The Greatest Writing Conference in the History of Events Planning

Tears pushed against the backs of my eyes, bumping into the laughter. It hit me that this was more than just another writers conference where you go and sit for a long time and listen to speakers and then go home and try to apply what you learned. I felt a sense of community here. I sat on the couch in Room 203, drank a glass of wine, held a napkin with a W on it for Wessman (NancyKay), and picked out the cashews from the jar of assorted nuts. I shared, and I listened to the stories of others, and I heard us all saying the same thing. We have a fire in our guts to write our stories and publish our books.

This core group gathered in #203 has come together more than once. We have lifted glasses of wine not only in Oxford, but at other similar creative nonfiction events in towns nearby.


Neil White

The 2013 conference was the third one in Oxford headed up by Neil White, the Godfather of Creative Nonfiction in the South, I guess. In 2008  Neil brought some of the biggest names in the genre to lead workshops and panels in the quaint and charming Mississippi town of Oxford, and Susan Cushman of Memphis and I were both there. Susan and I had met five months earlier at a Saturday workshop Neil put together. He’d invited Lee Gutkind, the so-called Godfather behind the genre, to speak. Lee, a charismatic man with tousled white hair, white scruffy beard, and a tiny round turquoise earring in his left lobe, told us he wanted to bring creative nonfiction to the South because it was the most widely published genre in the world—everywhere, but in the South. Lee has been to all the conferences.


Lee Gutkind

The second Oxford Creative Nonfiction Conference was in 2010, and Susan and I went back as co-directors, assisting Neil. Susan then hosted a creative nonfiction workshop in Memphis, and last fall I led a workshop in Clarksdale at the Shack Up Inn.

A handful or two of writers have been to two or three or more of these events all connected to Neil White. We have come from coastal Alabama; Georgia; Mississippi—Meridian, Jackson, Madison; Tennessee—Memphis and Nashville. Deep South writers. We have shared stories, both written and personal, because our written stories are personal. And we will come back to the table for more sustenance and inspiration. We are the core of the community of Creative Nonfiction in the South. And we are community. And we are at the center of something big.

We’re calling ourselves a tribe.


Room 203, after the final party

Tribe: an aggregate of people united by community of customs and traditions and adherence to the same leaders.



Dan, Emily, me

And this year there were new friends and new faces from all over: California, Virginia, North and South Carolina, Louisiana, Texas, Washington, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Kansas, Vermont, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. Coast to coast, top to bottom, writers made their way to a little Mississippi town with a great big voice and a tribe. I talked to many writers, and they have that same earlier-mentioned passion for their work — deep, significant, intimate stories — true stories.  The tent is now wider; the tribe is bigger!

Harrison Scott Key, winner of Creative Nonfiction’s Southern Sin contest says, “Neil White has put on maybe the Greatest Writing Conference in the History of Events Planning.” 

We all left Oxford-town knowing it takes sacrifice and persistence to get where we want to go. We left saying stuff like “better than ever,” “does anyone want to be an accountability partner?”, “can’t we do it every year instead of every other year?”, and “sure I’ll give Clarksdale (CNF workshop) another go.”

Thanks, Neil White and Susan Cushman, and Carroll (wow!), Maggie, and Genie, and to everyone — attendees, speakers, workshop leaders, panelists, River Jordan for her fabulous historical rant — “go to sleep, baby, Nana’s got a deadline,” scorpions on the manuscript and pillow, and completing a book before a sure-death within six months after a mammogram (oh yes, it’s true, men, and I don’t open my results for three days after I get them in the mail and one time it was three months!) — photographers, shuttle drivers, Inn at Ole Miss staff, everybody, and the tribe. I love you all!


2013 Oxford Creative Nonfiction Conference and Workshops

cnf.OverbyCenterOverby Center

A gathering of the finest editors, agents, instructors,
and writers in the US!

cnf.lee1Lee Gutkind

May 2-5, 2013
Oxford, MS
On the Campus of the University of Mississippi

cnf.Neil and Dinty at Off SquareNeil White, Dinty W. Moore

More Information! Register Now!

