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UND Writers Conference gets $15,000 NEA grant

The National Endowment for the Arts has granted the UND Writers Conference $15,000 to support the 2011 conference and to preserve audio footage of some of the earliest conferences, including Beat poet Allen Ginsberg reading "Howl."...

The National Endowment for the Arts has granted the UND Writers Conference $15,000 to support the 2011 conference and to preserve audio footage of some of the earliest conferences, including Beat poet Allen Ginsberg reading "Howl."

The 2011 UND Writers conference, titled "(Inter)National Affairs," will be March 29 through April 2, said Crystal Alberts, assistant UND professor of English, who, along with Kathleen Coudle-King, co-directed this year's writer's conference.

The grant will support digitizing about 80 hours of audio footage from the first UND Writers Conference, the "Southern Writers Conference on the Arts," held in 1970, and the fifth UND Writers Conference, "City Lights in North Dakota," held in 1974, which featured members of the Beat Generation, including Ginsberg.

"Howl," Ginsberg's poem about sex, drugs and race, became a battle cry for the counter-culture and also led to an obscenity trial. It's considered to be one of the seminal works of the Beat Generation.

The grant will enable UND to send archived conference materials to an outside vendor that specializes in preserving audio/visual materials, Alberts said in a news release. UND Chester Fritz Library and the UND Writers Conference/English Department will collaborate on this part of the project.

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The digitized content will be made available free online for educational, scholarly, and historical purposes, Alberts said in a news release. Since 1970, the UND Writers Conference has brought 28 Pulitzer Prize winners and four Nobel Laureates to campus, often before they became internationally renowned. The recordings and transcriptions will be an invaluable and widely available resource for educators and scholars, she said.

Right now, the proceedings of the 1970 and 1974 conferences are available only on what are known as double-sided open reels in various sizes, Alberts said. UND doesn't have equipment to play these materials and there is only one copy.

"Simply put, the NEA grant will enable us to preserve the information and, once copyright permissions are obtained, we will then make the conference proceedings available online as streaming audio," Alberts said.

In addition, the materials will be transcribed and made available online as fully searchable texts. The transcribing and encoding likely will be completed by students in Alberts' fall English 428 Digital Humanities Course, with Alberts serving as project director.

Remaining funds will be used to bring in authors for next year's conference.

Federal funding for the Arts and Humanities is extremely competitive because granting opportunities are limited, Alberts said.

"As such, Kathleen and I as co-directors, as well as the Chester Fritz Library and the English Department, are very excited to have been acknowledged by the NEA," Alberts said.

She believes this is the first time the UND Writers Conference has received federal funding. UND hopes to secure more funding so that it can complete the project of digitizing approximately 450 hours of audiovisual materials plus transcripts from 1974 to the present.

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The prototype website for the Writers Conference Digital Collection is available at www.library.und.edu/digital/writersconf.html (it is not viewable on Apple computer systems). Conference info: www.undwritersconference.org .

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