Fall Creative Writing Conference


Each Fall, MTSU Write celebrates its mission by hosting the Creative Writing Conference on the MTSU campus.  The Conference brings together students, mentors, alumni, and members of the community for breakout sessions, a keynote, lunch, and graduation to recognize those students who have completed three trimesters with the program.

Plans for the 2019 conference are just getting started, so check back here for updates. Meanwhile, here's what you missed in 2018!


Ruta Sepetys2018 Fall Creative Writing Conference

The Writing Life


Keynote Speaker: Ruta Sepetys

"The Writer's Suitcase"




Ruta Sepetys (Rūta Šepetys) is an internationally acclaimed author of historical fiction published in over fifty countries and thirty-six languages. Sepetys is considered a “crossover” novelist as her books are read by both students and adults worldwide. Her novels, Between Shades of Gray and Out of the Easy are both New York Times bestsellers and international bestsellers. Her latest novel, Salt to the Sea, is a #1 New York Times bestseller and winner of the Carnegie Medal. Her books have won or been shortlisted for over forty book prizes, are included on over twenty state reading lists, and are currently in development for film and television.

Ruta is the daughter of a Lithuanian refugee. Born in Michigan, she was raised in a family of artists, readers, and music lovers. Ruta attended college to study opera but instead graduated with a degree in International Finance. Prior to publishing her first novel, she spent twenty years in the music industry helping artists and songwriters distill story through song.

Sepetys is the first American crossover novelist to address both European Parliament and Library of Congress. She was awarded The Rockefeller Foundation’s prestigious Bellagio Resident Fellowship for Salt to the Sea.

Ruta was recently bestowed the Cross of the Knight of the Order by the President of Lithuania for her contributions to education and memory preservation. She is intensely proud to be Lithuanian, even if that means she has a name no one can pronounce.

Ruta lives in a treehouse in the hills of Tennessee.

breakout session schedule



9:30-11 Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder

Sending Your Characters Off to College

 How to create compelling, self-sufficient characters who can survive in the real world. Creating a compelling character is much like raising a child: we must give them tools and experiences to become their own person. Through a series of writing exercises, we will explore how logic plays a role in our characters' actions and motivations, as well as how to keep your characters active rather than passive.

Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder’s plays include Gee's Bend (Alabama Shakespeare Festival, Denver Center, KC Rep, Arden, among others), Fresh Kills (Royal Court/London), The Furniture of Home (ASF), The Flag Maker of Market Street (ASF), and White Lightning (ASF, Triad Stage ‘19). Provenance (B Street Theatre, Little Fish), Everything That’s Beautiful (New Conservatory Theatre), Santa Doesn’t Come to the Holiday Inn (Ensemble Studio Theatre, NYC), among others. She has received commissions from Denver Center (The Bone Orchard), Baltimore Center State (My America, Too project), and the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, as well as a new co-commission from the Sloan Foundation and the Geva Theatre which explores racial bias and the development of color photography. Her latest play, The Light of the World, will be workshopped at the Southern Writers’ Festival at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival this fall. She is the winner of the Osborn Award given by the American Theatre Critics’ Association and was a staff writer for the CBS show, Love Monkey. Elyzabeth is currently the Tennessee Williams Playwright-in-Residence at Sewanee: The University of the South where she teaches playwriting. Proud NYU/Youngblood alum. www.wilderwriting.net

9:30-10:30 Sandy Spencer Coomer

The What, Why, and How of Staying at a Writers' Colony (and why it's better than a week at Motel 6).

“Retreat” is the new buzz word in writing circles these days. Busy, hectic lives with many responsibilities and distractions make focused work on a writing project difficult. How do we maneuver around our regular lives to find the state of mind required for creativity? Enter the world of a Writers’ Colony – a place designed specifically as a haven for writers. But how does it work? How does one find such a place? How does one get to stay there? All those questions and more will be answered as we discuss what it means to be a writer-in-residence. Best of all, we’ll explore through photos and video the up-close example of Rockvale Writers’ Colony, just a stone’s throw west of Murfreesboro.

