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WOW! conference celebrates the voices of women writers

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Skyline students showcased their creative writing alongside award-winning authors Julie Bruck and Vanessa Hua to students and the local community on March 25 at the annual “WOW! Voices Now: Women on Writing” conference on campus.

The Women on Writing conference provided a free opportunity for students, faculty, and members of the Bay Area to be exposed to a variety of perspectives during the readings of literary works from multiple local writers.

“I want everyone to read more, to write more, and to think critically,” Kathleen McClung, the coordinator of the event said. “I hope people will leave today feeling inspired to do their very best work in whatever field that may be.”

WOW! was created 15 years ago with the purpose of bringing people together so that they may affiliate with talented, published women. The spirit of these conferences was to honor women’s writing and to explore the writing process with other authors.

Originally, the conference was an all-day 400-person event but was scaled back to a morning event during the economic recession. It is now held yearly on Skyline campus in a medium-sized conference room with approximately 50 people in attendance.

Attendees of the conference consisted primarily of middle-aged, elderly Women on Writing members and Skyline students. The conference also attracted attendees from the greater Bay Area. Retired Skyline English professor and Women on Writing founder Marijane Datson was unable to attend the event due to being sick with pneumonia.

Fiction writer Vanessa Hua and poet Julie Bruck started the event with readings from their short stories and poems.The winners of the ISA Scholar and Joyce Unger awards (Justine Alano and Beatrice Choi) and the open readers followed the two featured authors.

“I try to write for the page first,” Bruck said when asked about the differences in a spoken reading to an audience compared to a silent reading alone. “But I want to make sure that they work aurally – ‘a-u’ aurally.”

“I also receive audible feedback while reading to an audience that I wouldn’t have received otherwise,” Bruck said.

Vanessa Hua, a former San Francisco Chronicle columnist, read short stories centered on the experiences of Asian heritage and culture.

“I think stories and poems and art are so powerful right now because of the ways in which marginalized people, poor people – there’s either no coverage about them or there’s only one story put out there,” Hua said. “That’s why it’s important to put out stories that are complicated and show characters that are complex and reflect all that’s out there.”

Women on Writing participant Elise Kazanjian prefaced her open reading with enthusiasm for the community:

“At first I was intimidated by open reading but ever since I heard about the event through Katherine 10 years ago, I have been a part of and have gone to every WOW! event,” Kazanjian said. “I drive down from Sonoma every year.”

As the morning progressed, attendees gathered around to discuss their writing and experiences over a generous continental breakfast catered by Skyline bookstore manager Kevin Chak. The conference attendees had the chance to purchase and have their books signed by Bruck and Hua.

Kristen Ersando, a communications and sociology major, mentioned that Hua’s short story was relatable to her as an Asian American and it was important for Asian American women’s voices to be heard in a predominantly non-Asian audience. She also said that San Bruno has a large Asian American community and that their voices must be heard.

“Being amongst your kind and hearing them in a position of high prestige, it’s really important to see that,” Ersando said. “It’s important to see empowered people, empowered people of color.”

Katherine Harer, the host of the conference, emphasized the importance of presenting different viewpoints to people – to see a part of them that we wouldn’t have otherwise.

She also advises students who want to participate in the open reading next year to get feedback from a professor and sign up fast because the list fills up quickly.

The event was received positively by the attendees. “I really enjoy hearing women speak,” Ersando said. “This is a really valuable conference [and] I’m so glad I got to go.”

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WOW! conference celebrates the voices of women writers