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A Conference for this Modern-Day “Republic of Letters”

By Ed Southern, Executive Director, NCWN

Tracy Crow will lead the Pre-Conference Tailgate

We’ve found through long experience that early November is the best time to hold our Fall Conference: after most of the big book festivals, after most fall author tours have wrapped up, but before the holidays gear up and everyone’s hectic, if not downright insane.

Early November does present its problems, though. A few times we’ve held the Fall Conference the same weekend we “Fall Back” from daylight savings to standard time. On occasion we’ve had a Fall Conference at which all us grown adults are still sugar-buzzed from Halloween.

This year, the Fall Conference would have been—and the Writingest State Online Conference will be—only a week after possibly the most momentous and contentious Election Day of our lifetimes.

Because the Writingest State Online Conference will last five days, rather than the Fall Conference’s three, it will overlap this year with Veterans Day, as well.

That timing is a major reason why we adopted the theme of “Citizen-Writers” both for the Writingest State Online Conference and for our Fall 2020 issue of the Writers’ Network News.

We are writers, and therefore citizens of a modern-day “republic of letters,” not as august or influential as that of post-Renaissance Europe, but real nonetheless.

Most of us, though, long before we started writing, were citizens of the United States, and of North Carolina. Most of us began to write in the space of the free speech this nation protects, and thanks to the public education and literary culture this state provided. Many of us began to write of and from the ways our nation and state have failed us, the freedoms and justice they have denied. Most all of us write about politics, if we accept the classical definition of politics as the ways in which people live with each other, whether across the globe or in a single household.

The instructors for the Writingest State Online Conference have approached writing and citizenship in various ways. Two of them, Tracy Crow and Matt Gallagher, served in the United States’ armed forces. Two of them, Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle and Allison Adelle Hedge Coke, are Native, part of both the United States and of Indigenous nations within it. Jaki Shelton Green is the first African-American woman to serve the State of North Carolina as its Poet Laureate, the latest stage in a long career of combining creative work with community work. Leah Hampton, who holds dual citizenship in the U.S. and the U.K., is running for the Haywood County Board of Commissioners.

The coincidental timing of Election Day, Veterans Day, and the WSOC prompted our focus on “Citizen-Writers,” but we always hold that writers should be active members of their communities, as well as the literary community.

We hope you all will vote on or before Election Day. We hope you’ll join us for the WSOC the following week.