Sandy Coomer is a poet, artist, and endurance athlete living in Brentwood, TN. Her poetry and art have been published in numerous journals and magazines, and she is the author of three poetry chapbooks, including the most recent, Rivers Within Us (Unsolicited Press). She is the founding editor of the online poetry journal, Rockvale Review, the creator and curator of the Ekphrastic poetry project 20/20 Vision: A Poetic Response to Photography, and a past poetry mentor in the AWP Writer to Writer Mentorship Program. Sandy is the founder and director of the soon-to-open Rockvale Writers’ Colony located in College Grove, TN. Her favorite word is “Believe.”

10:00-11:00 John Goslee

Writing towards Publication and Best Practices

This session (delivered virtually on the big screen) will concentrate on drafting toward publication and best submissions practices for short length work to magazines and full-length books.

John Gosslee is editor of 50 Contemporary Women Artists (Schiffer, 2018). His latest little book is Fish Boy (Nomadic Press, 2018). He directs PANK, Fjords Review, and C&R Press. His work is featured in Poetry Ireland, Prelude, Southampton Review and many others. See his other books here www.johngosslee.com

 10:30-11:30 Kamilah Aisha Moon

 Writing Outside Your Comfort Zone

 Sometimes writers fall into a rut with how they approach the creation of new work. This workshop will introduce prompts that shake up your usual strategies in an attempt to arrive at meaning in fresh, original ways. Please bring a favorite poem by someone else that you can use during the workshop.

Kamilah Aisha Moon is a Pushcart Prize winner, CLMP Firecracker Award and Lambda Award finalist, and a 2015 New American Poet who has received fellowships to Vermont Studio Center, Rose O'Neill Literary House, Hedgebrook, and Cave Canem. The author of Starshine & Clay (2017) and She Has a Name (2013), both published by Four Way Books, her work has been featured widely, including the Harvard Review, Poem A Day, Prairie Schooner, Oxford American and elsewhere. Moon holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and is an Assistant Professor of Poetry and Creative Writing at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia.



2:30-4:30 Kenley Smith

How Did We Get Here: Exposition through Dialogue

A playwright crafts a unique world on stage that may be as intimate as a living room or as broad as a battlefield. How does the audience make sense of it all? Through discussion, examples and in-session exercises (with actors!), you’ll learn some techniques for filling in the blanks via the characters’ own words.

Kenley Smith lives and writes in Nashville, TN. He is the director of Tennessee Playwrights Studio, a new developmental lab for in-state dramatists. He founded Studio Roanoke, a not-for-profit Virginia theatre that specialized in the development and production of new works from 2009 to 2012. He also was an Ingram playwright-in-residence at Nashville Repertory Theatre for the 2011-12 season and served as artistic associate for The Writing Room at Nashville Rep from 2015-2017. His full-length play, "Akuma-Shin," premiered in March at Sacred Fools Theatre Company in Los Angeles and was a MainStage selection of the 2015 Great Plains Theatre Conference. “Empires of Eternal Void," developed through the Nashville Rep’s Ingram New Works Lab, was a MainStage Selection at the 2013 GPTC and was produced at the University of Memphis in 2016. “Devil Sedan” was featured in 2008 at GPTC and has been produced in Chicago, Omaha and Roanoke in addition to a professional production in Nashville in 2013. “Devil Sedan” won first place at the Barter Theatre’s 2008 Festival of Appalachian Plays and Playwrights and took top honors in the West Virginia Writers, Inc., Joe McCabe Memorial Playwriting Competition in 2009. “Shade of the Trees,” a 2010 Barter finalist, went up at Studio Roanoke in 2009. Kenley earned an M.F.A. in Playwriting and an M.A. in English and Creative Writing, both from Hollins University. He has taught playwriting at Randolph College in Lynchburg, VA, and at the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference. Learn more at www.tnplaywrights.org and www.kenleysmith.com.

