I’m organizing a writing conference for students
I have a little more than a week before poet Aaron Belz visits my school. This is exciting, but it’s also got me frantic, because when I applied for the grant to bring him here, the grant-foundation asked if there was any way to get more students involved. I wanted to do whatever it took to get Belz here, so I invited our city’s other high school to bring their AP English students as well.
That was easy to say, but it meant I had to find something to do with almost 200 students in a building that is already full.
So we created The Writers’ Conference, and we’ve booked ten additional writers to share with our students what they do. I just finished the conference’s program this morning, and this is how I introduced the event to students:
Welcome to The Writers’ Conference. You may not consider yourself a writer—maybe you hope for a career in a STEM field—but we have invited you because your presence in AP English suggests you possess the skill to write, even if you do not recognize its value. To help you grasp the relevance of that skill, and to enforce for you the purpose of your rigorous AP English coursework, we have invited eleven writers to share their experience with you, exposing you to the wide range of writing done outside of school.
They do not all carry the title writer, but for each of them writing is a primary function of what they do. Their work demonstrates that writing serves a crucial function in our culture—as art, as an economic tool, as a support for democracy, or simply as a guide to understanding. Our expectation is that you will listen closely to the wisdom these guests have to offer you, taking notes, asking questions, and discovering what role writing can play in your world.
The guest line-up is fantastic, exposing students to an array of ways and reasons people write:
- Aaron Belz, poet–author of The Bird Hoverer (2007), Lovely, Raspberry (2010), and Glitter Bomb (2014). A fourth collection, Soft Launch, will release later this year.
- Lori Armstrong, a USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestselling author. Notable in her work are the Julie Collins mysteries and the Mercy Gunderson mysteries.
- Glynis Becker, who has co-written several screenplays with Brian Yarbrough for True Exposure Productions. Their first film, Sinking Sand, released in 2018.
- Dave DeChristopher, actor and writer of novels, plays, book reviews, and crosswords (he’s a cruciverbalist!). He currently serves as the Education and Outreach Director for Black Hills Community Theatre.
- Helene Duhamel, Public Information Officer for the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office, former reporter and anchor for KOTA Territory News
- Aaron Groote, senior manager of corporate communications for DISH and Sling TV in Denver, Colorado
- Chris Huber, editor-in-chief for the Rapid City Journal
- Sam Hurst, writer and documentarian; most recently the author of Rattlesnake Under His Hat: The Life and Times of Earl Brocklesby. His next book is Farming the Boundary: Life and Work on the 100th Meridian.
- Constance Krueger, teacher for 42 years. After a few years of requiring students to journal, she began journaling herself. She now writes daily. It changed the way she taught writing, and it changed her.
- Austin Lammers, editor-in-chief for the University of South Dakota’s Volante.
- Jessie Rencountre, author of the picture book Pet’a Shows Misun the Light, which envisions people as carriers of light and suggests we bring encouragement rather than harm to those who are hurting.
I told a colleague I’m currently a full-time conference planner who occasionally teaches on the side. My students are being wonderfully patient, however, even when they ask me to do something and I forget about it 30 seconds later.