Dozens of budding wordsmiths from across the central Jersey region packed into the Student Life Center June 25 for the second annual Aspiring Writers Conference, hosted by the Brookdale Lifelong Learning division.
Attendees were able to choose from four available workshops offered by acclaimed novelist Laury Egan and Brookdale faculty members Debbie Mura, Marc David Bonagura and Nancy Bryan.
From fiction to journalism to the source of a writer’s creativity, the conference had something to offer artists of all ages, tastes and experience levels.
“I’m interested in gaining some insight into that creative drive, understanding what it is that makes a person want to write,” said Hamilton resident Ken Miller, a long-time attendee of Brookdale’s Lifelong Learning programs.
“When you retire, you want to stay engaged. You want to keep your confidence up. I think programs like this are a great way for my wife and I to do that together.”
The afternoon session began with an address by Lifelong Learning Director Linda Martin, who presented the conference’s keynote speaker, bestselling author Helene Stapinski.
Stapinski concluded the conference with an engaging keynote address about her writing process, her experience with literary agents and publishers, and her roots in the Garden State.
Growing up in Jersey City, Stapinski said she endured a difficult childhood complicated by dysfunctional, mob-connected family members. After escaping into journalism – and the wilds of Alaska for a few years – she returned to civilization to attend Columbia University’s MFA program.
There, she said, she learned the creative value of her traumatic childhood.
“Everyone has stories like that,” she said. “It was just a matter of perspective. It was a matter of getting out of there and looking at it and saying, wait a minute, this is good material. This is gold.”
Those stories would ultimately become the national bestselling memoir “Five-Finger Discount: A Crooked Family History.” She has since published a second memoir and currently writes for the New York Times and teaches writing at Fordham University. She is at work on her third book.
After lending some advice and answering questions about her writing, researching, editing and publishing experiences, Stapinkski also gave some more general pointers to the aspiring artists in the audience.
“Don’t be shy. Don’t tiptoe around people,” she said. “Be bold. Let them know what you’ve got. Show them your talent.”
For more information about upcoming Lifelong Learning programs at Brookdale, call 732-224-2315 or visit their website.
Check out more photos of the conference here.