Young Writers’ Conference welcomes graphic memoirist to campus

Kristen Radtke, author of the graphic memoirs “Seek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness” (2021) and “Imagine Wanting Only This” (2017) sits in a chair in her office in front of a computer, but she is looking down. A bookshelf is behind her.

~ By Citlali Palma, communications student assistant
~ Photo: Kristen Radtke via

Fresno State’s Young Writers’ Conference will be back in-person on campus for its 42nd annual appearance, bringing together high school writers and their teachers from across Central California for a day full of creative writing at the university.

The conference will feature an awards ceremony, a keynote speaker, and writing workshops led by Master of Fine Arts graduate students. It will take place from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Wednesday, April 27, inside the Satellite Student Union. For community members who cannot attend on campus, the morning awards and keynote will also be broadcast live online through Zoom

The morning awards ceremony and keynote address from 9 to 11 a.m. are free and open to the public. Visitor parking costs $5 in recommended lots P5 and P6. All guests must successfully complete Fresno State’s Covid-19 daily screening questionnaire before coming to campus, and face coverings are strongly encouraged when indoors.

The English Department, which has produced the conference since 1980, welcomes Kristen Radtke, author of the graphic memoirs “Seek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness” (2021) and “Imagine Wanting Only This” (2017), as this year’s keynote speaker.

Radtke is the art director of The Verge and is a recipient of a Whiting creative nonfiction grant. She has been featured in the New York Times, the New York Times Magazine, Harper’s, Marie Claire, the Atlantic, Elle, Vanity Fair, Vogue, NPR, and more.

TIME magazine says Radtke’s latest nonfiction book pulls apart how loneliness operates to understand why it exists and the forms it can take. TIME says, “her haunting illustrations prompt readers to look inwards, forcing them to confront their own loneliness, and Radtke’s ability to make them feel a little less alone.”

In a letter to conference participants, Dr. Honora Chapman, Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities, says that she believes Radtke’s talk “will inspire young writers toward a lifetime of creativity.”

With Fresno State’s campus now mostly repopulated — and after the conference went online in 2020 and 2021, as the Covid-19 pandemic began — longtime coordinator Tanya Nichols said she is excited to again be in the same room as the next generation of Fresno writers during this year’s event. She said the energy the students bring to the day is difficult to replicate in a Zoom room.

“Creative writing matters,” said Nichols, recipient of the university’s 2020-21 Outstanding Lecturer award. “It not only sharpens self-expression and communication skills, it enhances problem-solving and the ability to think. Writing also makes us more empathetic, as we use our imaginations to think beyond our own lived experience. That makes us better humans. And ultimately, whether you write fiction, poetry, or creative nonfiction, it’s great fun!”

Nichols tells her undergraduate students — some of whom serve on an editorial board that makes selections of youth writing for the conference’s journal, Spectrum — that reading and writing is like breathing.

“When we read, we inhale, and when we write, we exhale,” Nichols said. “We want everyone to keep breathing, so we need to value and celebrate writing with students.”

For the first time this year, in collaboration with the Arts and Humanities Advisory Board, Nichols and event organizers have launched a new adopt-a-school initiative. This initiative, spearheaded by advisory board member Cindy Wathen-Kennedy, provides financial assistance for area schools in need of covering their conference registration.

In its first year, the initiative drew 12 generous community donors. Their gifts will support more than half of this year’s conference participants. Nichols said the English Department is grateful for the contributions as the community invests in new experiences and opportunities for the area’s young writers.

The adoption effort was inspired in part by the annual Theatre for Young Audiences production in the Department of Theatre and Dance, which uses a similar adopt-a-school approach.

Visit or call 559.278.1569 for more information.

Communication specialist Jefferson Beavers contributed to this report.

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The College of Arts and Humanities provides a diverse student population with the communication skills, humanistic values and cultural awareness that form the foundation of scholarship. The college offers intellectual and artistic programs that engage students and faculty and the community in collaboration, dialog and discovery. These programs help preserve, illuminate and nourish the arts and humanities for the campus and for the wider community.

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