“No ‘tude in Taos!” Why writers keep coming back


Originally published in Tempo, a Taos News publication

Many people have come to Taos on a literary quest, since the times of D.H. Lawrence and Willa Cather. There are writing workshops, salons and conferences going on year-round.

The most famous is perhaps the Taos Summer Writers’ Conference that celebrates its 17th anniversary this year. It will take place from July 12th to 19th at Sagebrush Inn Conference Center.

“In the early years of the Taos Summer Writers’ Conference, most of our good news concerned the accomplishments of our instructors—many of whom were publishing new books and winning well deserved awards,” said the Conference founder and director Sharon Oard Warner. “These days, our writing instructors are still winning accolades, but so are our participants. Even more telling: some of our past participants are returning as members of the faculty.”

Matthew Pitt, author of Attention Please Now, is one of them. He received the D.H. Lawrence Fellowship to attend the 2013 Taos Summer Writers’ Conference.

“I had heard terrific reports about the conference from prior attendees, faculty, not to mention a former D.H. Lawrence recipient,” he said. “It seemed to be one of those ‘50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong’ moments. And it was: the conference was the highlight of my summer. When you start with a backdrop as stunning as the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, how could it not be?”

Pitt’s says that the week was full of good cheer, expansive conversations, and side excursions.

“Somehow, I still managed to shoehorn in a twenty-five page rough draft of a new story, along with a scene from a play,” he said. “The faculty is incredibly gifted and generous—Robert Boswell, Antonya Nelson, Pam Houston, and Trey Ellis were among the roster the year I attended, and I am humbled to be part of the group convening this time around.”

Pitt will lead a weekend workshop called “Off the Starting Block” for fiction writers of all levels.

“I’m hoping it will ignite the imaginations of those who feel a bit intimidated by a blank page,” he said. “Before the course actually convenes in Taos, I’ll provide a number of openings for the class members to pursue on their own. We’ll be examining those, writing a lot more, and talking about the myriad ways a new narrative can be unlocked, and what advantages, challenges, and opportunities each might provide.”

Richard Vargas was an intern at the 2010 Taos Summer Writers Conference. The following year he returned as a graduate of the UNM Creative Writing program and the recipient of the conference’s 2011 Hispanic Writer Award.

“I attended a week-long workshop of my choice and was a featured reader,” he said. “My past experiences with the conference have provided many great memories, creative inspiration, networking opportunities, and the basis for invaluable friendships. I look forward to returning as a member of the faculty in 2015.”

Though his weekend poetry workshop is geared for the beginner, Vargas says that anyone interested in coming together with their peers to write, and provide and receive feedback, will enjoy The Mas Tequila Poetry workshop.

“The motto of my biannual poetry magazine, The Mas Tequila Review, is ‘Poetry for the rest of us,’” he said. “We will have fun and write poems that are pertinent for the times we live in.”


From Nebraska to Placitas

Hilda Raz’s involvement with the conference has had a profound effect on her life.

“I’ve taught several times at the Taos Writers’ Conference, maybe six times over the years,” she said. “Their brilliant director, Sharon Oard Warner, invited me to be a member of the faculty.  Four years ago we moved to Placitas, New Mexico from Nebraska, where I taught at the University of Nebraska and edited the magazine Prairie Schooner, all because I fell in love with New Mexico during those weeks teaching in Taos for the Conference!”

She is now the editor of the University of New Mexico Press poetry series and the poetry editor of Albuquerque-based Bosque magazine.

“My offering for this summer’s weekend class is ‘Writing in Short Forms,’ prose poetry, short short stories, flash fiction, very brief essays, etc.,” Raz said. “Poets and writers of all genres should have a very good time.”

A local writer’s perspective: Taos feeds the soul

Taos-based writer Summer Wood has been teaching at the Taos Summer Writers’ Conference since 2008.

“It’s a highlight of my year,” she said. “Two things make this conference really special. On the one hand, there’s the spirit of generosity and dedication shared by the writers who teach and the writers who attend. And on the other? Taos itself. People come from all over the world to really dig in to their writing for a week in this beautiful and historic place. For many, I think the rich culture and amazing landscape of Taos spark a level of creativity that really feeds the soul. I know it does for me.”

Putting pen to the page

Warner quotes a former participant that described the ambiance of the Conference as “Breadloaf without the attitude.”

“There is no ‘tude at Taos,” she said. “My hope for everyone is that the Conference experience will renew and deepen the singular joy that comes from self-expression. Regardless of whether our work finds a readership, it is important to simply take the time to put pen to the page. Recent research confirms my own abiding belief that those of us who write are healthier and happier for it.”

The another worldliness of Taos

The Mabel Dodge Luhan House, a National Historic Landmark, has also been a hotbed of literary activities and today is home to many workshops that cover everything from watercolor painting to collage making to writing.

Patrice Vecchione was there in April to teach “Imagination & Inspiration in the Southwest: A Writing Retreat” right after the publication of her new book, Step into Nature: Nurturing Imagination & Spirit in Everyday Life.

“I’d been to Taos once before, some years ago, and I had wanted to return,” she said. “The Mabel Dodge Luhan House was even better than I’d imagined. From the accommodations to the meals, from the classroom to the setting, no place could have been better. Taos has another worldliness about it, a place not stuck in the mundane world, that lends itself to imaginative thinking so it was the right spot in that way also.”

To find out more about the Taos Summer Writers’ Conference visit http://taosconf.unm.edu

To find out more about Mabel Dodge Luhan House http://mabeldodgeluhan.com

About The Conference

Images taken from the official site of Taos Summer Writers’ Conference http://taosconf.unm.edu/