Founded in 2016, the Conversation Literary Festival is the only fellowship and celebration of its kind. We convene 15 poets each year for a week-long retreat that consists of public creative writing workshops, craft talks, and readings. We begin our journey in Oxford, Mississippi. Then we travel to Tuscaloosa, Alabama. And we culminate in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Nabila Lovelace, Co-Founder + Director
Safia Elhillo, Program Manager
Paul Tran, Program Manager
Ishmael Islam, Creative Director + Strategist
Jayson P. Smith, Social Media Coordinator
Nicholas Nichols, Digital Archivist
Mission + Vision
The Conversation Literary Festival convenes poets of radical imagination in the American South to think, write, and spark conversation about how place, history, and blackness operate in our lives and in our art. We seek to build an elsewhere that reciprocally nourishes and nurtures us and our communities—that makes possible the exploration of obsessions, lineages, and ideas for emerging leaders in American letters through public creative writing workshops, craft talks, and lateral resource sharing. We believe in learning from and taking care of each other, and we invite you to join us in this journey.
We invite fifteen Fellows each year to be part of The Conversation. There is no application process. Current Fellows nominate poets who they believe are in the pursuit of important and innovative work, and we collaborate with them to identify poets—regardless of whatever stage they might be in their writing and professional life—who we believe are emerging leaders in American letters and who might benefit from being together in this space. We understand leadership to be wide-ranging and nuanced, though often inclusive of writing, teaching, editing, and publishing work that demonstrates a commitment to social justice.
Fellows embark on their journey at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Mississippi. They travel together to the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Then they travel to the Bywater Distract in New Orleans, Louisiana. At each city, Fellows partner with local poets to facilitate public creative writing workshops, craft talks, and readings. The creative writing workshops reexamine our commonplace or received notions of “place” and “home,” particularly thinking about the American South and its position in American history, literature, and public imagination, and blackness in the diaspora. The craft talks look at specific formal devices, techniques, and inventions that enable and empower Fellows to investigate their obsessions. Finally, the readings gather the Fellows and the communities for celebration and witness.
There are no fees to participate. The Conversation pays for flights, lodging, and meals for each Fellow. Fellows also receive a stipend. If you know someone who might benefit from this, please reach out and help us get them involved in The Conversation.
The Conversation Literary Festival is ran by our Fellows for our Fellows. Fellows from previous years are invited back to serve as staff, curating, from year to year, unique and lasting experiences. We believe this intergenerational model not only preserves the spirit that made possible our genesis—building an elsewhere or a sanctuary where we can live, be safe, dream, love, write, prosper, imagine, dare, risk—but also maintain institutional memory and fosters the professional development of our Fellows by offering opportunities for them to gain administrative, programming, fundraising, and social media coordination skills.