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College of Humanities & Sciences | Creative Writing Conference

Creative Writing Conference
Thinking Its Presence: The Racial Imaginary

March 12-14, 2015

Creative Writing Conference
Thinking Its Presence: Race & Creative Writing

Creative Writing Conference

Conference Speakers


Claudia Rankine - Keynote Speaker

Pomona College

cover of the bokk citizenClaudia Rankine is the author of five collections of poetry, including Citizen and Don’t Let Me Be Lonely, and the plays, Provenance of Beauty: A South Bronx Travelogue, commissioned by the Foundry Theatre and Existing Conditions (co-authored with Casey Llewellyn). Rankine is co-editor of American Women Poets in the Twenty-First Century series for Wesleyan University Press. Forthcoming is The Racial Imaginary with Fence Books. A recipient of the Jackson Prize and fellowships from the Academy of American Poets, and the National Endowments for the Arts, she teaches at Pomona College.




Mei-mei Berssenbrugge - Featured Speaker

Mei-mei Berssenbrugge was born in Beijing, the daughter of a Chinese mother and an American father who was the son of Dutch immigrants. Her mother was a mathematician, and her maternal grandmother received a college education in prerevolutionary China. Her father was employed at the American Embassy in Chungking, and later pursued Far Eastern studies at Harvard University. Her family moved to the United States when she was a year old. She earned a BA from Reed College and an MFA from Columbia University. Berssenbrugge is the author of The Heat Bird (1983), winner of the American Book Award; Empathy (1989), winner of the PEN West Award; Sphericity (1993); Endocrinology (1997), a collaboration with the artist Kiki Smith; Four Year Old Girl (1998), winner of the Western States Book Award; Nest (2003); I Love Artists: New and Selected Poems (2006), and Hello, The Roses (2013), finalist for LA Times Book Award.

 Berssenbrugge lives in New Mexico, where she has taught at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe and in New York City. In both locations she has been influenced by and collaborated with visual artists, including Kiki Smith, Tan Dun, and Richard Tuttle, her husband. She has also been associated with multicultural writers, Language poets, and ecopoetics. Berssenbrugge has received two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, two American Book Awards, two Asian American Writing awards, and honors from the Western States Art Foundation and the Asian American Writers Workshop.


Marilyn Chin - Featured Speaker

Marilyn Chin was born in Hong Kong and raised in Portland, Oregon.   Her books have become Asian American classics and are taught in classrooms internationally. Marilyn Chin’s books of poems include   HARD LOVE PROVINCE, RHAPSODY IN PLAIN YELLOW, DWARF BAMBOO, and THE PHOENIX GONE, THE TERRACE EMPTY.   Her book of fiction is called  REVENGE OF THE MOONCAKE VIXEN.   She has won numerous awards for her poetry, including the United Artist Foundation Fellowship, the Radcliffe Institute Fellowship at Harvard, the Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship at Bellagio, two NEAs, the Stegner Fellowship, the PEN/Josephine Miles Award, five Pushcart Prizes,  a Fulbright Fellowship to Taiwan, residencies at Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony, the Lannan and Djerassi Foundations… She is featured in a variety of anthologies, including The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women and The Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry, The Penguin Anthology of 20th Century Poetry, and The Best American Poetry…She was featured in Bill Moyers’ PBS series The Language of Life,  and Poetry Everywhere, introduced by Garrison Keillor.  She has read and taught workshops all over the world.  Recently, she was guest poet at universities in Beijing, Singapore, Hong Kong, Manchester, Sydney and Berlin and elsewhere.  In addition to writing poetry and tales, she has translated poems by the modern Chinese poet Ai Qing and co-translated poems by the Japanese poet Gozo Yoshimasu.  She considers poetry her home and San Diego her most recent exile.


Eduardo Chirinos - Featured Speaker

Eduardo Chirinos (Lima, 1960) is the author of numerous books of poetry as well as volumes of academic criticism, essays, translations, children’s books, and occasional pieces. Chirinos is Professor of Spanish at the Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures of the University of Montana.  His most recent poetry titles in Spanish include Abecedario del agua (2000), Breve historia de la música (2001, winner of the inaugural Casa de América Prize for Latin American Poetry), Escrito en Missoula (2003), No tengo ruiseñores en el dedo (2006), Humo de incendios lejanos (2009), Catorce formas de melancolía (2010), Mientras el lobo está (2010, winner of the XII Generation of ’27 Poetry Prize), and 35 lecciones de biología (y tres crónicas dicácticas) (2013).  An anthology of his work was translated into English: Reasons for Writing Poetry (London: Salt Publishing, 2011). The University of Montana Press has published the English version of Escrito en Missoula (Written in Missoula, 2011), Open Letter (Rochester, New York) published the English translation of Humo de incendios lejanos (The Smoke of Distant Fires, 2012), and Diálogos Books the English translation of Mientras el lobo está (While the Wolf Is Around, 2014).

