Literary Conference

From the Margins to the Center 2024

Nathalie Handal, Keynote Speaker

“This cosmopolitan voice belongs to the human family, and it luxuriates in crossing necessary borders. One of the most important voices of her generation.” Yusef Komunyakaa

January 25, 6 – 8 pm: In-Person Kick-off

January 26 – 28: Virtual Conference

Stay tuned for details, posted here in fall 2023.


A look back at our 2022 conference:

Taking Care in Writing, Publishing, & Building Community

Literary Conference Program Book

Kwame Dawes, Keynote Speaker on Literary Citizenship

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.  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.



Complete Conference: Members $195 | General Public $225
Selected Individual Events: Members $6 | General Public $8

If you have previously purchased the full conference, you will have access to the event on Crowdcast through April 23, 2022 (90 days).

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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
Members $6 | General Public $8

Opening Reading
Destiny O. Birdsong, Meg Kearney, Ann Marie Macari, Brenda Peynando, Tim Seibles, Arisa White
Members $6 | General Public $8

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
Members $6 | General Public $8

Greater-Rochester Poets & Authors: Reading
Albert Abonado, Elizabeth Johnston Ambrose, Jessica Cuello, Tokeya Graham, Tony Leuzzi, Lytton Smith, Angelique Stevens
Members $6 | General Public $8

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.

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
Members $6 | General Public $8

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
Members $6 | General Public $8

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.
Members $6 | General Public $8

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
Members $6 | General Public $8

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
Members $6 | General Public $8

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
Members $6 | General Public $8

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
Members $6 | General Public $8

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
Members $6 | General Public $8

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
Members $6 | General Public $8

Nightcap Reading
Makalani Bandele, Sarah Freligh, Anastasia Nikolis, David Ruekberg, Holly Wren Spaulding
Members $6 | General Public $8

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.

Writing Illness: Mental Health, Chronic Pain, & Disability – 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

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
Members $6 | General Public $8

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
Members $6 | General Public $8

Beyond the Black and White Binary – 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