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Top Ten Joys of the Creative Nonfiction Conference 2008

Square Books in Oxford, MS

(N.b. I have a Flickr set tagged CNF2008, and I also set up a mailing list for anyone interested who attended.)

I’m doing a turn-and-burn — touch down, refuel, take off with afterburners blazing to teach “Writing for the Web” for NEFLIN on Wednesday — but I wanted to share my top ten favorite things about My First Writing Conference, the Mid-South Creative Nonfiction Conference held in Oxford, Mississippi this last weekend by the Creative Nonfiction Foundation.

1. Fab-u-travelous location! For a town of about 11,000, Oxford sure does have groovy culture and some mighty fine cooking. The “Square” is dominated by Square Books, a venerable independent bookstore — really, three bookstores — that also hosts weekly recordings for Thacker Mountain Radio. (I heard Dinty Moore read from his memoir, Between Panic and Desire; there is absolutely nothing like the full-bodied acoustics of a large public reading.) I’ll talk about the food in a separate post, but Oxford’s comestibles were indeed toothsome. Then there are boutiques, jewelry stores, other looky-loo stuff, and nice-for-walking side streets.

2. Swank conference facilities! The rooms were handsome in an unscuffed, looky-here-we-just-renovated manner, and I was comfortable the entire time (except for swimming around in huge boardroom chairs on Friday). Our workshop room on Thursday had a late-model Smart Board.

3. Decent lodging! The Inn at Ole Miss is plain but decent, and very affordable. My room was missile-silo quiet. The conference facility was only about two city blocks away. (Be warned that the parking is dreadful, due to construction.)

4. Cozy size! With fewer than 100 attendees, I was able to make friends, talk with agents, hobnob with the creativenonfictionerati, etc.

5. Knowledge-imparting preconferences! Small classes, good instructors. I don’t know about the other classes, but I soaked up a lot in the structure and characterization classes.

Sarah, Friend, Dinty

6. Illuminating talks! The conference theme was travel writing, yet science writing came up a lot as well. I’ve never heard agents or publishers talk about their business, so that was helpful.

7. Schmooze-friendly schedule! The conference was carefully structured to allow us long lunches and to provide us with a minglish event every evening.

8. Pitch practice! I understand this happens at most writing conferences, but I was able to talk to flesh-and-blood publishing types about some magazine article ideas — a first for me.

9. Faulkner’s home! Which I didn’t visit! That’s right! Buh-bye Willy! I don’t give a rat’s fanny about Faulkner, and it’s possible to feel that way and enjoy Oxford. Instead, I sat in L&M’s with three new writing pals, stuffing my face on righteous sustainably-grown local happy-pig andouille and making happy googly eyes at the chef. Oh wait, I wasn’t going to write about the food just yet…Merilee, Me, Carol, Elena at L&M's

10. Aforesaid pals, far more than three, who provided catharsis, giggling, intrigue, rapid information exchange, note-swapping, walk-taking, plate-sharing, commiserating, scheming, planning, comparing, and meal-refrigerating (I had a fridge in my room, which meant that somehow, on Friday I became the curator of Elena’s leftover shrimp, which she ate for breakfast Sunday morning). I like them all (the people, not the two-day-old shrimp). I hope it’s not the last time I see any of them.

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