UK Happenings

Virtual Women Writers Conference Format Marks Event’s Most Accessible Year Yet

headshot photo of Evie Shockley by Nancy Crampton
Award-winning poet Evie Shockly to headline this year's virtual Kentucky Women Writers Conference. Photo by Nancy Crampton.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Aug. 20, 2020) The Kentucky Women Writers Conference – Virtual Edition will begin three weeks from today, Sept. 10–13, 2020, and is taking place entirely online. The conference director, Julie Wrinn, recently wrote an op-ed in the Lexington Herald-Leader about how this event will be different in the context of the pandemic and the protests. The conference still features writing workshops, readings and panel discussions, and organizers are capitalizing on the online format to make it the most affordable and accessible KWWC in decades. General admission is $25, with options for joining a small-group workshop or meeting with an agent for additional fees.

KWWC will continue to include several signature free events, taking place every night at 7 o'clock, though each will look a little different this year. The conference keynote, An Evening with Evie Shockley, is made possible by University of Kentucky Libraries and is taking place on the first night of the conference, Sept. 10. Shockley is a professor of English at Rutgers University and the author of three books of poetry: "semiautomatic" (Wesleyan, 2017), which won the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award and was a finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and the LA Times Book Prize; "the new black" (Wesleyan, 2011), winner of the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award in Poetry; and "a half-red sea" (Carolina Wren Press, 2005). In 2019, she was named winner of the Lannan Literary Award in Poetry. Shockley’s reading begins at 7 p.m.

The Wild Women of Poetry Showcase is taking place on its usual Saturday night but is pivoting from a competitive format this year. As Wrinn explained, “Even though it is possible to hold poetry slams online, we felt that the fishbowl environment of being judged onscreen without the enthusiastic crowd dynamic of our in-person slams would make this event less satisfying in a competitive format.”

The showcase headliner will be the poet Mahogany Browne, its emcee will be Affrilachian poet Ellen Hagan, and its performers will include eight young women poets from Kentucky and around the country. Honorariums in memory of Faith A. Smith, the mother of UK professor and former Kentucky Poet Laureate Frank X Walker, will be awarded to each of the eight performers. To sign up for the open mic segment (7-7:30 p.m.), please email

The Stars of the Commonwealth reading, which highlights writers with Kentucky ties, will feature readings by Carrie Green, Mariama Lockington and Claudia Love Mair, with introductions and a discussion led by the KWWC Board of Directors Vice President Ashley Sipple-McGraw. Instead of its usual morning slot, this reading will take place 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 13.

Finally, Wrinn explained a change in conference dates: “Some may have noticed that we moved the conference to a different weekend than originally announced. This was owing to a conflict with the Jewish holiday, Rosh Hashanah. Our organization has a long and proud history of celebrating and encouraging all women’s voices, including Jewish women’s. It is because of our commitment to these values that I am especially sorry that our original dates were not welcoming and inclusive of our Jewish colleagues and friends. The Board of Directors and I pledge to avoid conflicts with religious holidays in the future.”

A joint program of the UK College of Arts and Sciences and Kentucky Women Writers Conference Inc., the conference is the longest running literary festival of women in the nation. Registration opened July 1, and free events also require registration. To register or for more information on the conference, visit online at or phone 859-257-2874.

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