Women and men alike are WOW’ed

The fourth annual Women on Writing conference took place at Skyline all day Saturday March 4, 2006. It featured well over 300 attendees, 60 student volunteers, 22 published authors and a plentitude of others that came together for one reason.

They came for Sonya Pope; perhaps not the individual but definitely the spirit. She, like the other scores of mostly women, came here for his or her own reasons but left linked together in finding something that exceeds expectation.

“Today inspired me to write,” Pope declares. “It has literally opened a new path for me to walk down. I came as an aspiring writer but I also came for my daughters. I am one of 18 children and first to break the cycle of high school dropouts and not going to college [I did it] for the sake of my daughters. I now want to inspire them as the keynote speech inspired me.”

This year Janice Mirikitani, San Francisco’s Poet Laureate, gave the keynote. Using her words and her candor as her only weapons she disarmed the entire audience. She peppered her speech with spirited recitations of poems she had written and colorful anecdotes of her life.

The prejudice she endured was more than just feminine. It had a lot to do with her race as well, but she tied it so that it was more than just metaphors for dealing with strife. The overall message of the speech seemed to be self-discovery; which she calls, “… finding your voice, finding your light and letting it shine”.

Following the keynote and a book signing by Mirikitani was the first of two workshop sessions. For the morning session, there were eight workshops to choose from.

If you wanted help writing a diary, poem, mystery, science fiction, fantasy or even a cookbook, it was all available. One workshop taught you to use your inner voice and another taught how to write ecologically-minded. It was truly the berth and spectrum of internal and external narrative workshop options.

At some point the organizers of the conference found time to offer everyone a free lunch. As an example of the politically correct atmosphere, the event fostered a menu that catered to omnivore, vegan or vegetarian. Everyone spoke with a thoughtfulness unusual for a college campus. Whether or not the ratio of estrogen to testosterone is a contributing factor is unknown. Skyline is 54% women but that day it seemed women favored men by over ten-to-one.

Even lunch had events going on so that if you were not hungry there were a multitude of other events running concurrently. One room had open readings, another had book signings by a number of the authors in attendance and the main theatre housed Talisman editors reading poetry.

As Marlene Madell, Skyline photography student puts it, “It is a quality convention and also one of the best kept secrets of local writing.” Regarding the milieu Madell mused, “Writing is solitary but you need community and here you have that,” she said. “It is so good to be among your tribe.”

One such tribal gathering was the featured authors’ book panel where each author got to speak. Later it became an open forum for others to question them. Following the forum the second and final workshop of the day commenced. 

Initially it was desired to make it a two day event so there could be more workshops but getting the enthusiasm required to make it work was not possible. One concession was that this year there were two workshops. Still, as Women on Writing founder and coordinator Marijane Datson said, “A big request we always see in the returned comment sheets is for more workshop sessions.”

As far as anyone who participated or attended was concerned, this year’s conference was a rousing success. One excited attendee was overheard exclaiming, “My light coming in was a 25 watt bulb but today it has been illuminated to 100 watts!”
Dr. Loretta Adrian, Vice President of Student Services here at Skyline said, “We have all worked very hard this year to make this a self sustaining event.” One reason may be that next year Datson may not be the coordinator for the first time. As a retiree, the reigns may fall on someone else next year.

After being a part of Datson’s life for over 14 years it will now be her legacy. It began as a way to celebrate International Women’s Day and bring a writing conference to the northwest.

Now it is something that will no doubt endure long after Sonya Pope, Marlene Madell and all those who attended have left their own marks on the world.