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New Writers Festival Debuts In San Diego

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The inaugural San Diego Writers Festival gets underway Saturday at the Central Library in downtown San Diego.

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Show transcript

Speaker 1: 00:00 Lots going on at San Diego Central Library. In the next few days we just heard about a lecture celebrating the idea of libraries and this weekend a celebration of writers on Saturday. The downtown library is the site for the first ever San Diego Writer's festival and it's celebrating writers of all kinds of authors, poets, screenwriters, musicians from all walks of life. Joining me as the festival cofounder, Jennifer Thompson, Jennifer, welcome to the program. Thank you so much marine. And joining us by Skype is Piper Kerman, author of the book, orange is the new black. She'll be the keynote speaker at this weekend's writers' festival. Piper, welcome. Thanks so much for having me marine. So Jennifer, how do you go about celebrating writers? What's going to be happening at this writers' festival? Oh, we have a lot happening and we're covering, I don't know if you know this, but we're covering the whole library from the first floor to the ninth and we're going to have interactive workshops and author signings and meet and greets, and we've got live music.

Speaker 1: 01:03 There's live performances. The thing about the writer's festival, it's not just for writers, it's for readers too. So Piper, you will be the keynote speaker at this festival. I would imagine most people listening are probably familiar with your story through the Netflix adaptation of your memoir. Orange is the new black. Were you a writer before your whole experience of being sent to prison? You know, I had never written anything for publication before I sat down to try to put that crazy and difficult experience of incarceration into some sort of a story that other people could read and respond to. But that's sort of the power of a personal story. And I know that that will be reflected in so much of the programming during the Writers' festival. Um, the fact that everyone has incredibly compelling stories to tell from their lives. There are lots of different ways to convey a story including sitting down and writing it, including singing it or performing it.

Speaker 1: 02:05 I mean, there are many different modalities for storytelling, but, uh, the challenge of that sort of blank page is one that every writer, uh, struggles with. And I was really lucky to get a lot of encouragement on that. You know, that sort of audacious first try. Of course, I'm very, very grateful and very lucky to have been connected with readers. That's all that any writer dreams of is ultimately to connect with people who are interested in the story and have some aspect of their own life that connects to the story in some way. Whether it's a true tale told by a memoirist or whether it's fiction or poetry or, or any of the other genres that people choose to write. And I want to jump in. I mean that's such a good point. That's the whole impetus for the writers festival is to celebrate all writers, whether they're musicians or screenwriters or comic books.

Speaker 1: 03:03 We have comic books and we even have a comedian who's going to be talking about being funny. So every type of story makes a difference. I think there's a lot of healing. You know, social justice is our theme for this year's festival. And that's one of the main reasons we reached out to piper and we were so excited to have her because when we tell our stories and we really listened to each other, that's when we start to heal and understand one another. You know, a lot of people have what might say everybody has a compelling story. Absolutely. Yeah. But not everyone is, let's face it, talented. Okay. So can anyone learn to write? Jennifer? You know, I think anyone can learn to write. My cofounder, Marni Freedman is a writing coach in fact, and she works with a lot of people who have a story to tell and they're not really sure how to tell that story.

Speaker 1: 03:49 Maybe. And as Piper just said, you don't have to necessarily write a book. Maybe you tell your story through poetry or maybe it's through a screenplay or maybe it's spoken word. I mean there are so many different ways that we can convey our message and speak our truth and that's pretty exciting. We really want to shine a spotlight on that. That's what this is really about. And Piper, you teach a writing class, don't. Yes, she does. I do. I mean, I really have to echo what Jennifer just shared. I currently teach narrative nonfiction writing, creative writing, but but true stories, that's literally the name on the flyer that gets put up throughout the biggest women's prison in Ohio where I live. And the men's medium security prison where I teach, I teach the same class in both facilities. And my students are just tremendous. Many of them had been writing for years, but in my class we asked them to tell true stories from their own lives in ways that are creative and engaging and connect with a reader.

Speaker 1: 04:54 My students obviously do not come cut from the cloth of, you know, fancy, uh, writing programs or universities. Most of them, you know, earned their GED while they were in prison. And their lives include a lot of conflict and challenge. But the truth is that conflict is one of the essential components of a tie dynamic and compelling story. And that's one of the things that we work with, uh, with my students on. And it's been really incredible to watch how the opportunity to come to a space where vulnerability is permitted, results in really amazing bravery from, from my students, and also how a community of writers can really blossom and flower because writing can be a lonely enterprise, but the ability to come together with other, with readers and with other writers is really a treasure. And that's true whether you're participating in, you know, a prison writing workshop that meets every week or in an incredible festival like the one that's going to take place in San Diego.

Speaker 1: 06:00 I know that that is part of the reason that you wanted to put on this festival, Jennifer, and I understand that this first writer's festival is part of a pretty ambitious plan. You have to make San Diego a writer's hub. Can you tell us about that? Yeah. We want to put San Diego on the map and we want people to come from all over. Eventually we would like the festival to last an entire week. So yes, we're ambitious and so far the community has just been so excited and has stepped up. It's been beautiful. Aside from Piper Kerman, who are some of the other notable authors who will be attending eat at the eager is coming. She's amazing. As you know, she survived Auschwitz. She's going to be talking about the immigrant experience in breaking down the walls. We also have gene Guerrero who wrote crux recently. Oh, wonderful book CBS reporter Gene Guerrera.

Speaker 1: 06:50 Exactly. Another immigrant experience. I'll, and Dang it's going to be there. He wrote with Judith Bernstein. We have so many wonderful, wonderful authors, Children's book authors, Henry Hurts. In fact, we have an entire day of children's programming and many children's book authors will be reading from their books. In fact, we have an 11 year old who will be reading her children's books. She wrote it last year. Her name is Penelope. So we really, it's run, it runs the gamut, you know. Um, we have so many wonderful people who are sharing their time and the experience of being a storyteller. The San Diego Writers' festival takes place this Saturday from 10:00 AM to 9:30 PM at the San Diego Central Library. It is free to the public, and I've been speaking with festival cofounder, Jennifer Thompson and Piper Kerman, author of the Book Orange is the new black. I want to thank you both so much. Thank you for having us. Thanks so much for having me marine.

Speaker 2: 07:47 Yes.

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KPBS Midday Edition

KPBS Midday Edition is a daily talk show hosted by Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon, keeping San Diegans in the know on everything from politics to the arts.