Literary Conference 2022 Schedule

January 21-23, 2022

Taking Care in Writing, Publishing & Building Community

Kwame Dawes, Keynote Speaker on Literary Citizenship

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” ― Audre Lorde, A Burst of Light and Other Essays

As  COVID sweeps across the planet and through our lives, we continue to confront our vulnerabilities, both public and private. Hard truths about our nation are in sharp focus. How do we carve out purpose, chart a meaningful course, through troubling times that don’t seem to end?

Taking care of ourselves and others is one answer, and it can take many forms. Sometimes this means learning to dismantle oppressive systems and interrogate received ideas, as Mary-Frances Winters explores in Black Fatigue and Sejal Shah confronts in This Is One Way to Dance. Margaret Gibson inspires perspective with, let the stones be read aloud, so that a human voice/might widen its reach, floating off among the stars like the ringing-through/of a great bronze bell like the audible layers of birdsong gradually moving west as dawn/brightens, or used to/and the great earth turns”

We hope you agree that engaging with and making art are transformational experiences that can offer solace, release, self-knowledge, and solidarity. It is in this spirit that you’re invited to join us for Taking Care in Writing, Publishing & Building Community.

“We can train ourselves to respect our feelings, and to discipline (transpose) them into a language that matches those feelings so they can be shared.”  ― Audre Lorde, Poetry is Not a Luxury



2:30 – 3:45 pm

Big House, Small House
What is the right size press for your manuscript? The “big five” (Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Hachette Book Group, and Macmillan) typically leverage book reviews in major publications and generate large initial orders from distributors and big box bookstores. But what advantages and relationships might smaller, mission-driven presses provide that the world of corporate publishing cannot? Is publishing with an independent or university press a stepping stone or a “marriage?” Do such imprints as Random House’s One World compete for the same market share as small and mid-size indies like Graywolf Press and Grove Atlantic? In this panel, industry experts explore the many sides of the Big House/Small House question. 
Panelists: Elizabeth DeMeo, Associate Editor, Tin House; Beena Kamlani, former Senior Editor, Penguin Group USA; Michael McGandy,  Senior Editor & Editorial Director, Three Hills, Cornell University Press
Moderator: Jeffrey Lependorf, Executive Director, The Flow Chart Foundation

4 pm

Alison Meyers, Executive Director, Writers & Books

4:15 – 5:30 pm

Opening Reading
Destiny O. Birdsong, Meg Kearney, Ann Marie Macari, Brenda Peynando, Tim Seibles, Arisa White

6 – 7:15 pm

The Poet & Their Publisher, BOA Editions / Nightboat Books Showcase
Listen in as seasoned small press publishers and successful poets on their lists talk about the partnership required to bring a book to life – from manuscript, to acquisition, to editing, to publication, to marketing, to sales– to its ultimate destination: the reader. Panel includes brief readings.
Panelists: Stephen Motika, Director & Publisher; Nightboat Books; Peter Conners, Publisher & Executive Director, BOA Editions Ltd; Rosamond King; Danni Quintos.
Moderator: Alison Meyers


10 – 11:15 am

Greater-Rochester Poets & Authors: Reading
Albert Abonado, Elizabeth Johnston Ambrose, Jessica Cuello, Tokeya Graham, Tony Leuzzi, Lytton Smith, Angelique Stevens

Agent Pitch Sessions 
Meet one-on-one with an agent in a live 8-minute pitch session and receive valuable feedback from an expert. We’ll do our best to match you with your preferred agent.
Please note: There is an additional $20 registration fee for an individualized session (not eligible for scholarship). 

Kat Kerr joined Donald Maass Literary Agency in 2019. She feels strongly about supporting programs like We Need Diverse Books and is passionate about creating space in this industry for those from historically marginalized communities. She is actively seeking to grow her client list and is particularly hungry for magical realism, literary leaning speculative and science fiction, women’s fiction, YA works with a lot of heart, and narrative nonfiction with something to say. Find Kat online at

Larissa Melo Pienkowski received her MA in Publishing and Writing from Emerson College, where she worked with the likes of Beacon Press and Barefoot Books before becoming the assistant publisher of Dottir Press. She joined Jill Grinberg Literary Management as an agent in 2020 and represents a wide range of adult and children’s fiction and nonfiction, with a deep-rooted passion and focus on championing the stories of authors from historically excluded backgrounds. The daughter of Brazilian and Polish immigrants, Larissa speaks Portuguese and Spanish.

