Don Rogers: Hidden gem of writing conferences |

Don Rogers: Hidden gem of writing conferences


This might be the greatest place to live in the world. I mean anywhere along the spine of the northern Sierra Nevada, but especially between Lake Tahoe and the foothills.

I mean snowboarding first chair and then at sunset running or riding a mountain bike on some lonely trail. Or after lunch heading to the coast to surf or fish or dive the same day.

I mean gambling across the Nevada line, nightlife in the Bay Area, concerts everywhere. World-class opera in driving distance if that’s your jam. Shopping, dinner, a movie in the Sacramento suburbs. All, of course, when the pandemic at last relents. I’m more inclined to those lonely trails myself, but nice to have options.

And here, right here, one of the top writing conferences in the land this summer in what used to be known as Squaw Valley, along with perhaps the best little conference for your money next week through Sierra Community College.

These are online affairs this year. Can you tell I’m yearning more and more for in-person again? Just the bustle, catching eyes and making new friends, trading a wry joke with another I haven’t seen in awhile. All those chance meetings we miss now with our intentional, so intentional, Zoom sessions. Register, be accepted, click in at the appointed time. Hmmm, put up a virtual background or go with the authentic home view with walls, maybe a bookcase and surely the ceiling behind? Hair combed, dressed; $%#, where’s my shirt? Did I mute?

But no commute. That’s something. You can call in from anywhere. Might as well be here. I didn’t actually have to go to Iowa for the Iowa Writers’ Workshop summer session last year, for instance. Our band of writers from this workshop has continued on ever since, as far flung as Paris and Rough and Ready, only knowing each other through our screens.

Same with Squaw. It’s Community of Writers now, but I can’t help but want to attach geography to it. Olympic Valley maybe? Community of Writers at Tahoe? Old habits. But when they had to go virtual, they picked up some new, cool tricks.

The best 15 minutes I ever invested in my work was with Sands Hall, author, actor, musician, and recently retired professor whose dad started this writing conference half a century ago and whose sister leads it now. They call these new sessions Fiction & Memoir First Aid. There’s Poetry First Aid, too.

She diagnosed the first page of my baby, a novel, as if it were hers, asked me a few super perceptive questions, and gave me an idea that turned the chapter and I think maybe the whole story. I’ll have her to thank someday while accepting the Pulitzer. Of course, as a friend pointedly said once while I waxed on, “Wouldn’t you have to at least try to get it published first?” Oh yeah, that. These flights of fancy.

This fiction stuff I do just for me, as Vonnegut exhorted, for the sake of my soul. You might paint, make music, restore vintage automobiles. I write what I can’t at work. Changed my life. Maybe I’m even a slightly better human for taking on a meditative art.



My first writing conference ever was at Sierra College in January 2017, not realizing what a gem this one really is. Authors who teach at top (and way more expensive and hard to get in) conferences participate here for a song. This year’s tickets for both days are $30, about half of the cost of the in-person version.

Next week, Feb. 5 and 6, that’s for keynote addresses by national level authors Dr. Bettina Love and James McBride, winner of the 2013 National Book Award, along with a host of quality writers closer to home who will teach classes and lead critique sessions.

I credit what I learned at this conference for getting in juried workshops at the Community of Writers, Aspen Words and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop the next three years. That and a greater and greater appreciation for writers and reading.

If you write or think about writing, this is a great conference. I recommend it for readers, too. I’m not always sure about the writing, but my reading certainly has improved through these conferences and pondering what the authors ponder, reading what they read.

You and I, we already live in the greatest place in the world. Part of that is our access to a couple of the greatest writing conferences, at least to my way of thinking. By the way, for you writers, the deadline for applying to the Community of Writers is March 28 for fiction and poetry, and April 28 for memoir. That’s coming sooner than you might think, just saying.

Google them, too, for a small host of virtual courses and First Aid opportunities, including Saturday. One of the authors on call is Nevada City’s Rachel Howard. I can tell you from experience she’s excellent.

Meantime, maybe I’ll see you on a Zoom window next week, and hey, in person next year.

Don Rogers is the publisher of the Sierra Sun and The Union, based in Grass Valley. He can be reached at or 530-477-4299.

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