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OUR OPINION: At UND, a literary Center of Excellence

This week at UND, one of the great events of this year and every year is gracing the campus. The UND Writers Conference shows why college towns are the growth communities of the 21st century. New York City and other harbor towns grew up around th...

This week at UND, one of the great events of this year and every year is gracing the campus.

The UND Writers Conference shows why college towns are the growth communities of the 21st century. New York City and other harbor towns grew up around the vigorous exchange of products. Grand Forks and other college towns are growing around the vigorous exchange of knowledge.

And at no time during the year does that exchange happen with more energy and excitement than during the Writer's Conference.

Consider some the conference's themes since the first conference was held in 1970: Parent and child ... literature and film ... wit ... homelands ... war ... art and science ... revolutions ... and this year's theme, "Mind the gap," exploring art in the digital age.

Those themes represent pivotal areas of human life. And at the Writer's Conference, they're explored in real depth, with some of the country and world's top thinkers giving talks, answering questions and bringing their creativity to bear.

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It's the modern university at its best, infusing new life and new thinking into a community and institution.

It's a key reason why Grand Forks, like other college towns, has developed into a vibrant and exciting place to live.

At UND, it's now a deep and much-respected tradition that stretches back 41 years.

Even people who never go to the conference benefit from this tradition. Thanks to the talented writers it attracts from around the world, the conference makes UND a much livelier and less parochial place.

UND would be a lesser university and Grand Forks would be a much lesser place if the conference series came to a close. Luckily, that's very unlikely, even though organizing the conference takes a huge amount of work. It's a gigantic effort to decide on a theme, select writers, invite them, deal with setbacks, develop interesting and popular events and then make everything come off "on time and under budget," as they say.

The organizers deserve great credit for their hard work -- not just this year, but last year and the year before that. They make it look easy, but anyone who's had experience in the "art of event planning" knows it's not easy at all.

Especially given that the planning calls for scheduling workshops and panel discussions involving celebrity writers from around the world.

"Over the years, appoximately 269 authors have graced he halls of UND, including four Nobel laureates, 27 (Art Spiegelman this year makes 28) Pulitzer Prize winners, Oscar recipients, and numerous MacArthur Geniuses. ... Talking to people around town and UND alumni, it seems that everyone has a story to share, ranging from 'I had dinner with Truman Capote' to 'when I was a student, I never missed a conference' to 'it's one of the best things about having gone to school at UND.'"

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The conference has earned its reputation as one of the most creative and interesting of its kind. Congratulations and thanks to this year's organizers and participants, and best of luck in setting up conferences next year and beyond.

-- Tom Dennis for the Herald

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