Posted by: wordrunner | August 1, 2019

August 1, 2019

Dear Literary Folk,

I’m writing from Saint Helena, home of the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference. I’m here attending the workshop on literary translation, led by Howard Norman.

I first attended the Napa Conference way back in the early 80s, when it was a poetry conference (the fiction week was added later, then the two weeks combined). The director was Dave Evans, and the first years of the conference were held on the Napa Campus. I was a young poet, still in graduate school with a six-month-old baby and no publications to my name. The conference introduced me to fellow poets who would eventually become members of a quarterly writing group and the founders of Sixteen Rivers Press. My first teachers at Napa were Robert Hass and Carolyn Forché (see if you can recognize them in the photo below).

Napa Valley Conf early daysFrom the get-go, Evans insisted on the egalitarian practice of faculty and participants producing new work and workshopping only poems written during the conference week. This was pretty radical in the early days of writing conferences. Participants put their names in a hat for the opportunity to read their work along with the faculty poets. It was a wild and wonderful ride! I returned at least two more times during the 80s, and was invited back for the conference’s publication panels twice; this year was my first time back as a participant-writer since those early years.

I’ve already seen many Sonoma County literary folk here for craft talks or readings throughout the week. Friday morning is the final day of the conference, but if the update gets to you in time, you can join in for the Thursday afternoon craft lecture and the evening reading. The craft lecture starts at 1:30 PM. Fiction faculty Julie Orringer’s talk is called “The Crossroads of Circumstance: Why Setting Matters.” Lectures are $25 or $15 for students. The evening’s reading features Howard Norman along with participant readers. The reception is at 6 PM, reading at 6:30 at the Saint Helena Campus of Napa Valley College. Readings are $20, free for students. Location: 1088 College Ave, St Helena.

Some of the highlights of the week so far include a reading by Jane Hirshfield and Lan Samantha Chang, deep in the grotto theater at Clos Pegase Winery; an introduction to CD Wright’s documentary poetry, presented by Forrest Gander—intellectually fascinating and emotionally charged; the unexpected conversations over breakfast and lunch; and a sunset reading by Eavan Boland and Julie Orringer in the rose garden at Mondavi. My translation partner John Johnson and I have made the acquaintance of Katherine Lim who is a fiction writer working on a novel about a fictional “lost year” in the life of Grace Kelly.

Petaluma poet (and this year’s Pulitzer Prize winner) Forrest Gander is on the faculty, and Sonoma County poet laureate emerita Iris Dunkle is part of the staff here at the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference. Kudos to her and all the folk who make this rich festival of literary arts possible.

Go Fund Petaluma Poetry Walk
Petaluma Poetry WalkSpeaking of rich literary festivals, last month’s update included the invitation to the literary community to support the annual Petaluma Poetry Walk. If you missed the announcement last month, here’s another opportunity to help out. The Sitting Room has extended its non-profit status to facilitate the GoFundMe campaign, so your contribution to them will go directly to the Poetry Walk: You may also mail a check to PO Box 526, Petaluma, CA 94952-0526. The 2019 Walk is on September 15, and begins at 11 a.m. at the Hotel Petaluma. To see the full line-up of poets and musicians, visit

Novato Copperfield’s New Writing Group with Jean Stumpf
You all know about Marlene Cullen and Susan Bono’s The Write Spot: Jumpstart Writing Workshops at the Petaluma Copperfield’s. Now Copperfield’s in Novato is offering a Writer’s Circle on the second Tuesday of the month at 10:30 AM to 12:30 PM in August and September.

