Focus on: Chicago Writers Conference

CBR_Logo2Don’t even think of calling Chicago “flyover country.”

That undeserving slight just ticks off Mare Swallow.

Although Chicago has recently been accused of unwarranted boosterism, Swallow knows that the city is deserving of much praise, particularly when it comes to its thriving literary scene.

Swallow, founder and executive director of Chicago Writers Conference, has seen first hand the cooperative, congenial spirit of Chicago’s literati. In fact, in planning what this year is the second annual conference (September 27–29), Swallow is immersed in all things Chicago literary, working with agents, authors, journalists, and writers of every ilk to put on what has fast become one of the Midwest’s premier writing conferences.

Designed to bring “writers together for an informative and fun weekend conference to network with other writers, rub elbows with publishers, and connect with agents,” Chicago Writers Conference features two dozen sessions during which a variety of accomplished literati will share their expertise with conference-goers.


Attendees listen to Ian Belknap during the 2012 conference (photo courtesy CWC)

Swallow expects about two hundred attendees at this year’s conference (a limited number of spots are still available). In fact, a number of attendees are repeat visitors, writers who got a lot out of last year’s inaugural conference and who will get a lot out of this year’s event. And actually, more than one conference attendee has let Swallow know that, after attending the event and putting into practice some lessons learned, a book contract was signed.

That kind of result is exactly what Swallow was after when she launched the conference in 2012. “It’s such a boon for me when someone stops me and says ‘Hey! Guess what? I got a book deal’,” she says. “It’s such a feather in my hat.”

Swallow is confident that this year’s attendees will reap a variety of benefits. “The best thing about these events,” she says, “especially when they’re done well, is that they get a new way of looking at things, or a new approach, or a new habit.”

Indeed, Swallow expects that attendees will “come away with new knowledge, new friends, and new experiences.”

Not only is Swallow excited about everything attendees will experience, she’s also excited about this year’s line-up of panelists and speakers. Nearly three dozen agents, authors, editors, journalists, publishers, and writers are slated for various sessions during the weekend conference, sessions that run the gamut from “The Journey to Publication” to “Writing Genre Fiction” and from “Successful Non-fiction Strategies” to “Meet the Agents.”

Each of the speakers and events has Swallow excited for everything that attendees will be able to learn. “I love all of our speakers,” she says. “I have nothing but love for them.”

Lining up speakers, scheduling events, corralling volunteers and part-time workers, and spreading the word takes time—a lot of time. But the feedback Swallow has received has made it all worthwhile.

“People don’t know what it takes to make this happen. It’s amazing amount of work and resources,” Swallow says, adding that, “It’s a lot of fun. I don’t have any plans to stop.”

In fact, Swallow is already looking toward Chicago Writers Conference 2014, thinking about speakers and panels and sessions that will be exciting for attendees. But, first, she and her small team of helpers need to get through this year.

Chicago-Writers-Conference4Chicago Writers Conference 2013 kicks off September 27 with a party at Open Books, which has been a big supporter of the conference. Saturday and Sunday are chock-full of panels and sessions as well as plenty of time to schmooze and network. Swallow is excited about the conference, and she’s confident that attendees will love it.

“It’s an amazing conference and an amazing bang for your buck,” she says. “I challenge everyone to research any other conference in Chicago or Alabama or Alaska or even New York, and you’ll see we’ve got something really special here.”

Chicago Writers Conference 2013 runs September 28–29 at the Harold Washington Library, 400 S. State Street, with a kick-off party on September 27 at Open Books, 213 W. Institute Place. Registration is $225 and closes September 20. For information, visit


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