WLA Conference in Spearfish, South Dakota

From David Cremean

Dear WLA Members and Friends,

Warm greetings from a still spring cool, green, and moist Spearfish, SD, regarding this coming fall’s 44th Annual Western Literature Association Conference, to be held from Wednesday, September 30, through Saturday, October 3, 2009. Our conference title and theme is “High Plains Drifting: Which Way(s) West?” You are welcome to come early and stay late.

As several of you know, I’ve intentionally pushed this letter to about a month before the deadline for abstracts. My thinking is that a large number of us are just now wrapping up our spring semesters, with many more of us naturally inclined to wait until school ends to submit them. This letter is long, but I’ve tried to include just about everything I can within reason, and I’ve attempted to make it as user-friendly (or lively), as practical, and as logical as possible. Nevertheless, do not hesitate whatsoever to write me with further questions or the like.

A reminder: as was the case last year, only those we lack edresses for will receive hard copies of this correspondence by regular mail, so please make hard copies of this letter. Limiting our postage will save the organization a great deal of money that we can use for other conference matters. However, I may opt to send some updates later on via email, and the Web site will be altered to a degree as we forge on, so I recommend you check it periodically: simply go to the main WLA site and click “Conferences” on the top menu, then “WLA Conference 2009.” And if you misplace or inadvertently delete this letter, just let me know and I’ll resend it. Feel free to pass on this letter and the attached flier to anyone else.

As well, in large part because I will be out of state and pretty much busy working on AP Exams for ETS from June 10-18, I am pushing the deadline for the abstracts back to June 20, 2009. Submissions and inquiries so far have been very encouraging and have picked up the last few days, but the vast bulk of them will be soaring in over the next 30 days or so. I will remain available by email during this time, but will probably only be accessing it in the evenings.

Abstracts: please be sure to follow these guidelines (unless I already have yours):

  1. Send abstracts and panel proposals as attachments, not emails;
  2. Include the name you want to be listed under, your present title for the presentation, and a 150-250-word abstract, as I need these for organizing and for the program;
  3. Presenters must be current members at the time of the conference (attendees not required to be, but we’d love to have you join, too).
  4. I am making the effort to respond personally to each abstract submitted, in part because as a sort of neo-Luddite, I distrust technology. If I do not reply to you within several days of your sending the proposal, please call me on my phone at 605-645-8478 to check. If you have already submitted a proposal but wish to double-check, that is advisable, particularly if you have not yet heard back from me. Black Hills State has had some strange email problems on occasion this year.

Registration: $80.00 per person for regular members and non-member attendees; $70.00 for retired members and graduate and undergraduate students; $90.00 for non-members; $40.00 for guests of WLA members.  All late registrations—after September 1—will be $100.00.

Transportation: Please note that I have had to make some changes below and in other categories from previously posted details:

Airfare: Obviously, this will vary. There are few direct flights to Rapid City, though I know from experience Minneapolis, Denver, and Salt Lake offer them. It’s an hour’s drive from the airport to the hotel here, but a lovely one overall for an interstate (though I recommend any number of Hills routes if during the day), and most city airports end up being 45 minutes to an hour away from the conferences anyway.

Ground: I recommend car rental if possible, to free you up for a day trip or three; I strongly encourage you to book these ahead. The only car rental in Spearfish itself is Enterprise, but others are available through Rapid City and its regional airport. Shuttles are available, and as I’ve learned the ropes, I’ve had to change my plans. You will need to book those. The best price I have found is through Airport Express Shuttle at $90.00 a round trip, $45.00 one way per person, and it is about a 60-mile drive each way; their number is 1-800-357-9998. Be sure to mention that you are coming for the WLA Conference when making reservations.

We will be able to offer regular transportation from the hotel to downtown Spearfish; details are forthcoming. Spearfish offers a wonderful bike path system along Spearfish Creek and its riparian zone that ends roughly a half mile from the Holiday Inn and leads back into town and ultimately to several city parks, including the main one near the Booth Fish Hatchery.

Driving: The key is to get on Interstate 90 from wherever you are coming. The official WLA Conference Exit is Exit 14 (those 14 miles are about the farthest the town gets from Wyoming), and you want to head North toward the Holiday Inn and Applebee’s.

Hotel: We have been able to negotiate a noticeably lower rate on rooms than the past few WLAs: $94.00 per night for singles and doubles (with tax, plus a $2.00 occupancy tax per night, $103.52), $114.00 for suites (with tax and the $2.00 fee nightly, $125.12, barring any tax increases). The Spearfish Holiday Inn and Conference Center, while not a luxury hotel, is one of the nicest in the region. The lower hotel rates and a few other charges I’ve been able to reduce should help offset or even cancel out or exceed the higher transportation costs. Conference rates will run from Monday night through Sunday night following.