Call to reserve your room at The Inn at Ole Miss
1-888-4 UM ROOM


Co-directors: Susan Cushman, Neil White, Kathy Rhodes


Lee Gutkind * Dinty W. Moore * Neil White * Virginia Morell
Mike Rosenwald * Jessica Handler * Beth Ann Fennelly * Lee Martin
Leigh Feldman * Deborah Grosvenor * Bob Guccione, Jr. * Julia Reed
Stella Connell * Jamie Brickhouse * River Jordan * More!

Going Creative in Mississippi

Clarksdale, Mississippi. Last weekend. Creative Nonfiction at the Crossroads. Neil White led a Saturday morning workshop, Susan Cushman read an essay from a newly published anthology she’s in, and I read my essay in The Best Creative Nonfiction Vol. 3 and shared and led manuscript critiquing sessions during the 24 hours of the workshop weekend. About twenty people came together — beautiful, creative people, from Mississippi and not from Mississippi. We gelled quickly, we talked and read and listened and shared and were genuinely inspired by one another. We talked about getting together again. For a bigger conference.

Susan Cushman, Neil White, Kathy Rhodes

Oxford, Mississippi. Next year: May 2-5, 2013. The Oxford Creative Nonfiction Conference. With Lee Gutkind and other top names in the genre. Neil White, Susan Cushman, and I are co-directors, and we’re excited about offering the opportunity for people from all over the country to come to Mississippi, to attend workshops and panels and to pitch to agents and to grow and build skills in the genre…and to enjoy the sweet Southern spirit of quaint Oxford.

Writers, come join us! It’s time NOW to make a reservation at the Inn at Ole Miss. The conference will be held on campus, and it’s important to secure a room there. Now.

Come, be a part of our Southern Creative Nonfiction Community. We’re building and bonding and supporting one another.


Clarksdale, I know. It’s sort of like home. I was born and raised about forty miles south, down the straight and narrow Highway 61. My spirit came out of that fertile soil, I was born of it, steeped in it. My spirit is still attached there. I feel it when I go home. On the day we sold my mama’s house in 2010, after she and Dad had owned it for 64 years, I dug some dirt out of her yard and put it in a crystal dish. I have it with me now, along with the house numbers 807 that hung next to her front door. A reminder of who I am and where I came from. The Delta. The Mississippi Delta. Formed by that mighty river…that is mine, too.

Oxford. An hour and a half from my girlhood home. I remember William Faulkner in the news. I remember things people said about him. I remember the day he died. Now, I know other authors from there. I’ve seen and felt the creative spirit that lingers there around the Square and over the town.

The Mississippi spirit. Come. Feel it. Join us in 2013.

Did you do it, or did he do it?

Either way, you should write about it! I just got the word from Creative Nonfiction about an upcoming issue and a call for submissions. So here’s something for all you writers of true stories and true crime! (Copied from

Lee Gutkind

postmark deadline: September 30, 2011

For an upcoming issue, Creative Nonfiction is seeking new essays about true crimes—detailed reports of premeditation, follow-through and aftermath, whether gleaned from police blotters or the news, passed down as small-town legend or family lore, or committed in cold blood.

We want true stories of petty theft, identity theft, embezzlement or first-degree murder; of jaywalking, selling (or maybe buying) weed or assault; of crimes and punishments and unsolved mysteries. Think “The Devil in the White City” (Larson), “In Cold Blood” (Capote) and “Iphigenia in Forest Hills” (Malcolm); or “Half a Life” (Strauss), “Lucky” (Sebold) and “The Night of the Gun” (Carr). If it’s against the law and someone—maybe even you!—did it anyway, we want to know all about it.

