The COVID cloud has not lifted, but there are glimpses of blue sky on the horizon. It’s too early to define the new normal, but one start is to find out where you might plug in to a community of colleagues this coming year. The following list is far from definitive: We don’t know about every group that gathers, and some gatherings are still to be determined. But a fair number of popular events have made firm plans for virtual gatherings and awards ceremonies in 2021. A few even have announced a return to on-site events.
First up: Registration for the popular Power of Narrative conference, which is free and online this year, closes Feb. 17, 2021.
The list below is loosely categorized by type of type of conference. It is listed in alphabetical order, not by date, so be sure to look closely so you don’t skip over an organization you’re interested in, or are eager to do something soon. Check the links closely; some have been a bit unreliable as situations change. And make sure you check the agenda and speaker line-up for conferences you’re interested in to ensure they fit your interests.
Some familiar names will be absent from this list, either because there was no information available or they seem to be focusing on smaller training seminars. If we get additional information, we’ll update our line-up. But you’ll need to do some hunting on your own.
NARRATIVE JOURNALISM CONFERENCES
There is no way to build an exhaustive list, but these rise to the top of the list of prestigious gatherings for journalistic storytellers who work primarily, if not exclusively, in writing.
Power of Narrative
March 19, 2021
Typically held at Boston University, this is one of the premier narrative journalism gatherings in the U.S. It was canceled last year due to COVID, but is being held this year online and free. You must register by February 17. Featured speakers include Fernanda Santos, Jacqui Banaszynski and David Fahrenthold. The headline keynote speakers are Jelani Cobb and Ibram X. Kendi. There are also four breakout sessions.
International True Story Award Festival
Bern, Switzerland (subject to change due to pandemic)
August 20 – 22, 2021
This is an initiative of Reportagen Magazine in Bern, which formed an independent True Story Foundation with the goal of supporting the True Story Award as the first global prize and encouraging strong storytelling in around the world. Entries are submitted in 12 languages from as many as 30 countries.
Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference
Location and date: To be determined
Another of the nation’s premier gatherings of narrative journalists, “The Mayborn” was interrupted by the pandemic last year; instead of meeting at the University of North Texas in the summer, a virtual event was held in October. No information has been posted for 2021, but it’s worth keeping an eye out. Meanwhile, you can view 14 Zoom recordings from 2020’s conference on the conference website.
Power of Storytelling
Location and date: To be determined
Started 11 years ago in Bucharest, Romania, this event has become one of the most creative and robust in the narrative world. It draws top speakers from the U.S. and Europe. The 10th anniversary conference last fall was canceled due to COVID; conference organizers are waiting for more information from medical experts to make decisions about a gathering this fall. While we wait for news, you can see videos and read interviews on the website under the EDITIONS.
True Stories Conference
Date: To be determined
Typically held in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, this year’s conference will be online. While we wait for more news on this year’s conference, podcasts and recorded video sessions from last year are available online, in English. They include recorded video sessions from Rebecca Skloot, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey. There are also recorded sessions from previous years in Dutch and English.
These are conference that focus on a specific subject, such as science or history. You may need to be a member to attend. Each of these conferences typically has one session that focuses on narrative journalism or a closely related craft-of-writing session.
Association of Health Care Journalists
Oct. 28-31, 2021
The AHCJ conference is held at different locations each year. Often held in late spring or summer, this year’s conference has been pushed to late October and ensuring strong health protections. The focus will be (no surprise) on covering COVID. Members attend a range of sessions and can take field trips with subject experts, but the conference typically includes a writing craft workshop with a top-notch writer or journalism teacher.
American Society of Journalists and Authors
April 13-29, 2021
Usually held in the spring at different locations in New York City, this year the ASJA conference will be held online. The membership includes a heavy complement of freelancers, book authors and public relations content writers. There are always several sessions on writing craft.
May 14-16, 2021
The annual conference by Biographers International Organization is usually held in various locations, but the 11th conference will be virtual. It draws authors, editors, agents, publishers and publicists.
Education Writers Association
May 2-5, 2021
The 74th National Seminar of the EWA will feature four afternoons of conversations and training, from journalists and police experts, built around the conference theme: “Now What? Reporting on Education Amid Uncertainty.” Registration is open now. The seminar is for EWA members, but membership is free for students and journalists.
International Association for Literary Journalism Studies
May 20-22, 2021
This international conference is devoted to the scholarly study, teaching and practice of literary journalism. The 2021 conference was originally planned for Denmark, but now will be held virtually, hosted by the University of Copenhagen. Hours are late afternoon and evening in Europe, morning in the U.S.
International Conference on Narrative
May 19-23, 2021
This is an academic conference covering the study and theory of narrative.
Investigative Reporters and Editors
June 17-20, 2021
No detailed information was available on the IRE website. While the organization specializes in investigative reporting tools, working in partnership with NICAR (the National Institute for Computer Assisted Reporting), the big annual conference often has workshops targeted at weaving investigative reporting and compelling narrative.
National Association of ScienceWriters
Location and date: To be determined.
The 2021 conference of this science writers organization was scheduled for Boulder, Colorado, but planning is still underway. This conference typically includes several sessions on the craft of writing, and there are many affiliated regional associations that may be holding virtual workshops in your area.
The Poverty Narrative Conference
March 5, 2021
Usually hosted at the University of Michigan, this year’s event will be virtual. The focus at this small, academic conference is on poverty and the stories told about it, through the lenses of both journalism and academia.
Society of Environmental Journalists
June 2-6, 2021
The SEJ conference is the primary gathering for environmental reporters from newspapers and magazines. COVID risks in 2020 interrupted it for the first time in 30 years. It usually held in October at locations across the country, almost always in partnership with a university. Narrative and craft take the stage at a Sunday breakfast program that focuses on books and includes a pitch slam where authors can pitch to editors and agents.
CREATIVE NONFICTION CONFERENCES
At these conferences, you will rub shoulders with poets and novelists. Sometimes “creative nonfiction” turns out to be narrative journalism. Sometimes it’s memoir, personal essay or something more like prose poetry. It mostly depends on the conference faculty for that particular year, so make sure to examine the speaker or instructor biographies before you register or apply.
Creative Nonfiction Collective Conference
It’s not in the name, but this is very much a Canadian conference. In the past, it has been held in Victoria, Vancouver, Banff, Calgary, and Toronto.
Granta & Wesleyan Writers Conference
Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut
June 22 – 26, 2022
This conference has a nonfiction track that includes workshops and discussion. There are options to stay and dine on-site.
Middlebury Bread Loaf Writers Conference
August 8 to 21, 2021
Nonfiction is one of the workshops offered during two two-week sessions in 2021. Applications are accepted starting February 15 and close on April 12. There is also a separate Environmental Writer’s Workshop, which includes nonfiction as well as fiction and poetry.
Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand
Early December 2021
This conference is held on variable dates, alternating between the U.S. and a location overseas. It covers genres ranging from personal essay to true crime to alternative storytelling forms.