Raising the Bar

Poet. Screenwriter. Journalist. Blogger. Author. Ultimately, they are all writers. And whatever the niche, the Conference of the Cape Cod Writers Center likely has a class to make their words read better.

For nearly five decades, the oldest writers group on Cape Cod has quietly held its flagship conference every August at the Craigville Conference Center in Centerville, drawing an array of distinguished instructors and speakers—Kurt Vonnegut, Isaac Asimov, and a host of others have lent their talents to the proceedings—and thousands of scribes eager to polish their craft. This August, the 48th annual conference carries the theme “Books, Bytes, and Beach,” an allusion to the intersection of print and digital publishing. Technology has made it easier than ever for writers to get their words to an audience via blogging and self-publishing, for example. “But on the road to traditional publishing,” says Nancy Rubin Stuart, director of the conference, “the bar is probably higher today than it ever was.”

Getting a story into print is very different than it was in the summer of 1963, when a group of wordsmiths called the Twelve O’Clock Scholars organized a writers workshop. Under the direction of Marion Vuilleumier, a long-time Cape wordsmith, the workshop turned into an annual conference that grew alongside its year-round counterpart, the Cape Cod Writers Center. Today, the center hosts a variety of writers groups and events for its more than 300 members, like Breakfast with the Authors, an ongoing series of talks and book signings from a range of writers. President Kevin Symmons says the constituency ranges from novices who have finished a draft of their first chapter to veterans who have published their seventh book, many of whom need support and guidance after realizing the revelation he made early in his own literary efforts. “Writing is probably the most frustrating and at the same time the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done,” Symmons says.

The crux of the conference remains nuts-and-bolts instruction in the evolving craft of arranging words. Rubin Stuart, who among other achievements has authored six nonfiction books like the award-winning The Muse of the Revolution and served as a contributor to The New York Times, taught two classes at the 2009 conference before signing on as director. The Sandwich resident describes a friendly classroom full of published and aspiring writers alike, an atmosphere brimming with enthusiasm and empty of competition. “The goal is to prepare [the writers] for publication,” she says.

The range of classes is as varied as the goals of the body of registrants. Multi-day classes in nonfiction, humor, commercial fiction, and graphic novels exist alongside one-off courses in travel writing, blogging, digital publishing, and instruction in marketing and business matters. The Young Writers Workshop for burgeoning high-school writers, keynote speeches from the likes of WBZ radio personality Jordan Rich and historical fiction novelist William Martin, and manuscript evaluation sessions fill out a slate of happenings that, quite frankly, is too large to fit on this page. There is no guarantee of success in the fine print on the registration form, but there are success stories. Shutter Island and Mystic River author Dennis Lahane and distinguished Cape Cod writer Anne LeClaire—who teaches this year’s “From Memories to Memoirs” course—both attended the conference earlier in their careers. It’s also where Sally Gunning, author of The Widow’s War, found her agent.

What constitutes “publishing” might be markedly different. E-books, self-publishing, on-demand publishing, and countless other methods are all viable in the 21st century. “It’s our mission to apprise and keep our members’ skills up to date with the changing environment,” Rubin Stuart says.

One thing that has not changed is the appeal of the Cape’s sea-sprayed environment to budding authors. In some ways, this backdrop to the conference is just as crucial as the expert instruction. “It becomes a marvelous source of inspiration for people . . .” Rubin Stuart says. “Art and literature and writing and oceans have always gone together. It’s a natural fit.”

48th Annual Conference of the Cape Cod Writers Center

August 15-20, 2010
Craigville Conference Center, Centerville
For more information and to register,
visit or call (508) 420-0200.


Jeff is the Managing Editor for Cape Cod Life Publications.

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