A famous sign on Highway 29 in Napa quotes Robert Louis Stevenson: “The wine is bottled poetry.”
Poetry of the unbottled variety thrives here, too. The Napa Valley Writers Conference, which marks its 30th anniversary in July, has hosted prominent writers and poets, including Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winners and even a Nobel laureate.
Since 1981, faculty members for the conference have included Pulitzer Prize-winning novelists Michael Cunningham and Jane Smiley, U.S. Poet Laureates Robert Hass and Robert Pinsky, and Nobel laureate poet Czeslaw Milosz.
Countless conference alumni have gone on to lead distinguished careers themselves; most recently, 2009 fiction student Michael Lukas’ book “The Oracle of Stamboul” was purchased by HarperCollins for release in 2011, while alumna Marie Mockett has been shortlisted for the William Saroyan Prize for her debut 2009 novel, “Picking Bones from Ash.”
The conference began when Dave Evans, a professor of English at Napa Valley College, assembled a group of Berkeley poets and a small group of students to share their knowledge and perfect their craft.
In 1986, Evans met John Leggett, recently retired from directing the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, at the Napa post office, and the two decided to add fiction workshops to the young conference.
After Evans died during the 1987 conference, faculty and staff carried on the tradition he began.
Napa Valley College, one of only two community colleges in the nation to host a writers’ conference, has been a steadfast sponsor, along with Napa residents.
Twenty percent of the conference’s budget comes from local supporters.
The faculty for the 30th anniversary year includes fiction writers Curtis Sittenfeld, author of “American Wife” and “Prep”; Lan Samantha Chang, director of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and author of “Inheritance”; Ron Carlson, author of 10 books, including “Hotel Eden” and “The Signal”; and Michael Byers, author of “The Coast of Good Intentions” and “Long for This World.”
Poetry instructors include longtime conference faculty member Brenda Hillman, who has written eight books, most recently “Pieces of Air in the Epic”; Major Jackson, whose “Leaving Saturn” was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; Arthur Sze, author of “The Redshifting Web” and “Quipu”; and C.D. Wright, whose most recent work is “Cooling Time: An American Poetry Vigil.”
Faculty members will give lectures and evening readings, both of which are open to the public.
For a schedule of readings and events, including a 30th anniversary reception, visit www.napawritersconf.org.