After completing his doctorate at Rutgers University, Chirinos held posts at Binghamton University and the University of Pennsylvania before moving on to the University of Montana, where he is now professor in the Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures.


Thomas Sayers Ellis - Featured Speaker

Thomas Sayers Ellis is the author of two poetry collections, Skin, Inc. and The Maverick Room, which won the John C. Zacharis First Book Award. His poems and photographs have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including CallalooBest American Poetry (1997, 2001 and 2010), Grand Street,The BafflerJubilatTin HousePoetry and The Nation. A co-founder of The Dark Room Collective, he is now an Assistant Professor of Writing at Sarah Lawrence College, a faculty member of the Lesley University low-residency M.F.A. Program and a Caven Canem faculty member. Thomas Sayers Ellis is our Visiting Hugo Fellow for Spring 2015.


Beth Loffreda - Featured Speaker

Beth Loffreda is a nonfiction writer and the author of Losing Matt Shepard: Life and Politics in the Aftermath of Anti-Gay Murder and, with Claudia Rankine and Max King Cap, The Racial Imaginary. She teaches creative writing and American Studies at the University of Wyoming, where she directed the MFA program for six years. She grew up in Audubon, Pennsylvania, and attended the University of Virginia and Rutgers University. 


Emma Pérez - Featured Speaker

Emma Pérez has published fiction, essays and the academic book, The Decolonial Imaginary: Writing Chicanas into History.  Pérez’s first novel, Gulf Dreams, was published in 1996 and is considered one of the first Chicana lesbian novels in print. Aunt Lute Books reprinted the novel in 2009.  In fall 2003, she joined the Department of Ethnic Studies at University of Colorado, Boulder where she served as Chair for three years and was advanced to Full Professor.  Her second novel, Forgetting the Alamo, Or, Blood Memory, (University of Texas Press, 2009) was awarded the Christopher Isherwood Writing Grant (2009), won 2nd place in Historical Fiction from International Latino Books (2010) and was a finalist in General Fiction from the Lambda Literary Foundation “Lammy” Awards (2010), was a finalist in Historical Fiction from the Golden Crown Literary Awards (2010) and won the National Association for Chicana/Chicano Studies (NACCS) Regional Book Award for fiction (2011).  Her forthcoming novel, Electra’s Complex: An Erotic Mystery, will be published in spring 2015 with Bella Books.


Sarah Shun-lien Bynum - Featured Speaker

Sarah Shun-lien Bynum is the author of two novels, Ms. Hempel Chronicles, a finalist for the 2009 PEN/Faulkner Award, and Madeleine Is Sleeping, a finalist for the 2004 National Book Award and winner of the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize. Her fiction has appeared in many magazines and anthologies, including the New Yorker, Ploughshares, Tin House, the Georgia Review, and the Best American Short Stories. The recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award and an NEA Fellowship, she was named one of “20 Under 40” fiction writers by the New Yorker. She lives in Los Angeles and teaches in the Graduate Writing Program at Otis College of Art and Design.


Ruth Vanita - Featured speaker

Ruth Vanita was educated at Delhi University where she taught for many years. She was founding co-editor of Manushi, India's first nationwide feminist magazine, from 1978 to 1990.  She co-edited the path-breaking Same-Sex Love in India: A Literary History, and is the author of several books including, most recently, Gender,Sex and the City: Urdu Rekhti Poetry 1780-1870. She is a well-known translator of fiction and poetry from Hindi and Urdu to English. Her collection of poems A Play of Light appeared in 1994 from Penguin India; since then her poems have appeared in anthologies and journals worldwide, and a second collection is under preparation. She teaches at the University of Montana and divides her time between Missoula and Gurgaon.


William S. Yellow Robe, Jr. - Featured Speaker

‘“You are a good actor, but we have no Indian roles,’” is what I heard as an actor in school.  I started writing plays and I heard; “It is a good play but we can’t do it because we have no Indian actors,”’ said William S. Yellow Robe, Jr. and his life in American theater.

William is an enrolled member of the Assiniboine Tribe of the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Indian reservation, located in northeastern Montana. He serves as the Artistic Director of the Inter-Tribal Playwrights’ Center of Arlee. William is a recipient of a Robert Rauschenberg Foundation Residency for 2014. He is a Faculty Affiliate in the English/Creative Writing Department at the University of Montana in Missoula, Montana and a former Libra Professor in the English Department at the University of Maine, Orono, Maine.

