Unveiling the Hidden Gems: Writers Behind-the-Scenes at the 17th National Black Writers Conference

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Levi Wise-Catoe | April 29, 2024

For some college students, working, volunteering, or possibly interning at campus events might feel like a dreadful task, possibly even a tedious chore, but for others, it may be  a life-changing event and something that you’ll learn from. I sat down with Medgar Evers faculty member Karen Thompson regarding her departure from working at the 17th National Black Writing Conference, and it was very rewarding. Here is what Thompson had to say about working at the conference event behind the scenes in the VIP section.

Levi Wise Catoe: If you could use one adjective to describe the 17th National Black Writers Conference, what adjective would you use?

Karen Thompson: Inspiring

LWC: Really?

KT: Yes, the conference inspired me to read more, and so I purchased a lot of the author’s books after meeting them in the Green Room, having conversations with them, and just hearing and vibing with them about their ancestry. The knowledge and experience were very inspiring from everyone, every one of the writers that I met.

LWC: Did you meet a lot of authors?

KT: All of the authors that were present at the conference came to the Green Room, and I was their host. 

LWC: Okay.

KT: I was responsible for the atmosphere. I played music, jazz, and soft jazz. I had an air freshener.

LWC: How were they to deal with?

KT: They were amazing. They were all amazing.

LWC: Were the writers approachable?

KT: Yes, actually, one of them asked me if I purchased her book. Ms. Hunter [panelist and author Karen Hunter]: I was able to connect with her. She was amazing. I bought Donna Hill’s books; I bought three of Eric Michael Dyson’s books; I bought three books by Tiya Miles.

LWC: A lot of people, according to the surveys, are big fans of Tiya Miles. What about Bernice McFadden? A lot of people came out for her as well.

KT: I spoke to everyone; they were all approachable, and they were really nice. When I asked them about their books, you could hear the passion in their voice. One of the authors, AJ Verdelle, wrote a memoir, kind of like a memoir. Her book was inspired by Toni Morrison.

LWC: Oh, I love Toni Morrison. She’s one of my favorites.

KT: Yes, Toni Morrison inspired her book; that’s what she told me. I asked her to recommend one of her books to me. She thought about it and then asked me, ‘Are you a writer?’ She said, ‘Because my book is more about young writers and how to get into writing.’ She shared with me her experiences with Toni Morrison—how they met, how they got along, and things like that—that inspired her. And then I realized I had read some of her books, but I hadn’t read her memoir about Toni Morrison. So after I’ve read her memoir, I can read some more; I also ordered that book following the conference.

LWC: Which book? What’s it called?

KT: The title is Miss Chloe: A Memoir of a Literary Friendship With Toni Morrison, by AJ Verdelle.

LWC: Oh, okay, Miss Chloe, I haven’t read that book yet either but I’d love to because I love Toni Morrison.

KT: Like I said I just ordered it after meeting and speaking to its author AJ Verdelle. That’s how inspired I was by her, by others, and just by the whole event.

LWC: Great, you were “inspired.”

KC: Yes.

LWC: Thank you so much for sharing your experience on working at the 17th National Black Writers Conference of 2024 that was held at Medgar Evers College. See you at the 18th National event.


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