Literary arts

Unleash the inner voice

SOMOS focuses on local authors and poets for its first Taos Writers Conference


Organized and hosted by the Society of the Muse of the Southwest (SOMOS), the Taos Writers Conference is planned to shine a light on the many talented writers, writing teachers and publishers in Taos County.

The March 10-12 conference — the first of what is hoped to become an annual event — is planned to include writing workshops, roundtable discussions, yoga classes, an open mic and a keynote address by New York Times best-selling author Anthony Marra.

Marra’s address is planned to take place March 10, 7 p.m., at the Harwood Museum of Art, 238 Ledoux St. Tickets for his talk are $25, $20 for SOMOS or museum members. Students 17 and younger are free. They can be purchased at the museum.

In preparation for Marra’s address, a discussion on his book “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena” is planned for 6:30 p.m., Wednesday (March 1) at SOMOS, 108-B Civic Plaza Drive. For details, call (575) 758-0081.

The discussion will be facilitated by SOMOS Executive Director Jan Smith. All book groups and the public are invited to attend the free event.

Marra’s awards include a Whiting Award and Pushcart Prize. “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena” is set in Chechnya during the First Chechen War and Second Chechen War. The novel won several awards, including the National Book Critics Circle’s inaugural John Leonard Prize.

For the first year of the Taos Writers Conference, Smith intentionally chose a faculty of all Taos writers. She stressed that Taos is filled with award-winning poets, writers and instructors and it made sense to showcase their talent. “I wanted it to be a celebration of the creative spirit in Taos,” she said. “I felt like we definitely had enough people to choose from. A big part of our mission is to support writers in Northern New Mexico. That’s why we sell local writers’ books in our bookshop, and that’s why we encourage local writers to offer workshops and classes at SOMOS.”

Smith said, for future conferences, SOMOS will likely expand faculty to include writers from other parts of New Mexico as well as the United States, but it was important for the inaugural conference to highlight local talent. She said she chose faculty based on their writing skills and proven record as teachers.

The Taos Writers Conference offers a stand-alone Friday intensive as well as a weekend’s worth of workshops in poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction and playwriting and roundtable discussions on aspects of publishing. The workshops and Friday intensives are filling up at a rapid pace and space is limited, so early registration is encouraged.

“I’m thrilled that Jan Smith and SOMOS have decided to launch an independent Taos Writers Conference. May it bloom and grow,” said poet Sawnie Morris.

Morris will be teaching an intensive on “The Magic of the Poetic Line,” which will explore “the craft of line breaks and other visual and auditory experiences,” according to a description. Morris also offers a weekend workshop on the same topic.

When asked what intrigues her about working with the shape of a poem, Morris responded, “Each turn of the line in a poem is a turn toward deeper meaning.”

Author Sean Murphy will be teaching “Dimension in Fiction, Creative Nonfiction and Memoir.” Murphy, who is also a teacher of Zen Buddhism, says his meditation practice informs how he teaches writing. “For one thing, my approach prominently features free writing in addition to craft and feedback,” Murphy said. “Free writing is a terrific technique for opening up the creative flow and getting away from the dominance of the inner critic – those inner voices that get in the way of developing a natural flow and voice in our writing. I took to using this technique in part because it’s an issue I’d already worked with a lot in my meditation.”

Jennifer Kostecki-Shaw has taught illustration and art for almost 15 years. She will be offering a workshop on writing and illustrating children’s stories. She draws inspiration from her own children, ages 2 and 7, and sometimes shapes her characters after them. Specifically, she notes her children’s “humor, clever use — sometimes misuse — of language, the innocent and fresh way they see the world, how they interact with animals and new situations.”

Author and interfaith teacher Mirabai Starr will be freshly returned from teaching at the first Ram Dass Legacy Immersion retreat in California when she comes to the Taos Writers Conference. She will be leading a workshop titled, “Writing Your Story of Loss and Transformation.”

Reflecting on writing her memoir, “Caravan of No Despair,” Starr said the process of telling the truth about her life was “as transformational as any spiritual practice I’ve ever done. … It opened my life in ways I didn’t even know I was blocked.”

The Taos Writers Conference is sponsored by Nighthawk Press, Dreamcatcher Bed and Breakfast, Beyond Taos, Taos Ski Valley, Brodsky Books, 3: A Taos Press, KLNN-FM 103.7 (transmitted by translator K244FD at 96.7 FM in Taos), KTAO-FM 101.9 and Cultural Energy KCEI-FM 90.1. Cultural Energy and The Toolbox are also providing rooms for the conference workshops.

For more information, including a full list of faculty and events, visit Online registration is open now, with workshop spaces limited to 12 participants.