horse training, child-rearing, literature, impulse buying, getting dressed, Barbie and marriage. She is also the author of nonfiction books A Year at the Races and Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel. In 2001, she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters and in 2006, she received the PEN?USA Lifetime Achievement Award for Literature.

Another featured authors at this year's event include Houston whose short stories have been selected for volumes of Best American Short Stories, Best American Short Stories of the Century, The O. Henry Awards and The Pushcart Prize. She also is the winner of the Western States Book Award, the WILLA award for contemporary fiction, The Evil Companions Literary Award and multiple teaching awards.

She Currently serves as director of creative writing at the University of California-Davis.

Here is a link to the other feature authors at this year's Writers Conference, including former Grand Forks resident Aaron Poochigian:

Film Festival:
Each year authors at the UND Writers Conference are invited to select films that have influenced their work or have a special connection to the year's theme. All films will be shown in the Lecture Bowl, located on the second floor of the UND Memorial Union (Room 204). Film choices this year include The Birds (Alfred Hitchcock, 1963), selected by Poochigian; Project Nim, selected by Hal Herzog; and Wendy and Lucy, selected by Brenda Miller. Film festival showings:

About the UND Writers Conference:
While the English Department traces its roots to the very founding of the University in 1883, the Writers Conference only began in 1970. Founded by the late Professor John Little, the conference had a modest beginning with the Southern Writers Conference of the Arts. Funded by the College of Arts and Sciences as well as by some of the visiting writers themselves, the conference was so successful that it became an annual event, almost immediately.

Though the conference quickly had university wide appeal and, since the mid Seventies, significant attendance from the community and region, it has always been organized by faculty, staff, and students of the English Department. In more recent years it has become known nationwide as one of the most distinctive conferences of its kind, in part because it remains free and open to the public, probably the only way it could function.

Financial support for the conference has always come from a variety of sources, depending on a particular conference topic or other factors in shifting personnel and circumstances at the university. The steadiest support has been from student organizations and the president's office, but there have often been grants from outside agencies, donations from alumni and other individuals, and, since the mid-1990s, a modest but growing endowment, managed by the UND Alumni Foundation.

Now in its 43rd year, the Conference enjoys a national reputation among writers as one of the best run, most interesting events of its kind, especially because of its strong public audiences, attracted by its free and open format. A large number of volunteers from around the university and the community make it all possible, but it is still organized by the UND English Department, which donates administrative support and the release of one class per semester for the faculty member who directs it.

Parking info:
Guests for this event may use the pay-as-you-go option in the Parking Ramp (corner of Second Ave N. and Columbia Road), the Visitor Lot (off Centennial Drive), or a parking meter. Parking in any other parking lot on campus requires a parking pass which can be purchased directly through UND Parking Services, Twamley Hall Room 204 (M, W, F: 8 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. and Tuesdays: 9 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.).

More useful links:
43rd Annual UND Writer Conference schedule

This year's conference reading list

Virtual Conference reading room (to review past conferences)

Writers Conference reference guide: reference guide at the Library

Writers Conference sponsors

Heidi Czerwiec, associate professor
UND Department of English
Co-director, UND Writers Conference

Crystal Alberts, assistant professor
UND Department of English
Co-director, UND Writers Conference

Juan Miguel Pedraza, writer/editor
UND Office of University Relations
701-777-6571 office, 701-740-1321 cell

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