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Writers’ conference a first for Quest

June week-long event brings together emerging writers and veteran scribes
Quest student and writer Tari Ajadi, is involved with the planning of the upcoming Quest Writer’s Conference with his mentor and founder of the conference Jessamyn Smyth on the balcony of Quest’s cafeteria, on Friday afternoon.

It is meant to be a writers’ fantasy week.

Jessamyn Smyth, founding director of the first Quest Writers’ Conference, imagines the five-day June event as a chance for want-to-be scribes to gather in the majestic setting of the university for inspiration from international poets and authors, she said.

“My primary goal, especially for the first conference, was to be hiring faculty who were as gifted in teaching and as gorgeous human beings as they are writers,” said Smyth, herself a poet, author and teacher. “It will absolutely be a prima donna-free zone. Only the most generous teachers are the gifted writers that I want to bring.”

The conference will include workshops, editing, free time to write, agent and manuscript consultation and field trips, such as up the Sea to Sky Gondola.

Instructors will include poets Joy Harjo, Oliver de la Paz and Alicia Ostriker, essayist Rebecca Brown and author Gregory Orr.

Smyth said while it will be a generous atmosphere, attendees will be challenged to grow as writers and as people.

“They will be tough and they will be challenging and they will push people very hard, but they will do so with immense investment in the work on its own terms,” she said.

There will be about five fellows in addition to the conference faculty. The conference will accept a maximum of 100 writers.

“So there will be a faculty and fellow paired with 20 participants in the morning workshops,” Smyth said.

Smyth said the hope is the conference will expand every year, but she said she never wants it to grow too big.

“Never to go above 300 or 350 at the most,” she said. “Once you grow past that, the intimacy is lost.”

According to Smyth, there is a community of hidden artists in Squamish and she hopes the conference will bring them out into the open.

“Almost everybody I run into, at a certain point when you get to know them, they are secretly a painter or they are secretly a sculptor, or they don’t call themselves an artist but they say, ‘I make stuff sometimes,’ or ‘I weld a little bit.’ And then you look at what they are talking about and it is this astonishing sculpture that they are building in their garage, and so there is all this hidden art here and I am hoping this can be one more place where all of the creative spirits can feel like, ‘Here is something that will nurture me,’” she said.

All of the conference’s evening activities are free and open to the public.

“It is this opportunity to hear these world-class readings that are really unusual to get to in a really intimate, beautiful environment – for free,” Smyth said.

The conference runs June 21-28. The application deadline is April 20.

For more information, go to

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