Writers at Work returns to Park City
October 21, 2008
It’s all in a name.
Writers at Work, the annual conference that began in Park City 25 years ago, plans to come home.
Spiro Arts will play host to the poetry and prose workshops, discussion groups and panels for Utah’s annual writing conference in June of 2009. Writers at Work was conceived in Park City and hosted in the mountain town from 1986 to 1998.
But high rental costs forced the all-volunteer nonprofit organization to relocate to Westminster College in 1999.
The organization is back in Park City thanks, in part, to Spiro’s artist-in-residence program that will house the professors and published authors that will run the seminar.
"I knew if I wanted to get more writers involved, I would need a little help," Kathryn Stedman, the head of Spiro Arts, said Saturday at a reception for Writers at Work. "We’re a great fit for the program because we house artists. We’re here for the community. We don’t want to be that building on the hill."
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Mayor Dana Williams, a self-described wannabe writer who said he is better at standup comedy than prose, praised Writers and Work for its insipient involvement in open-space preservation. Organizers of Writers at Work were among the early advocates for sustainable development and encouraged city and county officials to leave swaths of open land unadorned with condominiums or retail development before it was politically popular to do so.
Williams also had kind words for the Silver Star development for fostering a mixed-use ski-in-ski-out development.
It has taken a year of coordinating with city officials and Writers at Work organizers to seal the deal. Stedman, a visual artist, said it was a priority to bring more wordsmiths to town. "It’s about synergy," she explained.
For a week in June, some of the best writers in the country, members of the literati, and their fans, will descend on Park City for a week. "The Spiro Arts facility is so unique," Writers at Work president Laura Manning said, glowing. "For them to think of us, it’s rather mind blowing. If you’re a writer, your dream is to write at the foot of a mountain."
Activities include free public readings, panel discussions and creative writing workshops. Most events will be headquartered at Spiro, but small gatherings will take place in coffee shops, art galleries and open spaces across the city, organizers said at a benefit Saturday in Park City. "We try to build a complete experience for writers and readers," said conference organizer Dawn Marano. She added that moving back to Park City would help Writers at Work attract top-notch instructors. "You’ll hardly meet anyone who hasn’t heard of Park City," she said. "It rivals a lot of the boutique writing conferences (in the mountain west). When we bring faculty up here you can see them relax."
Not that writing is a vacation. "There’s a difference between taking a vacation and getting down to what you need to do," Manning said. "Writing makes you get real. It’s important to have spaces you can come to and be open."
The conference is the brainchild of a group of writers and patrons in Summit County who decided, in 1984, to piece together a bricolage of literary activities to give locals a chance to polish their poetry, fiction, plays and nonfiction manuscripts with the help of professionals.
In 2007, Spiro Arts director Kathryn Stedman invited conference organizers to use its space at the Silver Star Resort to hold impromptu classes and, more importantly, house visiting authors and instructors.
Today, the conference is a mainstay of the Utah arts scene. Conference organizer Dawn Marano said over the years about 20,000 students have participated in the organization’s yearly writing competition, workshops and readings.
The organization attracts aspiring writers from across the Intermountain West and has brought published authors such as Nick Flynn, John Nichols and Harriett Doer to teach at the workshops.
Moving to Park City may help the organization revive a key component of its mission: educating young people. Writers at Work put the kibosh on their youth program in 2007, and organizers say if the conference succeeds in Park City, they will bring back workshops for school kids.
"We have always been a really egalitarian organization," Marano said. "We found our writing lives and now we’re interested in sending the elevator back down."
When Laura Manning graduated from high school, she didn’t know much about what she wanted to do with her life, but she did know she wanted to write. Years later, she still has passion for her craft. "It’s the Olympics for writing," she said of the workshop experience, in which students hone their skills of expression. The most valuable part the exercise, Manning said, is learning from peers. "The breadth of people who come here, who have never written professionally, but who have written all their lives, is amazing," she said.
Writers at Work runs from June 22-26 at the Spiro Arts Community. Attendees who want to attend workshops are asked to submit a writing sample for evaluation, according to Writersatwork.org. The conference is part of a joint venture with the University of Utah’s Lifelong Learning Center. Participants can also register for afternoon session without submitting a manuscript. Juliana Baggott is teaching the novel workshop and George Singleton is teaching the short fiction workshop. For more information, visit writersatwor.org or http://www.spiroarts.org.