We’re looking for well-written prose, rich with detail and a distinctive voice. Essays can be serious, humorous or somewhere in between. Creative Nonfiction editors will award $1000 for Best Essay.

Guidelines: Essays must be unpublished, 4,000 words maximum, postmarked by September 30, 2011, and clearly marked “True Crime” on both the essay and the outside of the envelope. There is a $20 reading fee (or send a reading fee of $25 to include a 4-issue CNF subscription–U.S. submitters only); multiple entries are welcome ($20/essay) as are entries from outside the U.S. (though due to shipping costs, the subscription deal is not valid). Please send manuscript, accompanied by a cover letter with complete contact information including the title of the essay, word count, SASE and payment to:

Creative Nonfiction
Attn: True Crime
5501 Walnut Street, Suite 202
Pittsburgh, PA 15232

Pushing the Boundaries

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS to Creative Nonfiction Writers!

Timothy Papciak, Assistant Editor of Creative Nonfiction, emailed me a few days ago and asked me to help spread the word about their current Call: Pushing the Boundaries, with a deadline of June 13.

So here’s the word!

Creative Nonfiction [the journal of the genre] is seeking experimental nonfiction for its “Pushing the Boundaries” section. CNF wants writing that blows their minds with its ingenuity, essays that not only push the boundaries of the genre, but tear down the borders. They want work like they’ve never seen before!

But remember…the stories must be true. Because TRUE STORIES WELL TOLD is what creative nonfiction is all about.

If Nashville area writers want to learn more about creative nonfiction, I teach 4 classes each month at the Franklin Rec Center. The next session begins Wednesday, June 8, at 10:00 AM. Also, I will be leading a 2-session workshop July 14 and 21 at The Good Cup in Franklin. Please let me know if you are interested!

Meanwhile, the deadline for your ambitious stories for CNF is June 13. To submit, send your stories to: Creative Nonfiction, Attn: Pushing the Boundaries, 5501 Walnut Street Suite 202, Pittsburgh, PA 15232. Include a word count on the first page of the essay, as well as your contact information and an SASE or email address for response.

Create, push the boundaries, tear down the walls, polish, and send!

Snapshots of Oxford

Sometimes a picture can capture the spirit of a place or event, and here are a few that give it that old college try (Ole Miss, that is), showing who was there and what they did — some memories of the 2010 Oxford Creative Nonfiction Conference in Oxford, Mississippi.

Lee, Steve, and Dinty at Off-Square Books

Lee Gutkind relating the 5 Rs and the 2 F-words

Ellen Ann Fentress and David Little at the Saturday night reception

Heather (center) timing Pitch Fest participants

Half of Dinty’s Dozen, the name I attached to the 12 people in Dinty W. Moore’s Friday manuscript critique class;
Allison Green and Carol Wandrey in front

Neil White on a Sunday panel about the Writer’s Life Off the Page

Dinty W. Moore signing a book for Julie Cantrell at Off-Square Books

Lauren pitching to Lee at Saturday’s Pitch Fest

Lindsey, Julie, and David at a reading/signing at Off-Square Books

Neil White and Lee Gutkind at Off-Square Books after Thacker Mountain

Role Playing in Friday’s “A Day with Agents” session

Tense moments — waiting to pitch!

Robert Goolrick read from his novel A Reliable Wife and his memoir The End of the World As We Know It at Off-Square Books Saturday night —
blew us all away!

See you all in 2012!


The campus of the University of Mississippi was on fire with fall, and more than 100 writers there for the 2010 Oxford Creative Nonfiction Conference were on fire with a passion to write and publish their stories. We all took stories to Oxford with us.

Susan Cushman and Kathy Rhodes at Thacker Mountain Radio

Walking from the Inn at Ole Miss to Overby Center to the student union over a quilt of leaves, I couldn’t help but feel a pull. Leaves red and orange above me, yellow and brown blowing around my feet, like times were changing, cooling, settling down to winter, yet I felt that struggle, like a birth or rebirth, like things are ratcheting up, as if it were spring with new life. Others felt it, too.

