Once again, KWELI journal helmed by Laura Pegram has pulled off another smashing iteration of its can’t-miss annual writers’ conference! KWELI doesn’t disappoint. Even after the original venue experienced an electrical failure and shut down hours before the conference, Laura & Co. were able to move the event from Brooklyn to a lovely new venue in Harlem, Poet’s Den Theater at East 108th Street. Truly, the smooth transition in a situation that would ordinarily lead to cancellation is a testament to Laura’s leadership, work, and devotion, in creating a community of readers, editors, and writers that support KWELI.
The evening began with insight on the business of publishing from a panel of agents and editors. The panel was stacked to the gills with industry powerhouses: Malaika Adero, Dawn Davis, Julia A. Masnik, Michael Mejias, LaToya Smith and Steve Woodward, with Linda Duggins moderating the panel discussion. In the intimate setting of the conference, dreams of publication were prepped for take-off as the esteemed panelists demystified the publishing process. They dished out valuable information about the importance of acquiring agents, the role of agents and editors, as well as situations when a writer needs a platform (online or media following) and when they don’t.
Author Bridgett Davis moderated a panel on “The Realities of the Writing Life,” a scintillating discussion providing eager, upcoming writers a dash of inspiration, along with a pinch of reality. Morowa Yejidé, Neela Vaswani, Sergio Troncoso, Jeffrey Renard Allen, and Mitchell Jackson rounded the corners of everything from Sergio Troncoso’s pointer to be as ruthless on your finances as you are with your time, to the gracious and eloquent Morowa Yejidé who doggedly entered contests until her ten year book project was hailed as an overnight success. Perhaps one of the night’s most inspiring moments came from Neela Vaswani when she discussed balancing both her own writing and her commitment to social justice as the founder of Storylines with the New York Public Library, an adult literacy project.
Get rid of the notion that the writing check will change your life! Jeffrey Renard Allen, author of Song of the Shank, a praised and much-anticipated book, and recently reviewed on the front page of The New York Times, dropped insight into the heart of writing, advising emerging writers to be aware of the draining aspects of teaching. Along with author Mitchell Jackson, Allen urged writers to be committed to both a writing community as well as to writing itself, more so than the possibility of fame or payment.
Post-panels, writers were given the opportunity to participate in one-on-one pitch sessions with the agents and editors. For a thrilling and good-humored hour, the house lights were on, and the chips were hot, as writer after writer played their storied hands. The results, of course, must be revealed in later episodes and book deals.
During the closing reception, most of the writers who stayed engaged in lively conversations with the agents/editors they had just pitched. Their warm chatter was bright testimony to the fact that the house KWELI has built is an invaluable haven for writers of all backgrounds and experience levels.
Serena W. Lin is a recent graduate of Rutgers-Newark MFA program where she was a Truman Capote Fellow in Fiction. Her work has been published by cream city review and online at Hyphen Magazine.
Photo Credit: Terrence Jennings