Office memos, memoirs and breakup texts: CMC’s Center for Writing and Public Discourse hosts their second annual conference

Professor Jones speaks to audience while raising his hand
Claremont McKenna College’s Center for Writing and Public Discourse brought together students and writers with its second annual writing conference. (Crystal Widado • The Student Life)

Last Saturday, the Center for Writing and Public Discourse (CWPD) at Claremont McKenna College (CMC) hosted their second annual writing conference with the theme ‘Writing in Place.’ The Oct. 7 conference was a day-long event of panels and workshops hosted by CMC students, faculty, staff and professional writers.

“We chose panelists who are thinking about and representing place in different ways,” Chloe Martinez, associate director of programming for the CWPD, told TSL via email.

The events included fellowship advice panels, story slam open mic sessions and workshops from poet and scholar Genevieve Kaplan, playwright and television writer Lina Patel and film director and screenwriter Gustavo Hernandez.

A large portion of the conference was devoted to the Appel Fellowship, a program at CMC that provides first-year students with up to $3,500 in funding to create purposeful and independent experiences that culminate in a writing project.

CMC faculty members Beth Jaeger, Mellissa Martinez and Brian Davidson CM ’08 hosted one of three sessions on the fellowship, a faculty-led panel focused on technical writing skills for grant and fellowship writing.

A lot of students and even faculty really don’t tend to realize that [technical writing] is really such a beneficial thing to be able to do,” Davidson, who serves as the director of fellowships advising and interim director of the Athenaeum, said. “Unlike some of the people here, I’m not a creative writer. I’m not someone that you would read necessarily for pleasure.”

Martinez, assistant director of multilingual writing at the CWPD, commented on the necessity of connecting students with people like Davidson, whose careers are largely centered around writing.

“I think that any exposure for students at this age is good,” Martinez said. “When you’re in college, sometimes you don’t realize […] how things are done. It’s just a neat opportunity to see how people in LA or San Diego or wherever make their living as writers.”

Martinez expressed her hope for the panel to inspire students to take advantage of the fellowships and grants that might help them in their academic and writing careers.

“I hope the impact is that students feel that they are being supported by CMC and they have the courage to apply for fellowships and grants,” she said. “I just hope it nudges a few students, especially those that can’t afford to do it otherwise.”

Another panel session regarding Appel Fellowships was led by Appel Fellows Rohaan Bhojwani CM ’26, Kylie Ha CM ’26 and Tristen Tate CM ’26.

Bhojwani — whose research trip to the North Pole was funded by his Appel Fellowship — said he had initially been worried that his panel would be empty, as it took place on a Saturday at 9:30 a.m.

“I was really surprised to see that the room was full of freshmen excited to learn about Appel,” Bhojwani said. “Not only was the panel informative to those considering the fellowship, but it also had an informal atmosphere that allowed for questions to flow very easily.”

For some first years, the conference’s emphasis on the Appel Fellowship was a motivating factor for them to participate. Dhamar Ramirez Gomez CM ’27 stated that it contributed largely to his decision to attend the event.

“It’s something that I’ve heard a lot about and [I] thought it would be helpful to hear from the current Appel Fellows,” said Dhamar Ramirez Gomez CM ’27.

Still, the conference offered more than information on the fellowship. Of the more creativity-focused events was a bookmaking workshop that taught attendees how to make a ‘Pocket Book,’ a miniature paper book meant to provide users with a unique structure for writing and expression. Kaplan, who is a bookmaker as well as a writer, led the workshop.

“That’s kind of what I enjoy doing with these book-art forms — seeing if I can invite people to play with language in different ways,” Kaplan said.

Another workshop titled “Hometown Verse” centered on places of origin in poetry and was led by Gustavo Hernandez, poet and author of the poetry collection “Flower Grand First.” 

Hernandez cited connecting with young writers as one of his biggest motivators for speaking at the conference.

“One of the greatest things about writing is to be able to look someone in the eye and say, ‘You matter. What you have to say matters,’” he said.

He also imparted advice to young writers struggling with their writing careers.

“It’s easy to get caught up in life and things that make it hard to keep writing, such as a job, financial troubles, relationship issues, family issues,” Hernandez said. “But I think that as long as you think of yourself as a writer and keep even just the little kernel of that in your mind and you know it in your heart […] even if you’re caught up in these other things, you’ll come back to that because that’s who you are.”

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