The Upper Valley Campus of Napa Valley College will host the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference July 28-Aug. 2.
Literature is often credited with transporting readers to other worlds. Whether interior or historic, fantastical or mundane, portrayals between the pages invite readers to imagine places and lives different from their own.
The exploration across borders — linguistic, historic and geographic — is a central preoccupation for visiting authors who will serve as faculty at the conference.
Poet Forrest Gander, who won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for his collection “Be With,” is a translator, essayist, and frequent collaborator with other artists, from ceramicists to photographers to dancers. “Be With” includes a version of a poem by a Spanish mystic and a multilingual exploration of the U.S.-Mexico border that draws on his background in both geology and literature to describe “a luminous borderland where the self dissolves into the world,” wrote The New York Times.
Julie Orringer’s second novel, “The Flight Portfolio,” invites readers to journey to occupied France during World War II, when real-life American philanthropist Varian Fry orchestrated the escape of some 2,000 refugees, including prominent intellectuals, writers and artists.
Not only does the subject matter of her book take place across international borders, but Orringer also navigates the contested zone between historical fact and fiction — an experience she’ll reference in her conference lecture on writing craft, titled “The Crossroads of Circumstance: Why Setting Matters.”
Fittingly, the conference also will debut a translation workshop this year, led by Howard Norman, winner of the Harold Morton Landon Prize in translation from the Academy of American Poets. Norman has taught translation at the Smithsonian Institute as well as in Amsterdam, Montreal, San Francisco, Washington D.C., and Genoa. He is the author of nine novels, most recently “The Ghost Clause.”
“The art of translation is a means of celebrating other cultures through literature. We’re proud to offer this workshop as a natural outgrowth of the exploration the conference has fostered for the past 39 years,” said conference executive director Angela Pneuman.
Serving on the poetry faculty with Gander will be poet Eavan Boland, one of the foremost voices of Irish literature; Jane Hirshfield, who has collaborated on four collections co-translating the works of world poets in addition to authoring eight collections of poetry and two books of essays; and Major Jackson, author of four poetry collections and winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize and a Whiting Writers’ Award.
Along with Orringer, the fiction faculty includes Mitchell S. Jackson, whose memoir, “Survivor Math,” was published this March to wide acclaim; Ryan Harty, whose story collection “Bring Me Your Saddest Arizona” received the John Simmons Award for Short Fiction; and Lan Samantha Chang, whose debut story collection, “Hunger: A Novella and Stories,” examines the Chinese-American immigrant experience, and whose novel “Inheritance” depicts the world left behind.
“Our job as writers is to challenge readers to step outside their own worlds. This year’s conference faculty members offer myriad voyages through their works and their teaching,” Pneuman said. “We’re so excited to share these writers with the community.”