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​53rd Annual UND Writers Conference Issue

Culture | March 16th, 2022

Our individual actions have always had direct benefits – or consequences – not just to ourselves, but also to our communities. However, the events of the past two years have revealed the tension between personal liberties and societal responsibilities in a unique combination of ways. The 53rd Annual UND Writers Conference features authors and artists whose work considers the role of the individual and relationships to others. The invited authors will discuss how challenges to identity and survival offer opportunities for change and betterment of self. Hopefully, their experiences will evoke compassion, understanding, and acceptance, as we all strive for growth and a new, possibly better way forward – together.

The 53rd Annual UND Writers Conference will be our first hybrid event. All events are free and open to the public. Some of Thursday’s events will be in person at UND’s Memorial Student Union Ballroom in Grand Forks. All events will be available online, either exclusively or synchronously with the in-person events, but registration is necessary to receive your Webinar Zoom link. The Conference will feature readings, panel discussions, workshops, a reading by "Voices of the Valley," and open mic sessions.

For more information, visit the Conference website at or follow us on Facebook (@UNDWritersConference) or Twitter (@UNDWritersConf)


Hanif Abdurraqib is a poet, essayist, and cultural critic, but no definition adequately fits his interests, curiosities, or approaches. Born in Columbus, Ohio, in the 1980s, Abdurraqib can pen tender, lyric essays about sneaker culture that turn into meditations on collecting and love. In another mode, Abdurraqib can expertly narrate the cultural intricacies of Texas high school football. Then, in another drastically different manner, describe how the fine art of having a crush can be applied to, say, the seasons. It may simply be better to consider Hanif Abdurraqib as a force--a force who understands the deep heartache at the center of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, how Serena Williams’s body is particularly gazed at in the sport of tennis, and crazed crowds at punk rock shows.

What unites Abdurraqib’s wide-ranging writing is a poetic sensibility that makes his thought feel like he’s in the process of discovering truths. Abdurraqib’s book, Go Ahead in the Rain (2019), for instance, is a biography of A Tribe Called Quest, a groundbreaking hip-hop group who brought jazz-laden tracks and rhymes of positivity to prominence in the early 90’s. NPR praises Go Ahead in the Rain for its “seemingly limitless capacity to share what moves him,” which is a statement that can be applied to all of Abdurraqib’s work. Honesty, curiosity, and reflection suffuse Abdurraqib’s compelling words. His book of essays, A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance, a nominee for a National Book Award, is praised by Publisher’s Weekly as, "Filled with nuance and lyricism.” Nuance, capacity, lyricism, reflection--these may be better words to summarize the force that is Hanif Abdurraqib.

Abdurraqib's work has appeared in The Fader, The New York Times, Pitchfork, The Paris Review, and many others. Along with being nominated for a National Book Award in 2021, Abdurraqib received the prestigious MacArthur Fellow in the same year. Hanif Abdurraqib’s visit to the UND Writers Conference marks the appearance of one of the Midwest’s most prolific and important writers in America today.

Experience one of the “bold new voices” of contemporary culture, Hanif Abdurraqib, who will read from his work on Saturday, March 26th at 8pm (online only). He will also be a part of the Saturday online noon panel "Life."

~Casey Fuller is a PhD candidate in English at the University of North Dakota


Jessica Bruder has been a Starbucks barista, a music store clerk, a junior camp counselor, and, in her own words, "a really lousy waitress." You are more likely to know her as the award-winning author of the book and eventual 2020 Best Picture winner, Nomadland.

As an immersive journalist, Bruder turns observation and storytelling into fundamentally empathetic acts. For Nomadland, she drove over 15,000 miles over the course of three years in a secondhand camper nicknamed Van Halen. Her book follows its unforgettable subjects as they work seasonal jobs scrambling to survive, ranging from cleaning campground toilets to harvesting beets in the Red River Valley for American Crystal Sugar, often long past the age at which they expected to retire. The end result is a book The Nation calls "wonderfully humane and deeply troubling."

Bruder's other books include a Burning Book, a photo-text history of Burning Man, and Snowden's Box, an account co-authored with Dale Maharidge of the behind-the-scenes work that brought 2013's Snowden leaks to the public. Her next project will expand on her coverage, originally published in WIRED, of Somali immigrants as they fight Amazon for worker rights in Minneapolis/St. Paul.

Bruder has taught narrative storytelling at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism for more than a decade. Her work has appeared in New York Magazine, WIRED, Harper’s, The Washington Post, The New York Times Magazine, The Guardian, The Nation, O: The Oprah Magazine, and Reuters, among other publications.

For her longform magazine stories, Bruder has earned a James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism and a Deadline Club Award. She continues to speak on income inequality, labor, the gig economy, social justice, subcultures, surveillance, the housing crisis, immersion journalism and other related issues.

Last in Grand Forks as part of a beet harvest, Jessica Bruder will return to GFK to read from her work at 8pm on Thursday, March 24th. She will take part in Thursday's noon panel on "Work.”

~Grant McMillan is a PhD candidate in English at the University of North Dakota


Drought-stricken cattle ranches, rodeos, factory jobs, run-down farmhouses, faith, fights, and family. Moving back and forth between the lands of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and Texas during the oil bust of the 1980s, Kelli Jo Ford’s Crooked Hallelujah, is a book of generations. And, according to Ford, “[v]ery nearly all of my inspiration in writing and life comes from the women who raised me.”

