After one year away, the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference returns August 1-6, 2021, to celebrate its 40th Anniversary in a new location at the main campus of Napa Valley College. This marks both a move from the conference’s long-time home in St. Helena as well as a return to the conference’s roots. The conference was founded in 1981, when writer and Napa Valley College English professor Dave Evans assembled a handful of distinguished Berkeley poets and a small group of students for a week of studying literary craft on the campus of Napa Valley College. He was soon joined by Jack Leggett, former director of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop who had retired to Napa, and the two added fiction writing to the curriculum.
The conference’s move from the St. Helena campus to the College’s main campus in Napa allows the current organizers to take advantage of ample outdoor spaces for all daytime events, including workshops, craft talks and meals, making it a safer choice for social distancing. The conference also expects to hold evening readings outdoors on the main campus, with a return to area wineries as soon as safe practice allows.
“We are grateful to be hosting our events in person after what’s been a long year for everyone,” said conference executive director Angela Pneuman. “The outdoor spaces of the main campus of Napa Valley College will help us hold gatherings where participants and guests can feel comfortable.”
The conference will offer four poetry and four fiction workshops, as well as a workshop in poetry translation. Juried applications are open now, with a deadline of May 3. A reading fee of $25 is due upon application, and full tuition costs $1,100.
Financial assistance is available, including scholarships earmarked for both Napa County residents and those who live within 90 miles. Leading creative writing programs at Iowa, the University of Michigan, and the University of Houston also sponsor scholarships to bring their MFA students to the Napa conference. The conference is also the grateful recipient of funding from Arts Council Napa Valley.
Since 1981, the conference has grown in prominence into one of the nation’s most prestigious summer writing programs. This year, to celebrate its 40th anniversary, the teaching lineup includes founding faculty members as well as former students who have gone on to wide literary acclaim.
“Stellar teaching of literary craft is the hallmark of the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference,” said Pneuman. “We’re delighted that our 40th anniversary includes long-time faculty favorites and dynamic new voices—representing some of the best of American literature today. We’re proud to be able bring these writers to Napa and to share their work with our local community.”
Robert Hass, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and former U.S. Poet Laureate, was among the earliest teachers at the conference and will return this year to lead the second annual translation workshop. The workshop will focus on poetry and is open to literary translators or those interested in becoming translators of works from any language into English.
Author Lan Samantha Chang, director of the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop, first joined the faculty in 2005, and will return to lead a fiction workshop this year. The conference has maintained a special relationship with the Iowa program since its years with co-founder Jack Leggett.
Brenda Hillman, who first taught at the conference in 1987 and has been a faculty mainstay, will return to lead a poetry workshop. And 2021 faculty poets Victoria Chang and Brian Teare attended the conference as participants earlier in their writing careers.
The complete poetry faculty:
Conference alumna Victoria Chang’s poetry books include OBIT (2020), Barbie Chang, The Boss, Salvinia Molesta, and Circle. Recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a MacDowell Fellowship, a Lannan Residency Fellowship, and many other awards, she is the Program Chair of Antioch’s Low-Residency MFA Program.
Brenda Hillman, returning to the conference faculty for the 18th time, is the author of 10 full-length collections, the most recent of which are Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire, which received the International Griffin Poetry Prize for 2014. Currently a Chancellor at the Academy of American Poets, Hillman teaches at St. Mary’s College of California.
Brian Teare, conference alumnus and returning faculty member, is the author of six critically-acclaimed books, the most recent of which, Doomstead Days, was longlisted for the 2019 National Book Award. His honors include Lambda Literary and Publishing Triangle Awards and a fellowship from the NEA, among others. He teaches at the University of Virginia and heads the micropress Albion Books.
Returning faculty member Matthew Zapruder is the author of five collections of poetry, most recently Father’s Day (2019), as well as Why Poetry, a book of prose. He is editor at large at Wave Books, where he edits contemporary poetry, prose, and translations. He teaches at Saint Mary’s College of California.
The fiction faculty lineup:
Returning faculty member Charles Baxter is the author of seven works of fiction, most recently There’s Something I Want You to Do; his new novel, The Sun Collective, is forthcoming in early 2021. He has received the Award of Merit in the Short Story and the Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Rea Award in the Short Story. He teaches at the University of Minnesota.
Lan Samantha Chang is the author of All is Forgotten, Nothing is Lost (2010); Inheritance (2004); and Hunger (1998). Her works have also appeared in Ploughshares, The Atlantic, and Best American Short Stories. Chang has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, among others. In 2005, Chang became the fifth director of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She has taught at the conference 12 times previously.
ZZ Packer, who returns to the faculty for the third time, is working on a novel about Reconstruction and the Buffalo Soldiers. She is the author of Drinking Coffee Elsewhere and has been published in the New Yorker, Harper’s, the New York Times Magazine, among others. She is the recipient of a Guggenheim, a Whiting Award, and a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, among other honors, and teaches at Harvard University.
Returning faculty member Joan Silber is the author of eight books of fiction. The most recent, Improvement, won the National Book Critics Circle Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award. She also received the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in the Short Story. She teaches at Sarah Lawrence College and in the Warren Wilson MFA Program.
And leading the translation workshop:
Robert Hass is a poet, translator and essayist, whose collection Time and Materials was awarded the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. He has co-translated many volumes of the poetry of Czeslaw Milosz and is the author or editor of several other collections of essays and translations, including The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, and Issa and Twentieth Century Pleasures: Prose on Poetry. He served as U.S. Poet Laureate from 1995 to 1997. Awarded a MacArthur Fellowship and, twice, the National Book Critics Circle Award, he is a professor of English at UC Berkeley.
About the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference
The Napa Valley Writers’ Conference, a program of Napa Valley College and its District Auxiliary Services, was founded in 1981 by Dave Evans, a professor of English, as a small gathering of distinguished Berkeley poets and students. In 1986, Dave met Jack Leggett, recently retired from directing the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and the two added fiction writing. In the years since, the conference has become widely known for their faculty of esteemed poets and fiction writers, including many Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winners, who have taught and mentored the emerging writers who attend the week-long event. Much of the conference is open to the public, and the evening readings and craft talks enjoy broad community support from wineries, local businesses, and the residents of Napa and Sonoma counties.
For more information about the conference, a link to the online application form, and a full list of faculty from 1981 to the present, visit www.napawritersconference.org.