11:30 am – 12 pm | Free to the Public (must reserve ticket) | ASL Interpreted Keynote Address:

Kwame Dawes on Literary Citizenship
Often called ‘the busiest man in literature,’ Kwame is the author of 20 books of poetry and numerous other books of fiction, criticism, and essays. His most recent collection is City of Bones: A Testament (Northwestern University Press, 2017). He is Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner and teaches at the University of Nebraska and the Pacific MFA Program.  He is Director of the African Poetry Book Fund and Artistic Director of the Calabash International Literary Festival.

12:15 – 1:30 pm

Keynote Breakout Discussion
Moderator: Alison Meyers

War & Peace in the American Imagination
For decades the topic of war in novels, memoirs, poetry, journalism, and other genres has made a large claim on the American psyche. What lessons can we draw from literary works that interrogate experiences of war? Is war ever justified? Can literatures provide a roadmap to peace? What remains to be written, and for whom?
Panelists: Doug Anderson, Omar El Akkad, Celeste Schantz
Moderator: Kathy Engel

1:45 – 3 pm

4 over 50: Reading & Conversation with Debut Authors
Four mature authors read from their debut books, three released to critical acclaim and one forthcoming, and discuss their journeys to publication.
Panelists: Desiree Cooper, Jimin Han, Jeffrey J. Higa, David Mihalyov
Moderator: Alison Meyers

The Socially Challenged Body: Conversation with Riva Lehrer & Lennard J. Davis
Artist, author, and disability activist Riva Lehrer reads from her memoir Golem Girl, then is joined in conversation by Lennard J. Davis, scholar, National Book Award-winning author, and co-founder of the Modern Language Association’s Committee on Disability Issues in the Profession.

Little Magazines
What are the exciting and groundbreaking trends in magazine publication? What is the “right” magazine for your work? What are the career benefits of publishing in magazines? Is there a “secret” to getting your work accepted? Is there a prestige distinction between publishing online and in print? Knowledgeable publishers, editors, and contributors discuss these questions and more.

Panelists: Tony Leuzzi, contributor, The Brooklyn Rail; Marjorie Tesser, Editor in Chief, Mom Egg Review; Susan Harris, Editorial Director, Words without Borders
Moderator: Jeffrey Lependorf, Executive Director, The Flow Chart Foundation

3:15 – 4:30 pm

Writing with Intention for Young Readers
Are young readers the audience you aim to inspire? What role can books for K-12 play in promoting critical thinking, compassion, social justice, and self- and planetary-awareness? If your goal is writing beautifully crafted content without diluting your message, don’t miss this opportunity to hear from Children’s and YA authors who write the kinds of books you wish were on the shelves when you were growing up.

: Robin Flanigan, Linda Sue Park, Alex Sanchez, Leslie C. Youngblood
Moderator: Henry Ignacio Padrón-Morales, retired Dual Language educator and co-owner of Hipocampo Children’s Books , Rochester, NY

Non-Traditional Writing Opportunities
Many writers think of the traditional MFA program as the best or only route to career advancement. Depending on resources, life stage, background, history, and temperament, however, this may not be a viable, or even desirable, option for you. Attend this panel and learn about alternative resources for nurturing your writing journey.

Panelists: Cathy Linh Che, Executive Director, Kundiman; Meg Kearney, Director, Solstice MFA in Creative Writing Program; Moheb Soliman.
Moderator: Alison Meyers

4:45 – 6 pm

Writing through Grief
From the pages of The Loss Foundation, “Writing about death is fairly easy I think. There is death in many great works of literature. Death is explored and represented in the creative arts. It is written about in religious texts, and biological textbooks. It is almost popular.
Writing about grief is not so easy. Grief is the ugly aftermath. It is not heroic, tragic or romantic. It is brutal, it is complex, it is forever. It is also unpredictable.” Why and how do we chronicle our grief? How do we approach grief’s enormity? What lessons do we learn and impart during the creative process? What do we share, what remains private? Panel includes brief readings.
Panelists: Victoria Chang, Kathy Engel, Margaret Gibson.
Moderator:  Charles Cote

