Six creative writers enrolled in UALR’s William G. Cooper Jr. Honors Program were able to attend the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference in Denver earlier this month, providing them with an opportunity to see and hear authors of national and international stature.
Professor David Jauss, one of their mentors and teachers, labeled the group, “an amazingly talented bunch; some of the finest fiction writers I have taught in my 30 years at UALR.”
Alisha Karabinus, who already published over a dozen short stories in such journals as Pindeldyboz, Staccato Fiction, and Flashquake, said, “I’ve been to a lot of music festivals and concerts in my life and have seen people get really excited over their favorite artists, but I never really felt that way myself until AWP. For me, it was like being near dozens of rock stars – literary rock stars.”
Justin Carroll, who begins the master of fine arts in writing program at the University of North Texas this fall and who has already been published in the literary journal Prairie Margins, was also star-struck.
“At AWP, Michael Chabon gave the keynote address. He and other famous writers such as Dan Chabon and Eric Puchner shared stories of when they were young and inexperienced writers,” Carroll said. “Hearing these things made me realize that I have a long way to go, but at the same time it instilled the hope that if I continue writing every day I will get better and more experienced one story at a time.”
The conference’s major benefits, according to Sarita Perez, was being able to hear and learn from the writers she most admires was one of the conference’s major benefits.
“I felt like I was gaining knowledge just by standing near so many brilliant writers. Besides all the fantastic panels and lectures, I was also able to hear readings by some of my most favorite authors, the hardest part of which was resisting the urge to leap onstage and hug them,” she said.
For Phillip Garcia, who has been accepted into the MFA in writing program at Vermont College this fall, there was no substitute for actually “being there.”
“A lot can be learned about the craft of writing in classrooms and in books, however, all too quickly, literature can begin to feel stagnant and stale,” he said. “The real pleasure of the AWP Conference comes from being able to see writing as a living and breathing art form and to be able to submerge oneself into it, feeling with what vivacity it thrives.”
Robert Bruno, whose play “Blame” was produced by UALR’s Theatre Department as part of the annual Fringe Festival, managed to attend 14 events at the conference and said, “I learned a great deal about the art of writing and was able to network with students in numerous MFA programs and even some celebrities.”
Suzi Garcia, whose play “The View” was produced during this year’s Fringe, praised panel discussions during the conference.
“I learned the most, perhaps, from Michael Chabon, who inspired all when he said ‘I want to forcibly insert myself into the whole of literature,’’ she said. “Without the Cooper Program, this experience would not have been possible.”
The Cooper Honors Program provided funds for six of these promising writers – all from Little Rock – to attend the foremost national conference in creative writing, which offered the students an invaluable opportunity to see and hear authors of national and international stature.