By the end of the weekend, we were all ready to go home and write.

Neil White talks about the personal essay.

The Oxford Creative Nonfiction Conference was an outstanding success from my perspective as a participant, as well as co-director of the event. I left the quaint Mississippi hill-town with a clear picture of where I need to go with my memoir. I heard so many others say the same thing.

Kathy Rhodes, Carroll Chiles, Susan Cushman in Overby Center

We all left Oxford inspired to focus on the writing. It is all about the writing, we heard over and over. The writing must be good. Books get published because they are well written. As I drove home up the Natchez Trace from Tupelo to Nashville, I kept pressing the accelerator harder as I reviewed the weekend, trying to figure out just what made this conference so super-above-all-the-others-I’ve-attended.

Lee Gutkind talks about reflection, real life, and research in CNF.

First of all, everywhere I looked while on campus I saw smiling, happy faces. What a bunch of positive, upbeat people, all determined to take their projects to success.

Secondly, this conference seemed to go straight to the irreducible minimum of writing, being creative. Be patient, write, get it right before you do anything with it.

I heard Lee speak about his writing schedule. I’ve heard him tell this before, but this time, he seemed to punch the point home. Lee Gutkind, the “godfather” behind the genre of creative nonfiction, gets up at 4:30 AM and writes until he has to be somewhere. It’s a ritual for him; he works every single day, even Sundays and Christmas — you have to write to be productive, he says. It’s like practicing the piano. You can’t expect to be an accomplished pianist unless you stay at it, spend consistent time with it. Many of our presenters were university professors, and they are all dedicated to rigid writing schedules built around their daily classes. I devote my early mornings — from 5 till 7 — to writing, as well, and am wondering if I should feel guilty about not writing on Thanksgiving or Christmas, and as I’m feeling this twinge of guilt, I’m thinking that maybe I have written on those special holiday mornings.

Many of the presenters mentioned that in the evening before they go to bed, they prepare for the writing they will do when they wake up the next morning. I’ve done this, too, and my days are so organized and productive.

I am inspired by the quality of writers and writing represented in Oxford. The people who attended have a passion for their work, a passion for storytelling, and they are committed to seeing the writing process through to being published. All of them, every single one. They were all anxious, but eager to pitch their projects to the eleven agents and editors/publishers at the Pitch Fest.

Pitch Fest

I am uplifted by the positivism shown by the presenters in light of a publishing industry in turmoil. Things are rapidly changing on all fronts in the book world. Davis Kidd in Nashville is closing. Barnes and Noble is up for sale. Independents are evaporating at the rate of 20% a year. Three days ago, the New York Times announced that there is now a best-seller list for e-books. David Magee says that hardcover books are the most romantic things in the world, and I agree, but we’re moving to electronic readers — the Kindle, the Nook, the IPad. We must embrace that; these are opportunities, not evils. The death of a book does not mean the death of literature.

I am assured that in one venue or another in this changing industry, all the concepts and stories that went to Ole Miss for a four-day conference and floated on air waves above leaves crunching on campus sidewalks and sidewalks on the Square downtown, in Off-Square Books above a sleeping Mamacita — all will find a home.

Pitch Fest — Gillian MacKenzie

Pitch Fest — the lines for Dinty W. Moore, Walter Biggins, David Magee,
and Jeff Kleinman

Panel — The Realities of Publishing

It’s Upon Us.

Five days. In five days I will drive to Oxford. All the months of planning, promoting, and posting about it — and it’s finally here. Four days of creative nonfiction … bringing Lee Gutkind back to the South, bringing the top leaders in America in this genre to one quaint town in the Mississippi hills, bringing agents, editors, and publishers to share their knowledge on the state of publishing today.