2:30-4:30 Corabel Shofner

Sit Down and Write — Then Write Some More

So many writers don’t know how to start a project, many more stall after 20 pages. I have a friend who wrote 3 chapters and has be re-writing it for five years. I want you to tell your story and finish it before you quit. We will work in groups and individually on exercises to get you over these humps. Please bring whatever you need to write during the session. Also bring a short piece of your own writing. It could be a page, an outline, a chapter, an idea. Even better if you are having trouble making it work. If time permits we can also discuss editing and publishing, so bring your questions.

Corabel Shofner is a wife, mother, attorney, and author. She graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Columbia University with a degree in English literature, and was on Law Review at Vanderbilt University School of Law.BUT before all that, she was a terrible, terrible student who dropped out of high school -- so really don't let anyone tell you that you are not smart, they don't know anything about anything. And never, never give up.ALMOST PARADISE is her debut novel.

2:30-4:30 Jen Chesak

Introduction to Freelance Writing

Yes, you can make money writing about topics you’re interested in. This session offers an introductory how-to on developing article or essay ideas, pitching them to publications, and managing the process from acceptance to the all-important payment.

Jennifer Chesak is a Nashville-based editor, writing instructor, and freelance journalist with a Master of Science in Journalism from Northwestern University's Medill. She writes for publications like Healthline, Prevention, SheKnows, Doorsteps, Greatist, and a host of fishing and boating magazines. She runs Wandering in the Words Press, which helps authors cut through the red tape of getting their books to market independently and in a polished and professional fashion. She’s currently working on her own novel set in her native state of North Dakota, and she prefers to mull over plot lines while running or gardening.

2:30-3:30 Sybil Baker

Imagination, Research, and Experience in Prose Writing

 For this session we will explore these three elements and how they are incorporated in prose writing. I'll be using my most recent novel and essay collection (which cover similar themes) as an example of how I used those three elements in fiction and nonfiction. We'll discuss how we can use these elements and will generate some ideas on how you can incorporate these elements in your own fiction and nonfiction pieces.

Sybil Baker’s Immigration Essays will be the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s Read2Achieve selection for 2018-2019. She is also the author of The Life Plan, Talismans, and Into This World, and most recently While You Were Gone. A UC Foundation Associate Professor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Sybil was awarded two MakeWork Artist Grants and a 2017 Individual Artist's Fellowship from the Tennessee Arts Commission. In addition to teaching at UTC, she is on faculty for VCFA’s inaugural low-residency international MFA program and for the Yale Writer’s Workshop.

3:30-4:30 Nathan Spoon

An Easy Way to Write Like Emily Dickinson

 Cristanne Miller observes that “Dickinson’s language is densely compressed, metaphorical, disjunctive; syntax is inverted; words are coined and used ungrammatically.” Miller also notes that Dickinson’s “poems balance informality and formality, colloquialism and complexity, intimacy and distance.” All of this sounds complicated. But is it? Once Dickinson had the body of her poem roughly sketched, the next part of her process was to change words and phrases she found unsatisfying. We can approximate her effect by making use of her common practice of listing, then incorporating, alternate words and phrases. We will be exploring Dickinson’s technique, with a time-saving twist!

Nathan Spoon is the author of Doomsday Bunker (Swan World, 2017) and My Name is Gretchen Merryweather (hardPressed poetry, 2017). His publications include Poetry, Mantis, Oxford Poetry, Hotel Amerika, KCRW.com and the anthology What Have You Lost? (HarperCollins). He is Senior Editor of X-Peri and has read his poetry at the University of Pennsylvania, Vanderbilt University and the ALSCW Conference.


Campus Info

We cannot wait to see you at the Fall Conference!  This year's conference will be held in the Student Union Ballroom. You may find directions to MTSU and a campus map helpful. 

General registration for the Fall Conference is $60 per person, which includes continental breakfast, lunch, breakout sessions, and keynote.

Discounted registration for MTSU Write alums and past mentors, MTSU students and faculty is $40 per person. Current MTSU Write students and mentors (2018) may attend at no charge (email mtsuwrite@mtsu.edu to reserve your spot.


Program enquiries to mtsuwrite@mtsu.edu

Questions or Comments

Please send an email to mtsuwrite@mtsu.edu.