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Jenny Johnson at the 2018 Desert Nights, Rising Stars Writers Conference
Poet Jenny Johnson during her session, “Exploring the Unsayable through Sound.” Photo by Kevin S Moul.

Annual Report 2018: The Desert Nights, Rising Stars Writers Conference

We believe in the power of community. We are not a singular voice, but many, resonating as one. We believe in the words of individuals; how these words form a larger collective and become the catalysts for innovation, inspiration, motivation, and change.

Alberto Álvaro Ríos, Director, The Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing, ASU

About the Conference

The Desert Nights, Rising Stars Writers Conference creates a unique and intimate creative writing experience, welcoming writers, readers, and lovers of literature from all genres, backgrounds, and levels of experience. 

More than an opportunity to engage with and learn from professional writers, Desert Nights, Rising Stars is a gathering of minds and hearts, a space where people come together through the celebration and  study of literary craft, culture, and community. Our connectedness to our vibrant writing community makes Desert Nights, Rising Stars more than just another conference—our connections give our conference meaning, humanity, and heart.

While the conference focuses on craft, it encompasses the many aspects of being a writer, offering concrete and practical advice for writing, maneuvering through the literary marketplace, and how to fully be a writer and human being navigating the world.

This Year's Conference

This year’s Desert Nights, Rising Stars presented 28 faculty members in 58 sessions to nearly 250 conference attendees.  

For her keynote address, ASU professor and poet Natalie Diaz called on writers to examine America’s current political situation in the context of its colonial history, even inviting audience members to share their own thoughts and feelings in a town hall format. 

In keeping with the Conference’s mission to add diverse topics and representation, the faculty encompassed a wide variety of demographic backgrounds and identities. Conference faculty consisted of ASU Creative Writing professors, local authors, and traveling authors from all over the country, spanning the genres of fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, the business of writing, and more.


The conference was an invitation to regard language as an opportunity for kindness. I am reminded, for instance, of conference keynote speaker Natalie Diaz, and how she spoke of the need to see each body as the body of the beloved. Diaz spoke of a necessary mindfulness regarding language and the body: their interweaving or parallel extensions, disruptions, and conversations within space. As writers, we have the option to enter such spaces with the goal of needing to know not only who we are but who we can become.

Mary Lee, Cynthia Hogue Scholar, Undergraduate Student, ASU

With a shared commitment to access and education, the Piper Center worked with various partners and sponsors to award 40 scholarships to students, veterans, and other members of the community.

  • 16 ASU undergraduate students through Barrett, the Honors College, the Creative Writing Program, and the Maxine and Jonathan Marshall Chair in Modern and Contemporary Poetry
  • 8 community college students from the Maricopa Community College system
  • 6 graduate students from California State University at San Bernadino
  • 5 Arizona educators teaching high school and college
  • 2 scholars from Letras Latinas, the literary initiative of the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame
  • 2 veterans through the Office for Veteran and Military Academic Engagement
  • 1 student from the National University of Singapore

MFA Program Support

Additionally, the Center was also able to offer free access for all MFA students in ASU’s Creative Writing program. Many students also had opportunities to moderate panels and conduct interviews with conference faculty, gaining valuable professional experience and making personal connections with visiting authors. Graduates were also showcased to the community though an MFA Reading. A number of professors in the Creative Writing Program served on the faculty as well. 

Community Reading

Continuing the theme of community engagement, this year’s conference also featured a community reading. The reading packed the Piper Writers House, drawing over 50 attendees.