As a co-director of the Oxford Creative Nonfiction Conference (Nov. 11-14), it has been my job to talk it up, to tell about it at every venue I have attended, every speaking engagement, and every workshop I’ve led. People who follow me on Facebook know it’s all I’ve talked about for months, except for an occasional motorcycle ride with 12 men, the grandtwins in their pumpkin costumes, and the one-thousand-dollar oil change.

All that talk — and with the other co-directors doing the same and even more of it [Neil White and Susan Cushman] — has paid off. Nearly 100 people — more with volunteers and presenters — will descend on Oxford later this week for workshops, panels, social events, Thacker Mountain Radio, and a pitch fest. Writers are coming from every corner of America…from Maine to Washington, from Florida to California. Seventeen will attend from my state of Tennessee.

One of my tasks (and what a pleasure!) as a co-director has been organizing Dinty W. Moore’s workshop on Friday. It’s manuscript critiquing, and all 12 people in the class have submitted ten pages to workshop; the essays and memoir excerpts all came to me, and I disbursed them to Dinty and to each class member, after, of course, reading a bit myself, only to discover the quality of writing we’ll experience at this conference and the passion of the writers for the genre. The class has gotten acquainted online; folks have shared about themselves in emails and many of us have friended each other on Facebook. I call them Dinty’s Dozen. The Dozen will meet for dinner before the critiquing class and will walk into the classroom knowing something about the others.

This will be my third experience with creative nonfiction in Oxford. I attended “The 5 R’s” in 2007 when Lee Gutkind first came to the South to teach. My blog started as a result of this: Lee said to start one, that blogging is creative nonfiction. I also attended the first Mid-South Creative Nonfiction Conference in Oxford in 2008, similar to this one — Lee as key speaker and many of the same presenters returning. These have been mountaintop experiences, and I have high hopes for this week!

Five days. Five days. A week from tomorrow and it will all be over. How can that be? How much can I absorb between now and then? Got to make every moment count. Network, connect, listen, learn, lift my writing to a higher level, stretch myself, take in more and more, hang on every word, grow in the genre, love it even more.


Thanks to the Southern Literary Review for its heads-up on the Oxford Creative Nonfiction Conference, Nov. 11-14, in Oxford, Mississippi.

The slate is full of pre-conference workshops with some of the best teachers and speakers in the field in all the world. The conference will feature Lee Gutkind, who taught the first ever university course in the genre in 1973 at the University of Pittsburgh … and who also indirectly came up with the name “creative nonfiction” … and who also is known as the “godfather” of the genre (there’s a story behind that!). So I definitely believe he is one to hear if a writer is interested in this genre and wants the scoop directly from the top!

Dinty W. Moore will be there. I plan to take his all-day Friday manuscript critiquing workshop. He is one of my favorites. I think he’s one of the best teachers in the field, and I look forward to a day spent in his tutelage … with Sherry Walker from Colorado Springs — we were together in Dinty’s class at the 2008 Oxford conference. Our friend Sarah Einstein, also there in 2008, won a Pushcart for her story we critiqued in that class.

The 4-day schedule is packed full of classes and panels and receptions. And in between, I know there will be networking, talking about writing, about life, about what we’re gonna do next, dinners in darkened restaurants over glasses of wine, and lunches in quaint downtown Oxford.

To sign up for this conference, go to the Creative Nonfiction Conference website.

Earlybird Deadline Looms

Sign up now!

Oxford Creative Nonfiction Conference, with the editors of Creative Nonfiction, Brevity, The Pinch, writers from The Washington Post, memoirists, journalists, in Faulkner’s Oxford, Nov. 11-14, 2010.

Featuring Lee Gutkind, Dinty W. Moore (Brevity editor), Mike Rosenwald, David Magee, Kristen Iversen, Neil White, Beth Ann Fennelly, Jeff Kleinman, Stella Connell, Laurie Chittenden, Robert Goolrick, and more.

Early bird discount if you register before August 1.

More info here:


Kathy Rhodes (

Susan Cushman

Neil White