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UND Writers Conference fundraiser follows in founder’s footsteps

Every day was a top-down day for John Little. The writer/philosopher/fisherman took a cruise along South Washington Avenue in his convertible on a bitter cold day during the winter of 1997. (photo by bill alkofer)

UND Writers Conference founder John Little once called them “survivors parties.”

It was an event intended to gather survivors of a different kind — ones who had mingled with America’s literary giants at the famed conference in Grand Forks, where students and faculty shared a cocktail or two (or three or four) with their favorite authors at bars and over cozy dinners at people’s homes.

In a YouTube video capturing a conference in 1978, Little told a packed crowd that this special kind of alumni should gather at a bar to re-hash and reminisce over the great stories that emerged from past conferences.

“(It’s for) people who have not only survived this Writers Conference, but have survived in the past,” he said. “There will be speeches about who has survived the most parties and who is guilty of the worst behavior at such parties.”

On Monday, a fundraising event will be held in the same spirit to honor Little and all of the conference’s previous “survivors” at Sanders 1907 restaurant. People can still register up until the day of the dinner, said Tanya Butler, events coordinator for the College of Arts and Sciences. Proceeds will support the John Little Memorial Endowment, which supports the conference.

“The vision for the dinner is that folks will just show up, eat John Little’s favorite foods and reminisce,” she said.

Originally hailing from Mississippi, Little was an English professor at UND for three decades and initiated the first conference there in 1970.

Called the Southern Writers Conference on the Arts, it featured authors such as William Anderson, John Carr and Fred Chappel. Since then the conference has grown to feature a variety of well-known authors such as Truman Capote, Tom Wolfe and Salman Rushdie.

“Whopper” John, who was also a Herald columnist in the late 1980s and early 1990s, was known for his love of “fish stories.” A collection of his humorous fishing columns were later published in a book.

He died in 2002, but his spirit lives on at the conference, which starts Monday.

On the Web: To register for the dinner, go to To see the YouTube video of John Little, go to

If you go

  • What: A dinner is being held to raise funds for the John Little Memorial Endowment.
  • When: 5:30 p.m. Monday.
  • Where: Sanders 1907 restaurant, 22 S. Third St., Grand Forks.
  • How much: $100 per person.
  • To register:
  • Don’t forget to go to the UND Writers Conference, which starts Wednesday. For more info:
Jennifer Johnson

Jennifer Johnson is the K-12 education reporter for The Grand Forks Herald.  Contact her if you have any story ideas or tips and visit 

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