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R. S. Gwynn to Helm WCU Poetry Conference

R. S. "Sam" Gwynn has 19 years of experience as participant and faculty for the West Chester University Poetry Conference – including the very first one – and will now helm the renowned event as its Program Director.

"Change is a good way to start the conference’s third decade," says Gwynn. "I hope to build on the 20 earlier conferences put together by Mike Peich and Kim Bridgford and offer a 2016 event that will include old and new workshop leaders, new positions of Poet Emerita and Poet Laureate honoring past faculty members, several resident younger or emerging poets, and panels that will address exciting topics that haven’t been covered before."

Plans are to continue the intimate feel of the conference where, as in past years, the networking and learning environment of readings, panels and workshops will welcome both poets just beginning their careers and those who are more seasoned. Gwynn has already secured 10 faculty members: Dick Davis, Emily Moore, Melissa Balmain, Frank Osen, Caki Wilkinson, Sarah Cortez, David Mason, William Logan, Pat Myers and English poet John Whitworth. In addition, conference co-founder Dana Gioia, Timothy Murphy and Alfred Corn will offer one-day workshops and there will be two or three critical seminars.

The 2016 conference is scheduled for June 8 through 11.

A poet, scholar, editor and literary critic, Gwynn is highly respected among his peers. He is poet-in-residence and a university professor at Lamar in Beaumont, Texas, where he has been on the faculty since 1976. He has published five collections of poetry since winning awards for his first work during his undergraduate years at Davidson College. His poems are widely anthologized, most recently in Best American Poetry 2015. Gwynn has also edited successful literature anthologies for Pearson Education and has regularly written criticism in many journals, including the Sewanee Review and the Hudson Review.
"What has always distinguished the WCU Poetry Conference is the focus on form and narrative," he notes. "This conference is the only one in the U.S. that has highlighted craft and tradition."

Gwynn plans to emphasize diversity, student participation and successful younger poets on the conference faculty. Part of his role is to expand scholarship availability for conference participants and advise on strategic awards. "Not many MFA programs teach form and some MFA programs don’t offer prosody," he says, adding that he learned many poetic techniques on his own. "I’d love to make some new conversions to formalism. … Often, undergraduate and graduate students will follow their mentors from formal-friendly writing programs like the MFA programs at Johns Hopkins and the universities of Arkansas, Tampa and Florida, for example, and we hope to attract those people."

That also means Gwynn will be engaged in marketing the conference, developing future fundraising plans for it, and participating in fundraising activities. He already has 30 years of fundraising experience, having been "solely in charge of securing funding, largely from private donors, for Lamar’s visiting poets." He is charged with engaging West Chester faculty and students in the conference and will also be involved in both the promotion and the selection of winners of the Iris N. Spencer Poetry Awards. Those undergraduate awards, which will be presented at the 2016 conference, were established through the generosity of Kean Spencer, who is also a member of the Poetry Center Advisory Board. Spencer applauds Gwynn’s appointment: "As a volunteer coordinator of the WCU Poetry Salon Committee, I can attest to Sam’s commitment to the activities of the Poetry Center as well as our mission. In fact, Sam was the guest poet at the second of more than 50 poetry salons held over the past decade."

Gwynn will coordinate the appearances of poets for upcoming salons and recommend a poet-in-residence for West Chester. The Poetry Center Advisory Board and the Faculty Advisory Committee will provide advice and recommendations.

Assisting Gwynn with the business side of the conference is Ann Mascherino, who has been program coordinator with the Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project (PAWLP) at WCU for 20 years. Her expertise in organizing large, multi-day/multi-site programs, planning conferences, managing logistics, and her experience collaborating with the University’s conference services office will smooth the transition.

"People feel loyalty to the conference itself because of the help they received there, the social exchanges, the support and helpfulness of everyone," says Gwynn. "Many participants have had books published through the conference or as winners of the Donald Justice Awards." And while poets have options to attend many writers’ conferences, he adds, "We are dedicated to bringing in the best – those recognized for their ability, talent, quality and commitment to poetry. Competition is good for the art in general."

Gwynn will be on campus periodically beginning Oct. 18 to convene the Poetry Center Advisory Board, oversee progress on logistics for the conference, and participate in such fundraising activities as receptions and readings.