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‘Stories matter’: Sierra College Press to host online Sierra Writers Conference

Hollie Grimaldi Flores
Special to Prospector

As with a number of events, Sierra Writers Conference 2022 will be virtual again this year, but no less impactful given the roster of speakers and workshop leaders available to attendees Feb. 10 through 12 on Zoom.

Editor of Sierra College Press and Sierra Writers Conference coordinator Lynette Vrooman said this year’s theme: Stories Matter: (Re)Imagining Past & Future lent itself to a science fiction slant.

The conference began several years ago as a collaboration between Sierra College and the now defunct Sierra Writers. The grassroots, home-grown effort of several locals aspired to bring the experience of local writers to those interested in writing together.

“Over the years the conference has grown from an unfunded event to now incorporate not just writing workshops to bring quality writing experiences to our students and to our community members, but also an event that focuses on social and environmental justice, bringing relevant and important issues to our students and to our community,” said Vrooman. The conference now falls under the umbrella of Sierra College Press. Vrooman noted how fortunate the community college is to have the press, which is no longer typical in community colleges.

Seeing professional and novice writers working together, workshopping and collaborating had been as exciting as organizers hoped.

In recent years, given the constraints of the pandemic, organizers moved the conference online. While some networking opportunities were lost, so were geographic restrictions when it came to who would be able to speak to participants, opening up the conference to more attendees and speakers.

For instance, last year, Sierra Writers enjoyed hearing and learning from activist Bettina Love and awarding winning author James McBride — both from the east coast. Travel and cost restraints would have been impossible to absorb in real time, so there have been pluses. “It enables us to have writers who might not otherwise be able to participate attend our conference. This year we have Ellen Szabo who will be presenting on Feb. 11 at 4 p.m. She will be presenting from her home in Massachusetts, and she will be doing a workshop on ‘cli-fi’ (any fictional work written about the effects of climate change and global warming.)”

The social media platform also allows for attendance from across the globe. The committee is focused on providing more networking opportunities in an online format, Vrooman said. “We are working on trying to make it as community oriented as we possibly can to give people who may feel isolated at this time an opportunity to chat with other people who are interested in reading and writing. So, we are thankful to have Zoom. It presents opportunities but it also presents challenges.”

Those interested in registering can do so by going to the website https://sierrawritersconference.wordpress.com and clicking on the tickets link. An email link will be provided once the registration is received. The entire three-day event is $50. Advance registration is required. For an additional fee, participants can sign up for small group critiquing with locally renowned writers. Limited to five participant each, sign up with Sands Hall for nonfiction, Nevada County Poet Laureate Kirsten Casey for poetry, Devi Laskar on memoir nonfiction and Kim Culbertson for fiction. The critique sessions are $30 each and will take place Friday afternoon at 2:30 p.m.

Vrooman said the committee wanted to focus this year, on how stories matter. “Given that we are living in troubling times with the pandemic and such, we can reimagine the past and the future and our perception of things. So that sort of lent itself to a science fiction element.” While emphasizing the entire conference is not completely focused on science fiction, it is the prevailing theme. That being said, Friday’s keynote is Nisi Shawl. Vrooman noted she is an amazing editor and writer who has coedited anthologies and authored her own novel. “Her presentation is titled ‘Building Inclusive Fictional Histories.’ She’s been part of the Science Friday sci-fi book club, which is how I knew to ask her to participate.”

Local activists Christy Hubbard and Jonathan Collier will be leading a Saturday morning workshop, “Writing for Social Change: Activating Your Community with the Power of Storytelling.” Another compelling presentation for those interested in writing and going through the publishing process called “The Heroine and the Mentor” will be presented by Catharine Bramkamp and Shirley Dickard.

Among the other amazing presenters is Kim Stanley Robinson who will close out the conference Saturday afternoon. Robinson was recently featured in an article in The New Yorker about his focus on the environment and his love affair with the Sierra Nevada.

“He will be presenting on writing a good Anthropocene,” said Vrooman. “For Sierra College to be able to bring someone of his stature is a pretty amazing thing.” Robinson sits on the Sierra College Press Advisory Board. “It has been a really lovely connection we have with him, and I think he can bring a lot to our attendees.”

“Our mission at Sierra College and with Sierra College Press is to educate and communicate with the community about the Sierra Nevada region. We really feel a connection to this particular group of writers because of the emphasis on the presentations and we just really hope that we can provide our audience with a quality program,” Vrooman concluded.

Advance registration is required. Go to https://sierrawritersconference.wordpress.com/

Hollie Grimaldi Flores is a Nevada County resident and freelance writer for hire, as well as a podcaster at HollieGrams. You can hear her episodes at https://www.buzzsprout.com/1332253. She can be reached at holliesallwrite@gmail.com

Author Molly Fisk speaks at the 2017 Sierra Writers Conference in Grass Valley.
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Sierra Writers Conference 2018 Keynote Speaker Gary Noy presents on the importance of research in writing.
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Iven Lourie and the Poets Quartet perform at the 2018 Sierra Writers Conference.
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Sands Hall speaks to a classroom of participants during the 2019 Sierra Writers Conference.
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