Winning writers

When it comes to choosing writers to headline the Ocean State Writing Conference, URI has a knack for picking winners.

No less than seven internationally renowned writers have received major literary prizes after agreeing to participate in the conference. This year’s conference begins Thursday, Oct. 26, and features keynote speaker Masha Gessen, journalist, best-selling author, translator and activist — and a National Book Award finalist this year.


  • 2007: novelist Dinaw Mengetsu receives a MacArthur Fellowship, a cash prize of $625,000, in the same year he presents at URI.
  • 2011: keynote speaker and novelist Jennifer Egan wins the Pulitzer Prize soon after committing to URI.
  • 2013: playwright Ayad Akhtar wins the Pulitzer after headlining the conference. In the same year, fellow presenter Richard Blanco is tapped by President Barack Obama to be his inaugural poet.
  • 2014: Graphic memoirist Alison Bechdel wins a MacArthur Fellowship in the same year she presents at URI.
  • 2015: poet Gregory Pardlo wins a Pulitzer soon after his URI appearance, a conference which also featured poet Tracy K. Smith, who, in 2017, became the current U.S. Poet Laureate.

Note: Gessen’s address on Friday, Oct. 27, from 4 to 5:30 p.m., is free and open to the public. It will take place in Swan Hall Auditorium, 60 Upper College Road. Take a look at this year’s other featured speakers and conference schedule.