A novel of interconnected short stories that focuses on four generations of women and the men that they’ve loved and left (or who have left them), it is difficult for anyone who has grown up in the rural middle parts of the US not to find at least one voice whose story sounds like that of someone that they know, or perhaps their own. But Ford’s debut novel speaks to a wide audience: it was longlisted for the 2021 PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel and named as a “best book” or “must read” of 2020 by seemingly everyone from the Washington Post and NPR to Oprah Magazine, Buzzfeed, and Texas Highways.

After earning an MFA from George Mason University, Ford is the recipient of multiple awards, including a National Artist Fellowship by the Native Arts & Cultures Foundation, a Sustainable Arts Foundation Award, an Elizabeth George Foundation Emerging Artist Grant, a Dobie Paisano Fellowship, and, most recently a 2022 NEA Creative Writing Fellowship.

An enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, Ford is also a faculty member for the low-residency MFA program at the Institute for American Indian Arts.

Ford will appear virtually to read from her work at 8pm on Friday, March 25th. She will also participate in the online noon panel on Friday, “Family.”


In a Los Angeles Times interview, Kaitlyn Greenidge said “People always say ‘we’ve got to face our history,’ but actually doing it is really hard. When you can start naming the different arguments that limit us and keep us from grappling with history, it can help us move forward and actually do the work of looking at history and identifying how that history affects our present.”

Author of the critically acclaimed, best-selling novels We Love You, Charlie Freeman and Libertie, Greenidge pulls her reader into multigenerational relationships that cross time asking her readers to look at fictionalized versions of history whether that is the US eugenics movement and medical experimentation of early twentieth century or the life of Susan Smith McKinney Steward, the first Black female doctor in New York State. As someone who writes extensively about race and culture, Greenidge shows how the acts of the past continue to impact our present.

In addition to being a novelist, Greenidge is a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times.Her essays have also appeared in Vogue, Glamour,the Wall Street Journal,, Buzzfeed, Transition Magazine, Virginia Quarterly Review, The Believer, American Short Fiction and other places. She is the recipient of fellowships from the Whiting Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, among others.

Greenidge will appear virtually to read from her work at 4pm on Saturday, March 26th. She will also participate in the online noon panel on Friday, “Family,” and online noon panel on Saturday, March 26th, “Life.”


Internationally acclaimed sculptor Cal Lane transforms everyday objects into exquisite artworks. She produces intricate, sensual sculptures using ordinary objects constructed of industrial materials. Trained as a welder, Lane uses a plasma cutter or an oxy-acetylene torch to create delicate, lacy patterns on the surface of iron or steel objects. While welding is often used to stitch metals together, Lane uses welding techniques to cut patterns onto metal surfaces. The fanciful patterns she cuts onto the surface of industrial, utilitarian objects suggests a simultaneous sense of solidity and transparency. Lane’s work plays upon the dichotomy of feminine and masculine stereotypes, the relationship between the functional and the decorative, and the boundary between the domestic and the industrial. Her work also suggests impermanence and vulnerability, as she grafts delicate lattice patterns upon practical objects. Lane has transformed dumpsters, shovel scoops, window fenestrations, tires, wheelbarrows, and truck and car hoods into fragile, intricate objects of beauty.

Lane earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in sculpture from State University of New York, and a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. Her work has been exhibited in solo and group exhibitions in Australia, Belgium, Canada, England, France, and the United States.

Lane will appear virtually to present from her work at 4pm on Friday, March 25th. She will also participate in the hybrid noon panel on Thursday, “Work,” and online noon panel on Saturday, March 26th, “Life.”

~Nicole Derenne is an Assistant Teaching Professor in UND’s Department of Art & Design.


Former North Dakota Commissioner of Agriculture, Sarah M. Vogel might not need much introduction in this area, at least as an attorney and advocate. Between 1983-2018, she brought two class action lawsuits against the federal government first to protect over 240,000 farmers from unconstitutional and illegal collection practices in the 1980s, and next to fight for thousands of Native American farmers and ranchers who experienced decades of discriminatory credit practices.

However, since stepping away from litigation, Vogel has been working on telling her story. John Grisham says it’s his “kind of story--the young, inexperienced lawyer facing big odds.” In the words of Sarah Smarsh, author of Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth,“The Farmer’s Lawyer, both an exquisitely written American saga and a trove of lived research, might serve as the definitive document of the 1980s farm crisis that in some ways never ended. Sarah Vogel’s heroic battle on behalf of family farmers was historic–and has never been more relevant.” Willie Nelson, artist and Farm Aid President, puts it this way: “Sarah’s story, told in her unique voice, inspires me—and I’m sure it will inspire you—to fight for family farmers.”

Vogel continues to be an advocate not only for farmers, but also for the North Dakota arts community, and the UND Writers Conference is proud to feature Sarah—an alumna of UND—at our fifty-third annual event.

Vogel will appear in person to read from her work at 4pm on Thursday, March 24th. Vogel will also participate in the noon panel on Thursday, “Work,” and online noon panel on Friday, March 25th, “Family.”

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