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Bold and beautiful word play at emerging writers’ conference

Conference audience

Third annual Boldface conference organized by English Department undergraduates

How does an unpublished writer get better at the craft so she can get published if just about every writing conference is for established writers?

That’s the dilemma creative writing undergraduate students put to their English Department advisers and got back an unexpected answer: fix the problem.

So the student staff of Glass Mountain magazine, the undergraduate literary journal, created and organized Boldface, a writing conference for emerging writers.

“The goal of Boldface is to prepare students for what comes after graduation, whether pursuing an MFA or to be published,” said Zack Bean, the magazine’s graduate advisor and an English Department doctoral candidate. “We want the students to leave the workshops and the University of Houston with knowledge of their craft.”

Now in its third year, Boldface is a week-long conference that provides writing workshops on poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction to undergraduate students from all over the country. Each workshop is fashioned after graduate courses and, because of their smaller size, provides more focus and attention to each writer and their work.

“Having three-hour workshops every day was exactly what I needed,” said creative writing senior Robert Welch. “The workshops are smaller in size, more intensive, and it definitely affected my views of writing as a professional choice.” He’s decided to pursue writing as a full-time career.

The workshops are led by MFA and PhD candidates of the Department of English’s nationally-recognized creative writing program. This year, writers will also have the opportunity to work one-on-one with three established writers who each earned their Ph.D.s in Literature and Creative Writing from UH:

  • David Maclean, nonfiction writer whose book of personal essays, The Answer to the Riddle is Me, is forthcoming from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
  • Darin Ciccotelli, a poet who has had poems published in Colorado Review, Denver Quarterly, Hayden’s Ferry Review and Spinning Jenny, among other publications.
  • Aaron Reynolds, a novelist whose stories and essays have appeared in Willow Springs, Third Coast, Sonora Review, Laurel Review, and Gulf Coast.

The conference shares more than advice on writing and how to get published. There are significant discussions about what undergraduate writers can do to prepare themselves to be admitted to graduate programs for creative writing. Readings and craft talks are scattered throughout the day, as well as meet and talks with visiting authors and off-campus evening events in the evenings.

“Classes are structured to simulate graduate seminars; students have access to the MFA students and PhD candidates,” said Zack Bean, PhD candidate and one of the instructors. “Workshops aim to help the emerging writers get a step closer to publication or the next level in their craft.”

This year, conference attendees paid $125 to attend the conference’s writing workshops, May 23 -28. There was an additional charge for on-campus residency, if they elected to stay in the UH dorms. Nearly 100 students from universities across Texas attended.

Conference organizers are now seeking national recognition for Boldface. Some represented the conference, magazine and the creative writing program at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference this year.

“We cannot guarantee publication for anyone, but we help them expand knowledge of their craft, which in turn helps the writers dedicate time to becoming better writers,” Bean said.

- Luis Zelaya