~ By Yamille Moss, communications student assistant
~ Photo: Ethan Chatagnier, by Grace Rose
Fresno State’s English Department will host its 43rd annual Young Writers’ Conference, welcoming alumni author Ethan Chatagnier back to campus for the keynote address. The conference is a full day’s gathering of Central California’s brightest young writers and their teachers, with an agenda packed full of creative writing and inspiration.
The conference starts in the morning with an awards ceremony, followed by the keynote speaker, and both are free and open to the public. In the afternoon, registered participants attend writing workshops led by current Master of Fine Arts graduate students.
The event will take place from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Wednesday, April 26, inside the Satellite Student Union. All guests must successfully complete Fresno State’s Covid-19 daily screening questionnaire before attending. Masks are highly recommended to wear indoors. For those who cannot attend on campus, the morning sessions will be broadcast live online through Zoom.
Chatagnier is the author of the novel “Singer Distance” (Tin House Books, 2022) and the story collection “Warnings From the Future” (Acre Books, 2018). His stories have been published in a variety of literary journals, including the Kenyon Review, the Georgia Review, the New England Review, Story, Five Points, the Michigan Quarterly Review, the Cincinnati Review and The Normal School.
His latest book, “Singer Distance,” is a literary speculative novel about a quiet colony on Mars. It explores human understanding, affection, obsession and the eerie nature of mathematics. As his publisher describes the book: “Ethan Chatagnier’s propulsive, genre-bending debut novel asks: What happens when we discover intelligent life just next door? And what does it really mean to know we’re not alone in the universe?”
In addition to reading from his debut novel, Chatagnier will talk about finding and developing inspiration.
“Writers often draw from what’s inside ourselves to make our art, or make our art to draw out what’s inside,” he said. “But looking outward, finding inspiration and material in what’s around you, is just as important. Writing is at its most powerful when the outward gaze and the inward gaze are working together, and I hope students will learn about connecting the two.”
Chatagnier earned his bachelor’s degree in English literature from Fresno State, where he was a Smittcamp Honors College student, and won the Larry Levis Memorial Prize from the Academy of American Poets. He went on to earn a master’s degree in publishing and writing from Emerson College.
Chatagnier said the writing professors at Fresno State were so good, he felt like he came away from his undergraduate years with a graduate-level education in creative writing.
“Their teaching and the examples they set gave me a North Star to follow when I was out on my own,” he said. “I learned all manner of small lessons from them, but also the big ones: read widely, closely, and enthusiastically. Find writing you love and work in that direction. And most importantly, keep going.”
Chatagnier is eager to return to campus and inspire the current generation of young writers to hone their craft and pursue their passions.
“Like all the YWC students, I started writing before college,” he said. “But Fresno State is where I first got my bearings as an artist and learned to take art seriously. It felt like the beginning of my journey. To be back on campus welcoming all these young writers at the beginning of their own journeys is a joy and an honor.”
In other news from this year’s Young Writers’ Conference:
- The 2023 event will mark conference coordinator Tanya Nichols’ last year as the lead organizer. Nichols, the university’s 2020 Outstanding Lecturer, has organized the event for 18 years, impacting thousands of area students through her leadership. She has also greatly expanded campus and community support for the conference through fundraising and partnerships.
- One such partnership is the event’s adopt-a-school initiative. This initiative, launched last year in a collaboration with the Arts and Humanities Advisory Board, provides financial assistance for area schools in need of covering their conference registration. This year the initiative drew 12 generous community donors, covering nearly 80% of participating school delegations.
- The 43rd issue of Spectrum, the conference’s journal, is dedicated to the memory of Dr. H. Ray McKnight, a Fresno State professor emeritus of English who recently passed away. McKnight founded the Young Writers’ Conference in 1980.
Communication specialist Jefferson Beavers contributed to this report.