A Northwest Based Literary Journal

On Centrum’s Port Townsend Writers’ Conference, by Ciara Shuttleworth

I took for granted the literary royalty that visited my childhood home. Writers came through on their way to massive careers, or teeth-cracking collapse, or mediocrity. Many of them came back again and again. Regardless who they were or how many times they’d visited, my parents fed them too much food, made up a bed, and my father would drink with them—sometimes until morning. “You meet the same people on the way up as you do on the way down,” my father told me.

I have chased childhood memories, wanted there to exist a place like my parents’ house, an artistic rest area on the poetry highway. I wanted to again hear country music drifting from the record player to my bedroom along with laughter and stories, to fight sleep but fall quickly. I wanted to be part of the unexplained celebration and to feel as I believe the visiting writers always felt, regardless of their level of success: extraordinary and necessary.

Centrum’s Port Townsend Writers’ Conference can boast the usual clichés about being a “summer camp for writers” and “magical” in its fairyland of foghorns and madrona trees and with an exceptional roster of writers on faculty, but what sets Centrum apart is a sense of something more than community, something akin to family. A few days into the July 2014 conference, long-time participant Philip Shaw captured what we’d all been trying to put into words: “This is my tribe.”

The 2014 session was my second time to the conference, and it proved more generative than last year’s. I took a workshop and was required to write a new draft every day. I taught a couple afternoon sessions. I attended readings…talked over beer or food in widening circles. Some folks have multiple books and others have only been writing for a year.

I was typically to bed by midnight. The blues and country being played just up the hill set an aural backdrop from late-morning until dawn, and it took me into sleep quickly. At 6AM, only a handful of us were jogging in the fog, but by 7:30AM hoards were heading, notebooks in hand, to breakfast or the free-write or benches overlooking the water. Program manager Jordan Hartt and his team greeted all of us by name from the schoolhouse’s porch. By 11:30 when the morning sessions finished, the campus was again in full swing.

By late-afternoon, we clustered in small groups. While the beginning of the week found most clamoring to meet the big-name faculty, the middle of the week found us gravitating each day closer to those we imagine are our peers. One friend received word his poetry manuscript has been accepted for publication. Another wrote 52 poem drafts. Still another spent the entire week working through one novel scene. Some didn’t write at all, hoping simply to recharge.

The Port Townsend Writers’ Conference is the closest thing I’ve found to the wondrous visits of my childhood. I’d like to think all of our writing is on the rise, that we’ll meet again and again, and that the magic we felt while in Port Townsend will carry us for at least a year.


–Ciara Shuttleworth



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