For 29 years, the University of Wisconsin–Madison Writers’ Institute has built its reputation as the Midwest’s premier writing conference. Authors Rex Owens and Sue Roupp might be its biggest fans, having eagerly shown up for a combined total of 48 Writers’ Institutes, growing their careers with help from the conference.
“Thinking back to my first Writers’ Institute, I was just considering devoting more time to writing. I couldn’t have dreamed of attending the conference this year as a speaker with three books published,” said Owens, who has attended 20 Writers’ Institutes.
Sue Roupp left an executive position at a Chicago company years ago to pursue writing. She said, “I found myself at the Writers’ Institute feeling like the campus newbie. That first conference was a ‘wow factor,’ where I said ‘yes’ to my dreams of being a writer.” Roupp is an author, editor, and writing teacher. She’s attended all but one Writer’s Institute, for a total of 28.
The 2019 Writer’s Institute will take place at the Madison Concourse Hotel on April 4-7. It features presentations by authors, literary agents, and UW–Madison faculty, who’ll provide practical tips for writers of mystery, romance, memoir, history, and true crime, among other genres. Attendees have the unique opportunity to pitch their manuscripts to industry professionals, who attend the conference to find new authors and to help attendees sharpen their skills.
Both Roupp and Owens will speak at the 2019 event.
“I’ve witnessed many people go from attending the conference to finding inspiration for a writing career to becoming successful published authors,” said Christine DeSmet, faculty associate with UW–Madison Continuing Studies and one of the originators of the Writer’s Institute. “People soak up knowledge year after year and go on to do great things.”
‘People who believe in me’
Making lasting connections keeps Owens and Roupp coming back to the conference.
“The relationships I’ve built over the years at the Writers’ Institute are number one in terms of importance in my professional writing career,” Roupp said. “My friends from the Writers’ Institute are really the bedrock of my support system of people who believe in me.”
The conference offers networking and mixers where writers can compare notes and discuss their craft. Roupp and Owens both said the conference is a supportive place without judgment, a community that shares and celebrates successes.
When Owens organized the Wisconsin Writers Association Conference this September, he tapped 11 presenters and one publisher from his Writers’ Institute friends.
“I keep going back to the conference because it’s a great way to meet and connect with people like me—on a writer’s journey,” Owens said.
‘The gift that keeps on giving’
Owens and Roupp have also flocked to the Writers’ Institute each year for the in-depth education.
“The level of information I’ve received over the years has been outstanding,” said Roupp, who’s kept conference files from all 28 times she’s attended. Owens has, too. In fact, he added, “When I get stuck sometimes I review one of my old handouts and it triggers a new creative way to look at my writing and teaching. The Writers’ Institute is the gift that keeps on giving.”
The roster of speakers over the years has included established authors as well as agents and editors available for one-on-one pitch sessions.
“Our keynote speakers have been first-rate in the literary and writing world,” DeSmet said. “I’m in awe of how fortunate we’ve been to have a long list of incredible people at this event.”
Roupp and Owens agree that the Writers’ Institute has evolved with the times, adding more tracks and focusing on social media and self-publishing. “The conference has also done an excellent job of teaching writers that publishing is just the first step—there is the business of being an author,” said Owens.
Roupp added, “Extraordinary talent, preparation, enthusiasm, acceptance, and a you-can-do-this attitude from each presenter—this is what sets the Writer’s Institute apart.”
‘The best place to learn how to write’
Owens is the author of the Irish Trouble Series: Murphy’s Troubles, Out of Darkness, and Dead Reckoning, a trilogy on the struggles in Northern Ireland.
Roupp recently published Memoir Writing in 6 Easy Steps: Your Life Counts.
“I love applauding every single success each writer has along the way,” DeSmet said. “This conference provides inspiration galore. And writers get results. We post success stories on our webpages, and that really brings me joy.”
Roupp considers the Writers’ Institute the rare place that builds confidence and skills simultaneously.
“It’s my bedrock example of the best place to learn how to write and feel great about being a writer in this crazy world,” she said.