Inaugural poet Richard Blanco leading a workshop with students at URI.

It’s an annual June tradition. The URI Ocean State Summer Writing Conference brings writers and poets from all over to our Kingston campus to develop their craft, connect with one another, and soak up some inspiration – not to mention sunshine.

This year’s conference will be particularly inspiring. After all, its three keynote speakers are 2013 Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Ayad Akhtar, 2013 Inaugural poet Richard Blanco, and award-winning fiction writer Amity Gaige, whose latest novel has been praised everywhere from the New York Times and the Washington Post to Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

“These are writers whose work shakes the world,” says Professor of English and Creative Writing Mary Cappello, a member of the conference planning committee. And bringing “world shaking” writers to URI’s lovely, leafy Kingston campus for three days every June has made the conference popular with beginners testing the waters and published writers who want to take their work to the next level. From the beginning, its goal has been to build a community of writers in an atmosphere Professor Cappello calls “welcoming, unpretentious, and challenging.”

There is nothing rote about this conference. It is creatively assembled and full of surprises. These are writers whose work shakes the world. ~Mary Cappello

Ayad Akhtar won this year’s Pulitzer Prize for Drama for Disgraced, a moving and timely play exploring questions of identity and religion in today’s world. Not only will he offer a keynote address, the multi-talented Akhtar, who’s also a novelist, screenwriter, and actor, will teach a master class.

Professor Cappello invited Akhtar, who was her student at the University of Rochester, to participate in the conference after she saw Disgraced at Lincoln Center last fall. He accepted—and then went on to win this year’s Pulitzer Prize, which didn’t surprise Professor Cappello in the least. “This play is a masterpiece,” she says.

It’s safe to say that everyone is delighted that conference veteran Richard Blanco, who was selected to be this year’s Inaugural poet, is returning to Kingston again this year. His Inaugural poem “One Today” had the nation talking about the power of poetry, and his friends at URI cheering him on. He is also creating and reading an original poem, entitled “Boston Strong,” to honor the Boston bombing victims on May 30 at the sold-out fundraiser, Boston Strong: An Evening of Support and Celebration.

Associate Professor of English and Creative Writing Peter Covino, conference founding director, is a longtime friend of fellow poet Blanco. “Richard understands and is skilled in harnessing the real radical power of poetry. His work is extraordinary in its ability to tell a clear and compelling story filled with vivid imagery culled from various cultures.”

The conference is also pleased to welcome back Amity Gaige, formerly an instructor at URI who has taught fiction workshops at the conference for several years, always to rave reviews. She’s the recipient of numerous writing awards, and author of three novels, O My Darling, The Folded World, and  Schroeder, a compelling story of truth, identity, and obsession that was published this year. Her short stories, essays, and reviews have appeared in The New York Times, O Magazine, The Los Angeles Times, among many others.

Besides a knockout trio of keynote speakers, this year’s conference features workshops in fiction, non-fiction, memoir, poetry, and screenwriting; one-to-one consultations; and a variety of craft sessions, including several in the dramatic arts, as well as sessions in areas new to the conference, such as science fiction, fantasy, and biography.

“There is nothing rote about this conference,” says Professor Cappello. “It is creatively assembled and full of surprises. Conference attendees definitely leave feeling renewed, instructed, informed, and inspired. I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that the encounters people have had with writers and instructors here have changed their lives.”


The seventh annual URI Ocean State Summer Writing Conference will held June 20-22 , 2013, on the Kingston Campus. 

Above photo: Workshop leader Richard Blanco and Padma Venkatraman, conference presenter and committee member, at the 2012 URI Ocean State Summer Writing Conference. Photo credit: Nora Lewis