Summer Words colloquium brings Pulitzer Prize winner to ARC


Barbara Harvey and Barbara Harvey

Each summer for the past three years at American River College, the English department has presented Summer Words: a three-day creative writing colloquium that includes workshops, readings, and panels. This summer, former Poet Laureate of the United States and Pulitzer Prize winner Rita Dove will be coming to ARC as the keynote speaker for the event.

From May 29 to June 1, faculty from ARC’s creative writing department, along with published authors and poets, will be holding panels and workshops presented by faculty and published authors, geared towards generating interest in ARC’s highly successful creative writing department.

“It’s a three-and-a-half day event that is all-day creative writing panels, workshops, readings. It’s the American River College creative writing faculty, but then it’s also a number of guests, most notably a keynote speaker,” said English professor Michael Spurgeon, who is currently organizing the event.

ARC boasts an acclaimed creative writing department, with alumni such as Jarhead author Anthony Swofford and local author Jodi Angel, described by Marie Claire as an “indie-press star.”

Since ARC English professor Christian Kiefer developed the idea for Summer Words three years ago, various ARC faculty have donated their time to support and develop the program, which sees an increase in participants every year.

“Well, in the summer time in particular, there’s a lot of writing conferences all over the United States, all over the world, really, and really it was just looking at our faculty and looking at those kinds of events and thinking ‘well, we have the ability to do that, we have a faculty good enough, strong enough to pull that off,’ and that’s really it,” said Kiefer. “When we secured [former Poet Laureate of the United States] Phillip Levine for the first one, that’s where it really started to feel real, and legit, like on the scale of what’s happening on a national level. That level of writer, and that level of instruction.”

“The original objective was at least two-fold: one, we really think we’ve got a spectacular creative writing program — a national quality creative writing program,” Spurgeon said, “We just have great faculty, who are published, then we’ve also got the American River Review. It’s a student journal that we put out once a year, it’s all student work, student generated material, it’s edited by students, designed by students, and it regularly wins national awards. So one thing we wanted to do was to bring another sort of high-quality component.”

The second objective of the colloquium is to generate interest in writing among students.

“Some participants might attend and then say ‘hey, I liked that creative writing program there, I think I’ll go take some classes,’ so that was part of it,” continued Spurgeon. “It was really about providing access to the members of the community, who might otherwise not have access to an event like Summer Words.”

Community accessibility remains a strong focus for the committee in charge of Summer Words.

“One of the things that’s really important to us, and to the foundation [the Albert and Elaine Borchard Foundation] that’s giving us the money to put it on, is that it be an affordable event, so that students at the community college can afford to go,” Spurgeon said. “In fact, we have 30 fully funded scholarships for American River College students, and we have 20 scholarships for area high school students, and that’s about providing access for students that wouldn’t typically be able to go to this kind of conference. Other conferences can be upwards of $1,000 to attend. We only charge $95, so it’s really about that access.”

Spurgeon feels that students at ARC, who he notes are a contributing factor to the success of the creative writing department, should attend Summer Words for the opportunity to develop writing skills and have fun.

“I think one of the reasons we have such a robust creative writing faculty is we’ve got a robust creative writing student body. I think, particularly for students who are interested in writing, it offers a rare opportunity to interact with not just the faculty, but a number of published writers in a fairly intimate setting. It’s just three days of fun,” said Spurgeon.

The deadline for currently enrolled students to apply for a scholarship to attend the event free of charge is April 15. Scholarship applications can be located at