UND Writers Conference to focus on ‘The Working Classes’

UND Writers Conference to focus on ‘The Working Classes’

51st annual UND Writers Conference set for March 25-27

The University of North Dakota will hold its 51st annual Writers Conference Wednesday through Friday, March 25-27, at the North Dakota Museum of Art on campus.

Founded in 1970 and held every year since, the UND Writers Conference has featured some of the best-known authors of the 20th and 21st centuries at all stages of their careers.

This year’s authors include Reginald Dwayne Betts, Roy G. Guzmán, Jessica Fischoff, Miles Lagoze, Laila Lalami, Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Matt Young, Jenny Zhang, and The Flatt Mountain Bluegrass Boys, along with a film festival.

All conference events are free and open to the public with recordings uploaded to the Conference’s digital collection, creating an open access opportunity to the literary arts.

‘The Working Classes’

“The 51st Annual UND Writers Conference features authors and artists whose work comments on or depicts the wide range of people who make up ‘The Working Classes,’ whether from Appalachia, the middle of the country or beyond,” said Crystal Alberts, director of the UND Writers Conference and associate professor of English. “By inviting authors from diverse backgrounds, the Conference hopes to facilitate conversations about socio-economic status and its intersections with race, national origin, ethnicity, sexuality, geography, and politics that are sometimes silenced or ignored by the grand national narrative of ‘the working class.’ Our hope is that those involved will come away able to recognize the similarities that may have been overlooked with so much focus on the differences.”

“Reporting on Blackwell’s Island, which would eventually house many of New York City’s poor, sick, ‘mad,’ and ‘criminal’ in the mid-19th century, journalist Junius Henri Browne asserted: ‘poverty is the only crime that society cannot forgive,’” continued Alberts. “Around a century later, in another attempt to address issues of poverty, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared what would be known as a nationwide ‘War on Poverty,’ which codified various programs that are a part of the US social safety net and popularized images of rural America (particularly of Appalachia) that have contributed to stereotypes that persist to this day. In 2016, J.D. Vance capitalized on this view of that area, especially after the 2016 US presidential election, when people assumed that Hillbilly Elegy explained not just Appalachia, but also the working class living between the coasts. However, as Elizabeth Catte points out in What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia, Appalachia is not monolithic; one might add, neither is the middle of the country.”


Community and University members are invited to discuss the writers who will be attending the Writers Conference. Each session will begin with a brief overview of the author, followed by questions and discussion of the book title. Even if you haven’t had a chance to read the book selection yet, organizers encourage everyone to stop by for the discussion (and handouts are occasionally provided).

All discussions are on Sundays, 2-3 p.m. at the Archives Coffee House. The sessions are free and open to the public. Free parking is available in the lot behind Archives. And, this year, we’re also providing free coffee to go with our conversation!

  • Feb. 23: A discussion on the work of Laila Lalami with Patrick Henry, UND Department of English.
  • March 1: A discussion on A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison by Dwayne Betts with Daphne Pedersen, UND Department of Sociology.
  • March 8: A presentation on the work of our visiting artist (TBA) with Nicole Derenne, UND Department of Art & Design.


Books for the 2020 Writers Conference will be on sale at the UND Bookstore and Ferguson Books and Media. Some or all may also be available for check out at local libraries, including Grand Forks Public Library, East Grand Forks Campbell Library and UND’s Chester Fritz Library. Community members may use the Chester Fritz Library and can obtain a library card!

Writers Conference Schedule

Wednesday, March 25
10 a.m.: Public Readings
Noon: Panel on “Class and Society” with Reginald Dwayne Betts, Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Matt Young, and moderator Tamba-Kuii Bailey, Department of Counseling Psychology and Community Service, UND
2 p.m.: Community Workshop on Poetry with Roy G. Guzmán. Registration required (FULL), 111 Merrifield Hall
2 p.m.: Film, Paris is Burning, directed by Livingson, 1990, 78 min., selected by Roy G. Guzman, 300 Merrifield Hall
4 p.m.: Presentation by Richard Tsong-Taatarii
6 p.m.: Film, TBA, selected by Reginald Dwayne Betts, 300 Merrifield Hall
8 p.m.: Reading by Reginald Dwayne Betts

Thursday, March 26
10 a.m.: Public Readings
Noon: Panel on “Class and Place” with Reginald Dwayne Betts, Roy G. Guzmán, Laila Lalami, and moderator Paul M. Worley, Department of English, Western Carolina University
2 p.m.: Presentation on “Getting Published” with Jessica Fischoff
4 p.m.: Reading by Roy G. Guzmán
6 p.m.: Reading –  Voices of the Valley
8 p.m.: Reading by Laila Lalami