His newest publications include a short fiction story, “Miracle of 12-12-12”, appearing in the collection; “Unraveling the Spreading Cloth of Time: Indigenous thoughts Concerning the University”, Renegade Planets Publishing, a poem, “Spam Rite”, appearing in the anthology, “I was Indian: An Anthology of Native Literature, Volume II”, Foot Hills Publishing, Kanona, NY.  “And the Boss says a 1, 2, 3, 4,” poem appears in “The Muckleshoot Review,” Vol. 3, Auburn, WA.  His two short fiction stories, “A Not Long ago Time Story,” and “Pilgrims for a Day,” appears in the “Yellow Medicine Review: A Journal of Indigenous Literature, Art, and Thought”, Marshall, MN.

As a playwright he has completed a full length play adaptation of the novel, “Powwow Highway”, by David Seals for the stage, presented by the American Indian Arts Association (AMERINDA), in a staged reading at the Lark Play Development Center in New York, New York, and is schedule for a full production this fall.   The play was also presented in a stage reading at the Ensemble Studio Theater, in New York, New York. He is one of the featured playwrights in the Arena Stage’s Civil War project entitled; “Our War” and will be produced in a full stage production by the Arena Stage in Washington D.C., this fall.  He has completed an adaptation of the story, “Pronghorn” for stage for the Hays/Lodge Pole Schools, in Hays/Lodge Pole, Montana.  He has an ongoing work entitled; “Spam Rants: How to Recover Your Files; and Other Things You Value,” a full length play of monologues, dialogues, and poetry.  Some of his plays are found in two anthologies, "Where the Pavement Ends: New Native Drama,” a collection of his one-act plays, "Grandchildren of the Buffalo Soldiers and Other Untold Stores," his full-length plays, and recently a chapter co-authored with Dr. Margo Lukens, "Two Worlds on One Stage:  Working in Collaboration to Prevent Encroachment, Appropriation, and Other Maddening Forms of Imperialism," which in appears in the collection:  "American Indian Performing Arts: Critical Directions." The full-length play, “The Independence of Eddie Rose,” appears in the anthologies, “Seventh Generation,” and “Staging Coyote’s Dream-an Anthology of First Nations’ Drama in English.”

William is now a member of the Board of Advisors for the Native American New York based theater company, The Eagle Project Company.”  He is a member of the Penumbra Theater Company, the Ensemble Studio Theater, AMERINDA-American Indian Artists Association, a member of the advisory board for Red Eagle Soaring Theater company, The Missoula Writing Collaborative, and a member of the new Minneapolis Playwrights’ Center’s new program, Affiliate Writers’ Program.  He is a founding member of the American Indian Playwrights Guild and the National American Indian Theater and Performing Arts Alliance. He is a recipient of a Native American Achiever's Award from the Smithsonian Institute's National Museum of the American Indian, a New England Excellence Award in Theater, the First Book Award for Drama from the Gathering of Nations, and a Princess Grace Theatre-Fellowship.


Ofelia Zepeda - Featured Speaker

A member of the Tohono O’odham (formerly Papago) Nation, Ofelia Zepeda grew up in Stanfield, Arizona. She earned an MA and a PhD in linguistics from the University of Arizona and is the author of a grammar of the Tohono O'odham language, A Papago Grammar (1983). Zepeda’s poetry collections include Ocean Power: Poems from the Desert (1995) and Jewed’l-hoi/Earth Movements, O’Odham Poems (1996).

Zepeda’s poetry touches on linguistics, O’odham traditions, the natural world, and the experience of contemporary O’odham life. Her work is influenced by traditional Papago themes and songs. Dennis Holt, reviewing Zepeda’s work for Drunken Boat, identified the “cultural mélange” of her work, commenting that “a number of Zepeda’s poems display varying patterns of bilingualism, including code-switching and immediate interlinear translation.”

Zepeda was honored with a MacArthur Fellowship (1999) for her contributions as a poet, linguist, and cultural preservationist. She received a grant from the Endangered Language Fund for her work on the Tohono O’odham Dictionary Project. Zepeda has been a professor of linguistics and director of the American Indian Studies Program at the University of Arizona, as well as director of the American Indian Language Development Institute. She edits Sun Tracks, a book series devoted to publishing work by Native American artists and writers, at the University of Arizona Press.


University of Montana

Creative Writing Conference

University of Montana | Missoula, MT 59812

Prageeta Sharma | LA 211 | Office: (406) 243.2029 | Cell: (718) 451-6179 | prageeta.sharma@mso.umt.edu