The Northwestern University Summer Writers’ Conference will return in Summer 2021

Each day of the conference includes a luncheon and keynote session featuring writers reading from their own work and discussing the craft of writing.

Conference registration is required to attend the keynote sessions.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Writing Chicago: Never a Lovely So Real

with Miles HarveyNatalie MooreRenee Rosen, and Gerald Brennan (moderator)

“Like loving a woman with a broken nose, you may well find lovelier lovelies. But never a lovely so real.” Nelson Algren’s famous words about Chicago speak to the city’s beauty, and its flaws—of which it has both in ample measure. A beautiful city, laid-out incredibly well, with miles of beaches, beautiful bridges, and an excellent public transit system, Chicago is a city that works. But it doesn’t always work as well as it should—racially divided, with more crime than other large cities, and ample measures of political dysfunction and corruption.

How can we, as writers, do justice to this great city and its massive contradictions? How have other writers gotten it wrong, and right? Do the city's flaws hurt or help its artists? Or is it neutral, artisticallyjust another fact of life that must be dealt with and explored honestly? What more can we say about Chicago—and what can Chicago tell us about the human condition? 

Friday, August 16, 2019

It's a Family Affair: Taking the Heart's Dictation

with Gina Frangello, Krista Franklin, Mark Turcotte, and Christine Sneed (moderator)

In this keynote, three celebrated writers read from and discuss work that addresses the complicated crucible of family--the ways our lives are defined in no small part by our relationships with the people with whom we share blood or intimate ties.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Researching Into the Void

with Rebecca Makkai

Unless every character you write is exactly like you, fiction involves writing across difference. Those differences might be ones of identity and demographics, or they might be ones of knowledge, experience, setting, and historical era. With so much valid concern and debate around the touchy issue of appropriation, writers can find themselves crippled by fears: Do I have permission to write this? What if I get it horribly wrong? Even if I do it well, will people be upset that I wrote outside my own life?

Rebecca Makkai’s The Great Believers is a novel that took the author far outside her own lived experience and her own identity, and in this talk she will share not only the essential questions she asked herself as she wrote, but the strategies—of research, of craft, and of publishing—she arrived at by the end. We’ll discuss techniques for researching lives unlike our own, for approaching filter readers, and for making sure we’ve approached our characters with the respect they deserve.

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