A Look At: Point Loma Nazarene, Writer’s Symposium by the Sea

Would you tell us a bit about your program?  For instance how long has Point Loma Nazarene been hosting the Symposium by the Sea, how did it get started, and how has it changed over the years?

The Writer’s Symposium By The Sea is in its 21st year (next one is Feb. 16-19, 2016), and it started when I invited the local writer Joseph Wambaugh to come to campus to talk about writing. He didn’t want to give a talk, but said he’d answer questions. So I worked up an interview with him, got UCSD to broadcast it, and invited the public. It was a huge success, so we kept that format and added some workshops during the day. Now it’s a 3-to-4-day event and it’s a huge deal for both the campus and the community. People from the East Coast come to attend, although that may have something to do with it being February in Southern California!

What makes this event special?

What makes this event special is the interview format. Writers don’t come and give talks or readings. They answer questions about their work and the craft of writing. I think it’s more interesting to the audience that way. And it’s usually a lot funnier!

What did you learn from last year’s program that is helping you this year?  What are you changing, what worked well?

Every year is a little different because the writers are different. At our next Symposium we have the great poet and spoken word artist Nikki Giovanni coming. Before my interview with her, she’ll do a spoken word performance. So we try to arrange the event to best highlight the strengths of the writers. Another difference is that we don’t often have writers from the adolescent fiction genre. This year we have an author who has sold more than 5 million books targeted to middle school girls, so she’s got something unique to say. And we don’t often have sports broadcasters, but Dick Enberg’s essays at the end of big sporting events are beautifully crafted. I love the variety of each year’s gathering.

What advice or tips can you share with us about hosting a visiting authors series?

My advice for doing this is to start small. We started with one author and it grew over the decades. But you have to live within your means. Joyce Carol Oates told me last year that our Writer’s Symposium was more ambitious than what they do in the writing program where she teaches at Princeton. But we didn’t start out this big. I would also advise establishing partnerships with local writing and other arts groups, other universities and community colleges, foundations, and businesses. Local businesses sometimes want to sponsor a writer’s appearance.

What are some of your fondest or most notable memories from past events?

One of my fondest memories is losing control of my interview with Ray Bradbury while he went off on a rant about the importance of writing on a regular basis. I usually try to keep the interview moving along with my own order of questions, but as soon as he spun off in his own orbit, it was wildly entertaining and deep. Who needs order when you’ve got Ray Bradbury? I also was moved when audiences interrupted interviews I was doing with both Bill Moyers and war correspondent Chris Hedges, with standing ovations. These writers are prophetic voices, and the audience sensed it. And then when writer Anchee Min finished our interview with a song from a Chinese Opera? I could go on and on.

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