54th Annual Writers Conference to feature award-winning authors, poets and artists

Three-day event opens March 23 for in-person and online audiences

The 54th Annual UND Writers Conference will feature authors, poets and artists whose work correlates with human health and well-being.
Poster design by Xavier Pastrano

GRAND FORKS – The 54th annual UND Writers Conference, set for March 23-25 at the Memorial Union and online, will feature seven award-winning authors, poets and artists from around the country.

The theme for this year’s conference, “The Healing Arts,” led to a program that features authors and artists whose work considers the role of the arts in emotion, physical and spiritual healing, according to a UND news release. These guest speakers will discuss how acts of aesthetic creation evoke compassion, facilitate understanding and can bring people together in unique ways.

The conference will feature moderated panels, readings by individual authors, presentations, and various workshops for and readings by community members.

All events are free and open to the public, and will be streamed online. Parking is free.

The conference theme emerged during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021, said Crystal Alberts, professor of English and director of the UND Writers Conference.


“Although that time was extremely hard on arts organizations because we couldn’t be in-person, many of us pivoted to online delivery – providing access to arts that some people never would have been able to access previously," said Alberts, who has been directing the conference since spring 2009.

During the pandemic and beyond, people turned to the arts for solace, joy, to stay busy, to find community and for myriad other reasons, she said. Regardless of medium, the arts “feed the mind, inspire emotion, generate empathy and can help heal,” she said.

“Consequently, I wanted to have a Writers Conference focused on how an art-filled life, as simple as it may sound, can actually improve well-being,” Alberts said. “Since spring is approaching, perhaps it will also inspire people to read more, start writing poetry, plant a garden or take up a new hobby or craft, whatever it may be.”

The annual conference provides a forum for those in North Dakota and the Upper Plains region to discuss how the arts impact our everyday lives.

During the pandemic, for those organizations that could successfully pivot to online, Alberts said, “we found an audience that was not only our local audience that we wanted to continue serving, but expanded it statewide, nationwide, international.”

Many who were isolated at home found arts-related experiences with known sources as well as “things in our local community that we didn’t know about,” which helped increase organizations’ online presence, she said.

The Writers Conference, which has been dubbed “A Literary Festival on the Prairie,” will feature the following authors and artists during this year’s event:

Ingrid Rojas Contreras

Ingrid Rojas Contreras, a fiction and non-fiction writer born and raised in Bogota, Colombia, has received numerous awards and fellowships from various arts organizations. Her first novel, “Fruit of the Drunken Tree,” is the silver medal winner in First Fiction from the California Book Awards and a New York Times editor’s choice. Her essays have appeared in the New York Times Magazine, among other publications.


Xavier 2022
Xavier Pastrano
Photo by Amanda Fritz

Xavier Pastrano, an artist, poet and teacher, earned a master of arts degree in English at UND. His poems have appeared in anthologies “Thunderstorms and The Scandalous Lives of Butterflies” and “South Dakota in Poems.” His latest book, “Hey Kid,” is based on student responses to an anonymous survey, asking to express how they felt in life, in 2020. He designed this year’s conference poster.

Juliet Patterson

Juliet Patterson, a poet and non-fiction writer, is the author of “Sinkhole: A Legacy of Suicide,” and two full-length poetry collections, “Threnody,” a finalist for the 2017 Audre Lorde Poetry Award, and “The Truant Lover,” winner of the Nightboat Poetry Prize and a finalist for the 2006 Lambda Literary Award. Patterson, who earned a bachelor's degree in English from UND, has received a number of other literary prizes and fellowships and teaches creative writing and literature at St. Olaf College.

Tracy K. Smith

Tracy K. Smith, a poet, educator and memoirist, served as the 22nd Poet Laureate of the United States from 2017 to 2019. In 2012, she received a Pulitzer Prize for her third book of poems, “Life on Mars,” which also earned other awards. Her other published collections include “The Body’s Question,” “Duende” and “Wade in the Water.” Her memoir, “Ordinary Light,” was published in 2015.

Morgan Talty
Photo by Mooky Cherie Photography

Morgan Talty, a fiction writer, editor and citizen of the Penobscot Indian Nation, is the author of “Night of the Living Rez,” which won the New England Book Award, was a finalist for the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers program, and is a finalist for the 2023 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction. A recent winner of the PEN America/PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Short Story Collection, he teaches creative writing and Native American and contemporary literature at the University of Maine.

Niki Tsukamoto

Niki Tsukamoto, an artist and designer, focuses her work on traditional craft and herbalism, including the use of natural dyes and fibers, stitch work and weaving. As a daily practice, she makes medicinally-dyed cloth created with specific color frequencies from plant sources and meditations on our human conscious evolution through ritual and devotion.

Alejandro Varela

Alejandro Varela, a writer based in New York, wrote his first book, “The Town of Babylon,” in 2022. His second book, “The People Who Report More Stress,” is forthcoming. The 2019 Jerome Fellow in Literature, he serves as editor-at-large of “Apogee Journal” and his writing has appeared in publications including Point Magazine, Boston Review, Harper’s and the Georgia Review. He holds a master's degree in public health.

Some events are both in-person and online, but all will be available via live-streaming.

For more information and the conference schedule, visit .


Pamela Knudson is a features and arts/entertainment writer for the Grand Forks Herald.

She has worked for the Herald since 2011 and has covered a wide variety of topics, including the latest performances in the region and health topics.

Pamela can be reached at or (701) 780-1107.
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