Friday, March 27
10 a.m.: Public Readings
Noon: Panel on “Class and Art” with Roy G. Guzmán, Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Matt Young, Jenny Zhang, and moderator Patrick T. Henry, Department of English, UND
2 p.m.: Community Workshop. Registration required (FULL), 111 Merrifield Hall
2 p.m.: Film: Combat Obscura, directed by Miles Lagoze, 2018, 70 min., selected by Matt Young, 300 Merrifield Hall. Lagoze will attend and give a “talkback” after the screening.
4 p.m.: Reading by Matt Young
6:30 p.m.: Musical performance by The Flatt Mountain Bluegrass Boys
8 p.m.: Reading by Jenny Zhang

Reginald Dwayne Betts

Reginald Dwayne Betts

About Reginald Dwayne Betts

In October 2018, The New York Times Magazine published Reginald Dwayne Betts’ long essay “Getting Out.” Several months later, the piece was awarded a National Magazine Award. Betts transformed himself from a 16-year old kid sentenced to nine-years in prison to a critically acclaimed writer and graduate of the Yale Law School. He has written poetry collections, including Bastards of the Reagan Era, Felon, and Shahid Reads His Own Palm.

His memoir, A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison, is the story of a young man confined. He has been named a 2018 Guggenheim Fellow and a 2018 NEA Fellow, and has received a Soros Justice Fellowship, a Radcliffe Fellowship, a Ruth Lily Fellowship, an NAACP Image Award, and New America Fellowship. Betts has been featured in The New York Times, The New Yorker, and The Washington Post, as well as being interviewed on NPR’s “Fresh Air,” The Travis Smiley Show and several other national shows.

He holds a B.A. from the University of Maryland; an M.F.A. from Warren Wilson College, where he was a Holden Fellow; and a J.D. from Yale Law School. He is a Ph.D. in Law candidate at Yale, and as a Liman Fellow, he spent a year representing clients in the New Haven Public Defender’s Office.

Roy G. Guzman

Roy G. Guzman

About Roy G. Guzman

Roy G. Guzmán is a Honduran poet whose first collection is coming out from Graywolf Press on May 5, 2020. Raised in Miami, Florida, Roy is the recipient of a 2019 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2017, they were named a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellow. They are also the recipient of a 2017 Minnesota State Arts Board Initiative grant and the 2016 Gesell Award for Excellence in Poetry.

Their work has been included in the Best New Poets 2017 anthology and Best of the Net 2017. In 2016, Roy received a Scribe for Human Rights Fellowship, focusing on issues affecting migrant farm workers in Minnesota. That same year, they were chosen to participate in the fourth Letras Latinas Writers Initiative gathering, the literary initiative at the University of Notre Dame’s Institute for Latino Studies, in partnership with the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing and the MFA Program at Arizona State University. Roy returned to Arizona as a Letras Latinas Scholar in 2018.

Roy holds degrees from the University of Minnesota, Dartmouth College, the University of Chicago, and the Honors College at Miami Dade College. They currently live in Minneapolis, where they are pursuing a Ph.D. in Cultural Studies (Comparative Studies in Discourse and Society) at the University of Minnesota.

Jessica Fischoff

Jessica Fischoff

About Jessica Fischoff

Jessica Fischoff is the editor and owner of [PANK], the Editor and Owner of American Poetry Journal, author of the little book of poems, The Desperate Measure of Undoing (Across the Margin, 2019) and Editor of the upcoming Pittsburgh Anthology (Dostoyevsky Wannabe, 2020). Her thoughts on editing appear in Best American Poetry and The Kenyon Review. Her writing appears in Diode Poetry Journal, The Southampton Review, Prelude, Fjords Review and Yemassee.

To learn more about [PANK], visit the literary magazine’s website. To learn more about American Poetry Journal, visit the journal’s website. To learn more about Fischoff, visit her website.


Miles Lagoze

Miles Lagoze (left)

About Miles Lagoze

Miles Lagoze is a New York/LA based filmmaker interested in upending traditional war narratives and representations in American cinema. Obsessed with the film Full Metal Jacket while growing up, he enlisted in the Marines when he was 18 and deployed to Afghanistan in 2011. After  the military, he began working on Combat Obscura while attending film school at Columbia University.

