Kay Kenyon, a successful and prolific science fiction writer, moved to a small city in eastern Washington a few years ago. Five years ago she founded Write on the River, a writers' conference to serve a hidden population of hopeful novelists, memoirists, poets, children's authors, short story writers. This past weekend, the fifth iteration of Write on the River, was by every measure a smashing success. Both the presenters (including such luminaries as thriller writer Larry Brooks, hot new agent Sally Harding, and the iconic fantasist Terry Brooks) and the attendees were lavish in their praise--and their gratitude.
They should, in fact, be grateful. Kenyon, a former businesswoman, created Write on the River from the ground up. She managed to develop an executive board, she did fundraising and organization, she created outreach models, and she attracted some brilliant names to her small conference in a city of about 30,000 people. Elizabeth George was a keynote speaker one year. Terry Brooks was the keynote for 2010, and Jess Walter for 2009, along with super-agent Donald Maass. It takes an enormous amount of work and dedication, to say nothing of ingenuity, to make something like Write on the River happen, and the excitement and enthusiasm on the faces and in the voices of the attendees is evidence of its success. As one young budding novelist exclaimed, "It was epiphanic!"
Kenyon, asked why she--a busy writer with deadlines looming at every corner--should have devoted herself to this worthy cause, says simply, "We needed it." Wenatchee, Washington is a good three-hour drive from Seattle. In Seattle there is an abundance of writers conferences and educational opportunities. In Wenatchee, at least before Kenyon moved there, there were few. Now this conference, with its manageable numbers and cost--about 140 attendees, each paying just $135 for the entire weekend (partial memberships are available, beginning at $5!)--has become one of the hidden jewels of the writer community. (By contrast, the largest writers conference, near Seattle, costs upwards of $400, and attracts hundreds of participants.)
And it is, as evidence once again this past weekend, a community. Terry Brooks made that clear, both in his keynote address and in his interactions with writers. He shared his thoughts about writing and the writing life with a charming frankness and humor. The other presenters, as well, offered their hardwon insights with generosity and enthusiasm.
Write on the River is worth a several-hour drive. From anywhere.