Motherhood & Words

why the river teeth conference is the best writing conference out there

I spent the weekend of May 18-20 at the inaugural River Teeth Nonfiction Conference at Ashland University in Ashland, Ohio, and let me tell you: It was the best conference I’ve ever attended.

Why? Well, I’ll tell you.

Here are the Top Ten Reasons that the River Teeth Conference Rocks:

1. It’s small. (Seriously, have you ever had to wait in a mob of people for an elevator at AWP? You can just feel the introverted stress levels rising as the bank of elevators becomes more and more crowded.) That would never happen at River Teeth. There were about fifty people total.

2. Joe Mackall, Dan Lehman, and Sarah Wells. Have you met these guys? If not, you want to. The following reasons why the conference rocked are all because of them.

3. Food is provided. Okay, it wasn’t the most amazing food ever, but it was fine and you didn’t need to think about where to get your next meal; you just followed the small crowd across campus. It was like camp.

4. Ashland is lovely in May. Warm and sunny. Perfect for long walks across the picturesque campus. And they have eagle statues everywhere, so that’s kind of fun.

5. Bob Cowser. Who is freaking hilarious. (Though next year he won’t be there, so maybe I shouldn’t build him up so much.)

6. Amazing panelists and presenters. Honestly, I was taking notes and thinking about my own writing and teaching in that excited-buzzing-with-ideas kind of way, which hadn’t happened in a very long time. And Hope Edelman read her stunning essay, “Bruce Springsteen and the Story of Us.” If you haven’t read this, do so. Now.

7. Welcoming and open. When do you ever have authors (and high-profile authors at that) hanging out drinking beer and wine with emerging writers in someone’s apartment? Only at River Teeth, people. I read the Best American Essays every year, and I never thought I’d be chatting it up with editor Bob Atwan over glasses of Chardonnay.

8. Not pretentious. (Maybe all these things are connected–just different sides of the same beautiful thing created by Joe and Dan and Sarah.) I have been to conferences that are dominated by older white men who have an inflated sense of importance. It’s no fun. But everyone at the River Teeth conference was down-to-earth, warm, and smart as heck.

9. Gender-equal. (See number 8 re: white men.) There was an equal balance of women and men presenting. Hallelujah!

10. You actually get to see and talk to your friends and colleagues. None of the waving across a crowded hallway or losing people in crowds. (So guess this is a repeat of #1. ) But it so refreshing to actually be able to catch up with friends–the lovely Jill Christman, Sonya Huber, Hope Edelman, and Marilyn Bousquin, among many others.

Thank you, Joe and Dan and Sarah for making it such an amazing weekend. Readers, stay tuned for next year’s conference. You’re not going to want to miss it, and I have a feeling that it will fill up fast!

Some photos for your enjoyment:

Joe and Hope signing books. (Sorry I caught you with your eyes have closed, Joe. I had to include it anyway.)

Me with Bob Cowser and the amazing Ana Maria Spagna.

These women are fabulous: Marilyn Bousquin, Valerie Due and Sonya Huber (and Lisa Hardman in the background)! Whoop!

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I have been teaching creative writing for almost twenty years. Reading about other women’s lives and experiences has expanded my world. To be able to walk in someone else’s shoes, whether it’s for a moment or an hour or a few days, is an incredible gift, providing me with insight into the human experience. It takes courage to write your truths, especially if it doesn’t seem as though anyone cares, as though anyone is listening. Let me tell you: your stories matter, I’m listening, and I’m here to help you find the heart of those truths, to get them down on the page, to craft them, and to send them out into the world. Together, we will change the world, one story at a time.


  1. Holly Martineau on June 3, 2012 at 3:44 pm

    Aaaaaand HOW! I absolutely loved this conference and am so grateful I got to meet you and so many other fabulous writers. For me, the best part was your number 8. Not one single person was pretentious. And believe me, I was worried because I am a “beginner”. Whatever that means.

    I hope I will be able to make it again next year. What a highlight of my year, and life for that matter!

    PS-I’m on chapter 3 of “Use Your Words” and am loving it. THANK YOU for writing it!

    • Kate on June 7, 2012 at 2:50 pm

      Oh Holly, I totally agree! And it was fabulous to meet you. I hope you’ll be back next year!!

      And I’m so glad you like Use Your Words! I hope it will keep you company and keep you writing until the next conference!


  2. Nina on June 4, 2012 at 3:41 pm

    Sounds wonderful! #8 is most important to me.

    • Kate on June 7, 2012 at 2:50 pm


  3. Lisa Hardman on June 27, 2012 at 11:24 am

    You nailed it, Kate! This conference was such a boost for me and it was perfect in all the ways that you mentioned. It was such a pleasure to meet you and I can’t wait to see you again when you come out to Colorado for the ACC Lit Fest next Spring. If they have the River Teeth Conference again next year, I’m there for sure! Hope you will be there, too!

    • Kate on June 27, 2012 at 1:03 pm

      I can’t wait to see you next year in Colorado AND Ohio! I will definitely be going back to River Teeth. It was so great to meet you, as well, and I look forward to being in touch!