Writers united

Butte College conference focuses on stoking creative fires

Lyon Books owner Heather Lyon looks on as participants browse books written by presenters at WordFire 2013.

Lyon Books owner Heather Lyon looks on as participants browse books written by presenters at WordFire 2013.


Feel the fire:
WordFire 2014 is scheduled for Saturday, April 26, at Butte College’s Learning Resource Center. A reception for presenters and registrants will be held at Lyon Books & Learning Center on Friday, April 25. For more information and to register, go to buttewordfire.org or find WordFire on Facebook.

Writing is primarily a solitary venture. No matter the individual process or purpose, it inevitably leads to one person facing off against a blank page or screen.

That’s not to say that writers can’t benefit from a little community support and input on their way to that showdown, or through the often lengthy and sometimes painful revision process. This is the driving idea behind WordFire 2014, a creative writing conference scheduled for this Saturday (April 26) at Butte College’s Learning Resource Center.

The conference, now in its third year, offers workshops in several aspects of creative writing. As WordFire organizer and Butte College English instructor Molly Emmons noted, it provides those writers, whose craft is by nature a solitary undertaking, with the rare chance to connect with others.

“Our mission is to help create a stronger community of writers, so you can find people [from the local community] whose names you may have heard of, and meet other people who share the same interests,” Emmons said.

There are 13 workshops offered this year, including sessions on fiction led by award-winning local writer Zu Vincent and Sacramento-based author/educator Christian Kiefer, songwriting with local musician/poet Jeremy Gerrard, and poetry with Gary Lemons and Susan Woolridge. Other events include a panel on publishing trends, readings by the presenters, and a student salon.

Emmons explained the salon is organized by Butte College students who are given a “scholarship” (their registration fees are waived in exchange for helping to run the event) and challenged to collectively lead a workshop.

“Making [WordFire] a true community event means involving young people,” said Emmons, who noted Butte College has an active literary arts club and “more English majors than we’ve seen in a long time.”

“The salon is their baby,” she said. “In past years they’ve used images, music and movement to help teach, and it’s always fun and full of energy. It’s the place to go if you’re tired of listening to old people doing all the talking.”

Emmons said attendees can walk away from each workshop with something they’ve written and inspiration to write more. There are also contests throughout the day, such as haiku and six-word-story challenges.

As a writer herself, Emmons said she understands the value of sharing the creative experience. She published her first novel in her 20s and is now working on her sixth, and she’s taught creative writing for about 30 years. Before moving to the North State nine years ago, she was a long-standing member of the Willamette Writers, a large writers’ community with several smaller subsets throughout the state of Oregon. Shortly after moving she formed her own small group, the Chico-based Northern California Novelists.

Emmons said the annual conference is largely geared toward creating these connections to provide year-round support: “We have something called ‘Writing on the Wall’ at the conference, which is a chance for people to sign up for writers’ groups or connect with organizations like NaNoWriMo,” a nationwide group that encourages aspiring novelists to write an entire draft during the month of November.

In addition to students and faculty from Butte College and Chico State University, Emmons said the conference has been well-attended in past years by contingents from Yuba, Shasta and American River colleges. She said she expects this year to be the biggest event yet, with 102 of a maximum of 150 participants registered as of Monday morning (April 21), and a rush expected in the days leading up to the conference.

Emmons explained that WordFire was started when she and Butte College English instructor Amy Antongiovanni, who is also a poet and responsible for naming the conference, combined their community-building efforts.

“She’d already done some work bringing speakers to campus, and we started talking about forming a literary events committee and organizing a creative writing conference,” Emmons said.

Today, Emmons chairs the WordFire committee, which includes her and five other instructors. She noted she is the only full-time teacher in the bunch.

“It can be tough for part-time instructors,” Emmons noted. “They often live paycheck-to-paycheck and many are ‘freeway fliers,’ meaning they have to work at several schools to make ends meet. They’ve all put in a lot of unpaid time to make this come together.

“We work on this all year long, and we do it because we’re all writers ourselves,” she added. “It’s our passion.”