San Antonio Literary Conference to Tackle Writing in the 21st Century

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(From left) UTSA Professor of Transformative Children's Literature Carmen Tafolla, Gemini Ink founder Nan Cuba, and Voices de la Luna Editor Jimmy Adair chat in the hallway of El Tropicano Riverwalk Hotel between panels.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

(From left) The state of Texas' 2015 poet laureate, Carmen Tafolla; Gemini Ink founder Nan Cuba; and Voices de la Luna Editor Jimmy Adair chat in the hallway of El Tropicano Riverwalk Hotel between panels at the 2017 conference.

The age of information has altered the ways in which we respond to experiences in every realm of our daily lives – personal, social, and political. In this period of heightened change, writing remains pivotal in responding to and shaping American society.

In its third annual writers conference, Gemini Ink, San Antonio’s independent literary arts center, will explore the role of writing as a catalyst for change in the 21st century. Titled “Writing the New Century,” the conference will take place July 20 through July 22 at El Tropicano Riverwalk Hotel.

Attendees may explore this year’s theme through panels, workshops, readings, and a small press book fair. The conference will bring together both local and national writers and give participants an opportunity to mingle, exchange ideas, and establish meaningful connections with one another during a weekend of literary programming set against the backdrop of San Antonio’s historic River Walk.

The conference continues to grow, with 230 people attending last year and more expected this year.

The 2018 featured writers include Vijay Seshadri, winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for poetry; Debra Monroe, author and memoirist; poet Martín Espada, who in May became the first Latino to receive the Ruth Lilly Prize for poetry; Anel Flores, San Antonio writer, activist, and artist; Norma Cantú, award-winning writer and distinguished professor of modern languages and literatures at Trinity University; and Veronica Golos, renowned poet and editor.

Featured writers each will host a writing workshop, participate on panels throughout the conference, and give readings on Friday and Saturday evenings.

Other highlighted writers include Carmen Tafolla and current San Antonio poet laureate Octavio Quintanilla. Tafolla, author of more than 20 books and Texas' 2015 poet laureate, will open the conference with a keynote speech Saturday morning. Quintanilla will close the conference with his featured talk on what it means to grapple literarily with this century.

This year’s conference is host to a myriad of viewpoints on its theme, with panels crossing multiple genres and ranging from “Writing Resistance/Embodying Diversity” to “Interactive Writing, or, Why are Video Games Like Theater?,” to name a few.

The conference workshops provide participants an opportunity to work closely with featured authors. In Monroe’s workshop, “Art Speaks to Life: Writing the 21st Century Narrative,” writers will explore how they can become vivid witnesses to the onrush of information in this nonstop digital era.

“Historians will look back on this era and how the internet changed what we value, what we consider art, the way we think, the way we define what it means to be human,” Monroe said in a December 2015 interview with The Rumpus.

Writers may also explore the hows and whys of socially connected poetry with Golos in her workshop “Writing the Moment – How do We Do it?” which will look at the different ways Native American poets such as Layli Long Soldier, Sherwin Bitsui, and others have answered the question.

For Flores, telling a story that has not been widely shared is a political act. Her workshop, “Distilling Big Ideas into Intimate Narratives,” will offer writers techniques to identify “fiction-worthy” moments based on lived experiences they have filed away.

Espada’s work also examines how personal experiences can be inherently political. “What is happening in poetry is that we are breaking through the boundaries of what we accept as a given every single day. And we see something else as possible," he said in a January 2013 interview with Bill Moyers. "It is an act of the imagination. And too rarely people see the connection between the imagination and the political.”

Espada will teach a poetry workshop titled “Writing Poetry of Political Satire in the Age of Trump” and share ways to incorporate subversive ideas into humorous accounts and channel anger into art.

The conference kicks off Friday evening at 5 p.m. with a welcome reception that is free and open to the public. A literary evening at Brick at Blue Star Arts Complex follows with a reading and talk by Espada, Monroe, and Golos on new literary textures emerging from an increasingly diverse and global world.

On Saturday night at the Radius Center, Flores, Cantú, and Seshadri will read excerpts from their work and lead a conversation about gender relations and identity, the state of the LGBTQIA community, and the #MeToo movement. Both readings are free and open to the public.

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