The “Time for Your Stories” Writer’s Circle is a writer’s group which provides a space to inspire and support beginning and seasoned writers. Per Jean Stumpf: We use timed prompts to help you to get your ideas flowing and your pen moving. The prompt could be a word, a phrase, a poem, an excerpt from a book, an object, or a picture. When writing in this free-style manner, you can write whatever you want: truth, fiction, or memoir. This process helps you explore your first thoughts, and then put them into words on the page. We write for 15-20 minutes on each prompt. The emphasis is writing down your first thoughts and on the story you want to tell. This is not a class about the technical aspects or craft of writing. It is about generating ideas and getting started on your stories. Writers are given the opportunity to read one freewrite aloud to the group. Reading aloud enriches your writing experience. In order to maintain a nonjudgmental space for everyone, there is no feedback in this group except for clapping. $10 per session. Event Location: 999 Grant Ave, Novato

Turn Your Book into a Podcast?
Mark CokerCreating podcasts of our extensive collection of publications is an idea that my colleagues and I at Sixteen Rivers have been kicking around as a way to expand our audience and enhance our website. If this idea interests you, too, consider learning more at a workshop called “Podcasting for Authors : Turn Your Book into a Podcast.” This is a Redwood Writers Academy workshop and will be held at the Flamingo Hotel, 2777 Fourth Street, Santa Rosa. The presenter is Mark Coker, the founder of Smashwords, a free service that makes it easy to publish an ebook and get that book distributed to retailers and public libraries. You can find out more on the Calendar page, or visit Mark’s website:

More Highlights of the August Calendar

Redwood Writers at the Fair
RW will have a booth all 11 days of the Sonoma County Fair. Stop by the booth in the E.C. Kraft Building and meet the authors, buy a book and check out author, marketing and publishing services. The fair runs from Thursday, August 1 through Sunday, August 11, 10:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.

Why There Are Words presents “Wilderness” at Studio 333 in Sausalito. Journey into the wild with a thrilling night of readings from six accomplished authors on the theme of “Wilderness”: Daphne Kalotay, Kim Magowan, Valerie Nieman, Mike Smith, Alex Tilney, and Beth Winegarner. Thursday, August 8, 7:00 p.m.

Two Chances to Catch the Marin Poetry Center’s Marin Traveling Show
• Thursday, August 8, 7:00 p.m.: Nancy Cavers Dougherty, Donna Emerson, Patricia Nelson, Jeanne Fanning Santangelo and Susanne West read at the Novato Library, 1720 Novato Blvd., Novato.
• Tuesday, August 27, 7:00 p.m. Marin Poetry Center’s Marin Traveling Show: Sandra Anfang, Catharine Clark-Sayles, Susan Gunter, Marvin R. Hiemstra and Jeanne Rana read at Rebound Bookstore, 1611 4th St, San Rafael.

Northern California’s 30th Annual Two Autumns Reading
Sunday, August 25, 1:30-4:30 p.m. Featured readers, some from out of state, are Terry Ann Carter, Garry Gay, Jessica Malone Latham and Paul Miller. The commemorative chapbook will be available for purchase at the event. Location: 868 Kearny Street (North Beach area) in SF (public parking lot within 1 block).

Poem for August
Here’s a poem that Howard Norman read at the Napa Conference as part of his craft lecture on the epistolary relationship he had with W.S. Merwin. You can read Norman’s “On My 42-Year Correspondence with W. S. Merwin on Poetry Daily’s link to Lit Hub:

Variation on a Theme

Thank you my lifelong afternoon
late in this season of no age
thank you for my windows above the rivers
thank you for the true love you brought me to
when it was time at last and for words
that come out of silence and take me by surprise
and have carried me through the clear day
without once turning to look at me
thank you for friends and long echoes of them
and for those mistakes that were only mine
for the homesickness that guides the young plovers
from somewhere they loved before
they woke into it to another place
they loved before they ever saw it
thank you whole body and hand and eye
thank you for sights and moments known
only to me who will not see them again
except in my mindʻs eye where they have not changed
thank you for showing me the morning stars
and for the dogs who are guiding me

— W.S. Merwin, from his book The Moon Before Morning (Copper Canyon Press, 2014).
Copyright © 2014 by W. S. Merwin.


Terry Ehret
Co-editor, Sonoma County Literary Update


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