The Writer

THE CHANGING FACE OF WRITING CONFERENCES

Kate Ristau, executive director of Willamette Writers in Portland, Oregon, believes in the power of the Zoom breakout room to build literary community. She witnessed it firsthand this past August at the Willamette Writers Conference online.

“Usually at a conference, you walk into a banquet hall and get your food and worry about what table to choose before a presentation,” Ristau says. “This year, we had breakout rooms before every keynote, and we got to meet all sorts of new people. I assigned volunteers into each room to make the conversation flower easier, and people loved it. We created all these situations for discussion and networking, community building and friendship.”

Across the world, social distancing in response to the coronavirus pandemic has forced in-person annual writing conferences to move online. While it can be a daunting transformation (just exactly how you host a fun and lively cocktail hour with 100+ people on a Zoom chat?), directors and presenters and attendees are finding remote literary events possess distinct advantages – as long as they think through logistics well ahead of time and plan accordingly.

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