Writing conferences are a lot like writing residencies, except for the fact that they tend to run for a far shorter time period than a residency – usually two weeks or less. That’s why summer writing conferences in North America – especially summer writing conferences with funding available – are highly competitive. They are like summer camp for writers! And they are potentially partially or fully paid for! Yay.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, many summer writing conferences with funding have had to pivot to an online format, which – put mildly – is far less fun. However, many are starting to open their doors again, which has delighted many. Summer conferences aren’t just one big alcohol-fueled jolly, though (although wine will almost certainly make an appearance). They can offer writers a place to network with other writers, scouting literary agents (a huge draw), editors, and teachers. They offer time and space to get creative, generate work, and edit. There are lectures, classes, and readings. In short, the summer writing conference circuit can do wonders for your craft and your author career.
Below, listed in alphabetical order, are the best summer writing conferences with funding available for writers.
1. American Short Fiction Workshop
Launching this year, the inaugural American Short Fiction Workshop welcomes a very small pool of writers (just twenty-four) to Austin, Texas. At just five days over the Memorial Day weekend, this workshop is more compact than the traditional summer writing conference, but it does offer two merit-based scholarships with a 50% reduction in tuition at $900, and two fellowships covering the total cost of the workshop and accommodation (normally $1,800).
2. Aspen Summer Words
Marketed as a writers’ conference and literary festival, Aspen Summer Words is a weeklong celebration within the literary community i.e. there’s more of a party, inclusive vibe here than some of the more traditional summer writing conferences with funding. It offers emerging writer fellowships (you must be nominated by a teacher, colleague, or mentor, and must be in the early stages of your author career), and partial scholarships are available on a needs basis. Published work is not a requirement; in fact, you don’t qualify if you already have a book published! A bevvy of well-known agents and editors are usually in attendance.
3. Bread Loaf Writers Conference
Bread Loaf is one of the best known, and therefore more prestigious of the summer writers’ conferences with funding available for contributors (defined as “applicants at the early stages of their writing career whose writing shows exceptional promise”), scholars (defined as “beginning to publish original work in distinguished magazines and literary periodicals”), and fellows (essentially published authors). You can received these levels of funding for fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. Bread Loaf, which is held on the campus of Middlebury College, in picturesque Vermont, also has a sister environmental conference, and while financial aid is more limited, there are several awards available for participants.
4. Community of Writers
Formerly Squaw Valley, this weeklong summer residency has been going for over 50 years and was once the scenic site of the 1960 Winter Olympics. The Community of Writers is very well attended by an abundance of teachers, editors, and agents. A “limited” amount of financial aid is available in partial tuition waivers and scholarships, where the program will grant the maximum amount of aid it can to deserving applicants. No need to have anything published to apply; you simply indicate your need on the application form.
5. Kenyon Review Writers Workshop
While scholarships are only available up to 50% (of the $2,295 total), the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop is slightly different because its focus is all about generating while you’re there, giving you “time and space to produce new work”. In order to qualify for financial aid, you must demonstrate need and have published in literary magazines and journals.
6. Mendocino Coast Writers’ Conference
At just three days long, the Mendocino Coast Writers’ Conference is one of the shortest summer writing conferences with funding on our list. Featuring seminars, speakers, and attended by literary agents, Mendocino is unusual is that it does not require a writing sample to attend. A variety of merit-based scholarships are available across genres, and cover a range of tuition fees.
7. Napa Valley Writers’ Conference
For over 40 years, the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference has provided the most idyllic setting for writers, nestled in the foothills and vineyards of California’s famous wine region. The number of grants varies year-to-year, but partial, half, and full grants are available for those in need for financial aid. The cost of tuition is $1,100, while applicants are expected to arrange their own lodgings in Napa during the week of the conference.
8. New York State Summer Writers Institute
Scholarship applicants must be undergraduate or graduate students, and a teacher needs to recommend you via their submissions process. The scholarships are partial, and are available in the form of tuition remission. The program runs for either one, two, or four weeks, and focuses on smaller classes with college-aged students. The New York State Summer Writers Institute is virtual for the foreseeable future.
9. Sewanee Writers’ Conference
The extremely cool thing about the Sewanee Writers’ Conference is that Tennessee Williams himself gifted the Walter E. Dakin Memorial Fund, which covers two-thirds of the cost for every conference participant. Additional funding is awarded to fellows – which covers the entire cost of tuition, room, and board ($1,800), and scholars, whose tuition is funded at $1,100. Everyone else is deemed a contributor and pays the full $1,800. Both scholars (emerging writers with publishing credits) and fellows (traditionally published authors) require published works in order to apply for financial aid. Located outside of Nashville, Tennessee, the conference provides faculty-led workshops, readings, open mics, lectures, and other teachings. Editors and agents are always present.
10. Tin House Summer Workshop
Tin House is undoubtedly one of the bigger names on this list, and therefore more competitive. It is held at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. All applicants are considered for scholarships, which cover the total cost of the conference (tuition and accommodation at $2,00). Scholars are named at the end of the workshop, and range from writers attending their first conference, to trans writers, to any writer who was born outside of the United States. Overall, Tin House does a great job with championing diversity and inclusion.