Persona Poem: Workshop with Tim Seibles
Long considered a consummate craftsman of the persona poem, Tim Seibles has characterized the form as “[allowing] you to escape your own tired habits, to see in a way that you hadn’t considered.” (Pennsylvania Center for the Book). In this workshop, immerse yourself in examples from his award-winning oeuvre, respond to writing prompts, and push yourself into new creative territory. This is a rare opportunity to study with the poet who reflects, “Our lives are worth every risk, every manner of approach.” (Blue Flower Arts)

Art of the Memoir
The memoir has become a capacious space, flexible enough to accommodate essays, political discourse, inventive narrative, meditative reflection, hybrid work, and more. Three critically acclaimed memoirists read brief selections from their work, then discuss the power and potential of this generative genre.

Panelists: Athena Dixon, Patrice Gopo, Megan Stielstra.
Moderator: Angelique Stevens

6:15 – 7:30 pm

Research-based Narratives
Nonfiction books chock full of information derived from scholarly research need not be dry tomes confined to the classroom. Inquisitive readers seeking a deep dive into topics that inform our everyday lives and conversations can find satisfaction and inspiration from exploring these substantive works.
: Laura Warren Hill, Piper Sledge, Mary-Frances Winters
Moderator: Jeffrey Lependorf, Executive Director, The Flow Chart Foundation

Agent Pitch Clinic 
An expert imparts the dos and don’ts of pitching your manuscript; then, as time permits, provides constructive critiques of individual participants’ pitches.
Maggie Cooper is an agent with Aevitas Creative Management, representing adult fiction and select nonfiction projects. She actively seeks adult literary and book club fiction; beach reads and romance; creative nonfiction; and select reported and prescriptive nonfiction projects, with an emphasis on queer voices, non-white perspectives, and writers from communities traditionally not centered by mainstream publishing.

7:45 – 9 pm

Nightcap Reading
Makalani Bandele, Sarah Freligh, Anastasia Nikolis, David Ruekberg, Holly Wren Spaulding


Four panels curated by Sejal Shah
ASL Interpreted

In 2020, Sejal Shah was awarded a grant from the Disability Visibility project to support creating an accessible virtual literary event. Working with Writers & Books, she has designed a day of panels, described below, that speak to this theme. Her grant underwrites Writing Illness and Beyond the Black and White Binary, offered admission-free to the public.

11:30 am – 12:45 pm

Writing Illness: Mental Health, Chronic Pain, & Disability
Free to the public (must reserve ticket) | ASL Interpreted

How do we write authentically about illness or disability—both our own and those in our families and communities? Four writers explore different approaches to writing about and through illness—both visible and invisible—with care; and discuss writing as care work, advocacy, and activism in the time of COVID.

Panelists: Sopan Deb, Carley Moore, Sejal Shah.
Moderator: Sally Bittner Bonn

1 – 2:15 pm

Translation as Activism & Taking Care
Though historically sidelined by mainstream publishers, translated literature flourishes at small presses and magazines. Listen in as three activist translators read brief excerpts from their recent work, then discuss the importance of bringing into the center of cultural awareness transformative books that disrupt received ideas perpetuated in North American popular culture.  

Panelists: Jenny Bhatt, Wendy Call, Rajiv Mohabir.
Moderator: Jenny Kellogg

2:30 – 3:45 pm

Letterpress, Activism, Zines, & Community-Based Collaboration
ASL Interpreted

The bound volume is not the only, or even the appropriate, platform for inviting others into your creative process and achieving unexpected results. Extrapolating on the tradition of the samizdat, today’s artists, writers, and scholars are subverting received forms, working collectively, and jumpstarting provocative conversations with ephemeral productions that are free or inexpensive to produce and acquire.
Panelists: Kate Mariner, Stephen J. West.
Moderator: Purvi Shah

4 – 5:15 pm

Beyond the Black and White Binary
Free to the public (must reserve ticket) | ASL Interpreted 

Four writers of color discuss ways of resisting and challenging the black-and-white binary that often dominates conversations and frames how American culture and the publishing industry imagine race. Panelists explore how to forge and foster collaborations between Black and Brown writers through solidarity and a politics of community-building with a focus on both craft and content. Sejal will show a short clip of a performance by internationally renowned modern dance company, Garth Fagan Dance, one of her foundational artistic influences.
Panelists: Valerie Boyd, Anjali Enjeti, Sejal Shah.
Moderator: Steve Majors