To learn more about Miles Lagoze, visit his film’s website.

Laila Lalami

Laila Lalami

About Laila Lalami

Laila Lalami was born and raised in Morocco, a place whose past and present permeate her writing. A novelist, short story writer, and essayist, Lalami is a unique and confident voice in the conversations about race and immigration that increasingly occupy our national attention. She is a regular contributor to publications including The Nation, The Los Angeles Times, and The New York Times Magazine.

She has written Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits; Secret Son, which was longlisted for the Orange Prize; and The Other Americans. Lalami’s writing has been published in The New Yorker, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, The New York Times, and The Nation, where she is a monthly columnist. Her writing has been translated into 10 languages.

A graduate of Université Mohammed-V in Rabat, she also attended University College in London and the University of Southern California, where she earned a Ph.D. in linguistics. Lalami has received a Fulbright Fellowship, a British Council Fellowship, a Lannan Foundation Residency Fellowship, and a Guggenheim Fellowship, and was awarded the 2019 Simpson/Joyce Carol Oates Prize. She teaches creative writing at the University of California at Riverside.

Richard Tsong-Taatarii

Richard Tsong-Taatarii

About Richard Tsong-Taatarii

Through his documentary photography work, Richard Tsong-Taatarii brings attention to the joys and tribulations of Minnesotans as a staff photographer for the Star Tribune newspaper of Minneapolis. He also enjoys covering communities within our larger society that escape the attention of the mainstream media. His traveling monograph “Lakota Resistance: the Bison, Horse, and the River” is a documentary on the legacy of the Wounded Knee Massacre on the Pine Ridge Reservation and his extensive coverage of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) protests on the Standing Rock Reservation.

In 2017, he garnered an Award of Excellence in newspaper portfolio from POYi, and awards in picture page and portrait series from the NPPA Best of Photojournalism competition. He has also won numerous awards from the Minnesota News Photographers Association and the Upper Midwest Regional Emmy for multimedia journalist of the year.

Matt Young

Matt Young

About Matt Young

Matt Young is a writer, teacher, and veteran. He holds an MA in Creative Writing from Miami University and is the recipient of fellowships from Words After War and The Carey Institute for Global Good. You can find his work in Catapult, Granta, Tin House, TIME, LitHub and elsewhere. He teaches composition, literature, and creative writing at Centralia College and lives in Olympia, Wash. His first book, a memoir titled Eat the Apple, was called “the Iliad of the Iraq War” by Pulitzer Prize winner Tim Weiner.

About Jenny Zhang

Jenny’s debut story collection, Sour Heart, conjures the experience of adolescence through the eyes of Chinese American girls growing up in New York City. It is the winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction, and was a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers pick. The collection has been optioned for film by A24, and Jenny is co-writing the adaptation.

Jenny Zhang

Jenny Zhang

In 2012, she published a book of poetry titled, Dear Jenny, We Are All Find. Jenny’s second collection of poetry, My Baby First Birthday, will be published in 2020. In addition to her fiction and poetry, Zhang’s essays have been published by the New York Times, BuzzFeed, and Rookie. Her essay “How It Feels,” which is a meditation on depression, suicide, and excess, was published in Poetry Magazine and a finalist for a National Magazine Award. A wearer of many hats, Jenny has also written for television and worked in TV writers’ rooms for HBO and Facebook Watch. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and Stanford University.

Jenny once taught English at a lycée in the South of France and also in a Hungarian mountain village on the side of the Romanian border. Today, she lives in New York City, where she’s at work on a novel and screenplay.

The Flatt Mountain Bluegrass Boys

Founded in the fall of 2017, the Flatt Mountain Bluegrass Boys are a North Dakota bluegrass band that takes pride in spreading authentic, traditionally-grounded bluegrass music around the Upper Midwest.

Built on the founding trio harmonies of Michael Prewitt, Joe Andrus, and Reid Buckley, the Flatt Mountain Bluegrass Boys also bring an intense instrumental drive to their songs that hearkens back to some of the bluegrass greats, like Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, and Jimmy Martin. To this vocal and instrumental mix, the band adds a focus on original material. Playing new songs that range from topics such as sleeping in graveyards – the standard woe-is-me lonesome bluegrass dirge – to the excited romp of a Red River Valley farm laborer heading to the big city of Winnipeg for a night out on the town, the Flatt Mountain Bluegrass Boys represent the best of high-energy bluegrass in the Upper Midwest.