New writing seminar coming to Marquette

From July 20 to 23, Northern Michigan University will host its inaugural Fresh Water Fresh Voices, a unique English conference that combines the beautiful outdoors with nature-inspired writing seminars. NMU English professor Rachel May has created the event.

“This seemed like a great way to marry the work of our fantastic (Master of Fine Arts) program with the outdoor recreation activities that we all enjoy along our beautiful Lake Superior shores. I wanted to give writers from the area and from further afield the chance to feel inspired by this place, within a community of talented writers and attendees who are eager to share their talent and skill,” May said.

The conference will include outdoor activities such as ecology hikes, biking, rock climbing and kayaking alongside writing workshops led by professional writers from all over the United States, such as Pam Houston, Diane Les Becquets, Frank X. Walker, Mark Sundeen, Nicole Walker, Peter Geye, Kimberly Blaeser and others.

Nightly readings and conversations with writers will happen over dinner and cocktails to unwind and communicate new ideas.

“Conference attendees will have the chance to get inspired by what the writers are working on, learn more about their writing practices and ideas, and find new ways into their own work. They’ll also get to spend time talking with fellow attendees to find kindred spirits who have the same love of outdoors and writing as they do. They’ll make friends with whom they can exchange work in the months that follow the conference, keeping each other going until we meet up again next year,” May said.

Writers of all skill levels may attend the conference, which is also seeking volunteers to help the event run smoothly. Volunteers are needed to help set up events, drive vans, help the outdoor trek guides, coordinate workshop schedules, and help publicize the events.

“The workshops are going to be different than what people are used to at a writing conference,” May said.

That’s because they’ll be held outdoors for two hours a day and will be led by writers with all different backgrounds. The outdoor excursions will be led by NMU outdoor recreation students, and coordinated by Assistant Professor of Outdoor Recreation Leadership and Management  Scott Jordan. NMU’s outdoor recreation department will provide all outdoor equipment (with the exception of bikes, which can be rented at various locations in town).

In addition to the conference, high school juniors and seniors from Flint and Detroit will join the workshops after going fly-fishing at various spots around the U.P.

Chad Brown from Soul River Inc. will teach the students how to fly fish, a way to ease stress and enjoy nature.

“I’m very excited about Mr. Brown and the high school students coming up here. What he does is healing through the wilderness,” said event assistant and NMU English professor Jon Billman.

The high school students will have special writing workshops set up for them, and will join the nightly conversations over dinner with writers.

The conference will wrap up on Sunday with a 30-mile bike ride touring and learning about several local farms, sampling food at each stop. The excursion is expected to last six hours, ending at Black Rocks Brewery for locally made beer. Those who are unable to bike may follow along via car.

Scholarships are available to anyone who would like to participate in the event, which ranges in price from $490 to $560. Certain dorm rooms on campus will be available to anyone who needs a place to stay while they’re here. Camping is another great option, but anyone camping is encouraged to reserve their spots now, as Hiawatha Music Festival is the same weekend. Hotels are always available and should also be booked as soon as possible.

“I’m hoping this conference will be a memorable, unique experience for everyone. We’d like to see it succeed so we can offer it for years to come,” May said.

Contact May at for more information.


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