This year’s Nimrod Writers Conference kicked off on Friday night at the Lorton Performance Center. There, guests watched the 38th annual awards ceremony for the Nimrod Literary Award winners, with each winner presented by one of the two judges for Nimrod this year, authors Angela Flournoy and Robin Coste Lewis. Flournoy presented the Katherine Anne Porter Prize for Fiction. Ruth Knafo Setton, the author of “Swamp Girl”, won second place in this award, and Chad B. Anderson, author of “Maidencane” won first place. Lewis gave out the Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry. Bryce Emley won second place for his poem “My Father’s Paralysis Speaks to Him” and Markham Johnson received first place for his collection of poems “Greenwood Burning: Tulsa, Oklahoma, 1921.” Johnson is the first Tulsan to win a literary award from Nimrod.
The awards ceremony was followed up by an “Author Chat” co-hosted by Booksmart Tulsa with Flournoy and Lewis. Flournoy is the author of finalist for the 2015 National Book Award “The Turner House” and a teacher at University of Iowa, The New School, and Columbia University. Lewis won the National Book Award for Poetry with her collection “Voyage of the Sable Venus.” She holds an M.F.A in poetry from New York University and an M.T.S. in Sanskrit and comparative religious literature from the Divinity School at Harvard. After introducing themselves, the two authors were asked to list five books they would take to a deserted island. Their answers were fun to hear and the conversations between the two stemming from the question showcased their immense and intimate literary knowledge. Among the books chosen by Flournoy were “Beloved” by Toni Morrison, “Directed by Desire” by June Jo rdan, and “To The Lighthouse” by Virginia Woolf. Among the books Lewis chose were “Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neale Hurston and “The Mahabharata” translated by J. A. B. van Buitenen. Afterwards, books from all the guest authors of this year’s Nimrod awards were available to buy on the spot and Flournoy and Lewis offered book signings to guests.
On Saturday, workshops of varying writing styles and panels regarding the ins and outs of the publishing business were held in the ACAC and Keplinger Hall. Registrants chose between two panels first thing in the morning, “Rules of Writing” or “Editing and Publishing: Q & A”. The latter was hosted by Nimrod Editor-in-Chief Eilis O’Neal and held by a panel consisting of writers Chad B. Anderson, Chloe Honum, Beth Kephart, Breanna Yovanoff, Markham Johnson, and Will Thomas.
There was no lack of questions posed by the audience, and some great pieces of advice regarding agents and the secrets to book publishing were given out by the authors. When asked how to attract a publisher’s attention, Thomas answered that “timing” is everything, so your genre of writing may be just what the publisher is looking for, or it might not be. Kephart emphasized the importance of making the first five to fifteen pages of a manuscript look appealing to a potential publisher.
A question regarding how the writers choose what feedback to take and what to ignore was posed. Honum stressed the reliance on a “gut-check” system. She listens to criticism, but always comes back to her own literary aesthetics to choose what to change in her writing and what to keep. Yovanoff gave a similar answer, saying that it’s more important to understand what the feedback is really asking for and to create a solution on your own instead of following one that a criticism might recommend. One audience member asked how the writers know when it’s time to let go of a work that keeps getting rejected and when to know to keep trying to get it published. Anderson answered that it lies in your own belief, saying he gives up when he no longer believes in the work any longer or when his writing has changed drastically. Johnson replied that one should “be willing to persist” when the piece of writing is worth fighting for.
When a member of the audience inquired if Thomas had stopped writing for pleasure and instead wrote only for compensation, he answered that he “still write[s] for fun.” He is always working on three books, the manuscript that came back from editing, the book he’s writing now, and the dream book he loves writing. The panel concluded after an hour of questioning, and the writers left listeners with a few pieces of advice. Thomas urged people to send out manuscripts, saying “You won’t know if it will get published or not until you send them out.” Johnson and Yovanoff both stressed the essentiality of reading to becoming a better writer. Addtionally, Honum said that “grit and persistence” should be qualities kept close in the quest for publishing. Anderson advised that you surround yourself with supportive and creative people.
Morning and afternoon classes covering publishing, dialogue, poetry, memoir, romance, commercial fiction, setting, photography, mystery, and fantasy were held in Keplinger, with a break for lunch and readings by Flournoy and Lewis. The classes were held by guest authors published in Nimrod and included writing exercises that helped students either start a piece of writing or further develop a piece already begun. For those who submitted work beforehand, there were one-on-one editing sessions with Nimrod editors after classes were over. There were also readings and book signings in the Chouteau room. The weekend and the workshops were concluded, but students will take the skills and inspiration gained into their writing forever.