Holiday Inn Convention Center Information:

This is our conference facility, and though we have no minimum commitment on our blocked rooms, we do hope to say thank you to them for the fine deals they are giving us by asking they be your hotel of first choice at least until they are full. Again, specify that you are reserving for the WLA Conference, though we have the entire facility set aside for our use Wednesday through Friday, smaller blocks of rooms set aside for Tuesday and Saturday. The Holiday Inn accepts pets for a one-time fee of $25.00 and a refundable (unless your pet goes Guns and Roses or Nick Cage and trashes the room) $100.00 deposit.

Our reservation holds and rates run through September 8, but after that, any left-over rooms will be released. Check-ins begin at 4:00 p.m., check-out is noon. Group rates apply within two days prior to or after the conference:

Reservations: 800-999-3541

Hotel Phone number: 605-642-4683

Fax 605-642-0203

Web page www.holidayinn.com/spearfishsd.

Three other hotels are within easy walking distance but across the street (a main artery to the nearby WalMart Supercenter), and Spearfish has a number of other hotels that are roughly a half mile up to three miles distant. The other three nearby hotels follow below:

Comfort Suites—(605) 642-3003

Fairfield Inn—(605) 642-3500

Quality Inn—(605) 642-2337.

Special Meals: Our Friday night Banquet prices will be $40.00 (I’ve tried to go lower, but just can’t). The main entrée will be, I believe, a WLA first: grass-reared pte (bison—Costner’s “tatanka” is not the word for both sexes, pte is, and thus the more famous term is actually inaccurate) roast from writer Dan O’Brien’s Wild Idea Buffalo Ranch and wojape, which is fry bread with a fruit sauce, for dessert. A vegetarian option will also be available.

The Past Presidents’ Address and Luncheon, on Thursday, is, as always, open to all and will cost $25.00.

The Past Presidents’ Breakfast, on Friday, will cost $20.00, and is for Past Presidents only.

The Graduate Students’ Luncheon will run $20.00, and it will once more include a special session, which Graduate Executive-Council representative Kelly Fine and I are still discussing.

Awards: We will be presenting or observing our customary slate of awards, most of which either outgoing (double-entendre, naturally, intended) Secretary-Treasurer Bob Thacker and I will be or already are proceeding with.

However, I wish to emphasize the following three awards and encourage applications for them:

  1. The Frederick Manfred Award for the best Creative Writing Submission. Please include your full and completed selection as a separate attachment with your title and “abstract.” As always, the creative writing itself should be your presentation.
  2. The Louis Owens Award for the Graduate Student presenter(s) “contributing most to cultural diversity in the WLA.” Please see the information available on this award and applying for it at the WLA Web site.
  3. The Willa Pilla Award. Though scorned by a few, this stands alone among the most-coveted awards for humor in the world. The Willa Pilla is intended to honor the most humorous presentation of the conference and to highlight the role of humor in western literature. In the spirit of the Pilla, a soon-to-be legendary story about the actual Pilla’s early arrival in South Dakota last fall will be coming to a WLA Conference near you. Please note to me in your cover note for your abstract if you would like to be considered for this much-underrated fashion statement of an award.

Speakers and Special Events: My colleague and good friend, Black Hills State’s Writer-in-Residence, Kent Meyers will be taking part in the conference as “Mine Host,” for those of you who remember the journey of Chaucer’s pilgrims and that Tabard Inn. Other speakers I have commitments from include Chuck Bowden (our Keynote), Terri Jentz, Doug and Andrea Peacock, Gary Ferguson, Linda Hasselstrom, Dan O’Brien, Susan Powers (via the SD Humanities Council), Jim Stiles, Alison Hedge Coke, M. John Fayhee, several others, and likely a few surprises. Kent Meyers’s new novel, Twisted Tree (Harcourt), is being released to correspond with the conference. Numerous of these guest authors (and several WLA members) are slated to have new releases close to the time of our conference. We almost certainly will be hosting a South Dakota Humanities Council Event on “Writing Deadwood [and/or South Dakota]” with Pete Dexter and Tom Griffith.

We will have a special panel on Indingenous Women of the Northern Plains, emphasizing the diversity of Lakota and Northern Cheyenne Women, from Traditional to Modernized, etc. We  will be featuring The Porcupine Singers from Pine Ridge for traditional music and hope to have  group of Lakota dancers along with them. My former department chair, Ronnie Theisz, a Lakota musicologist, will provide contextual and interpretive background about Lakota musicology and dance. Our emphasis for this part of our program will be “True Black Hills Gold.”

The South Dakota Festival of the Book will be held in Deadwood on Friday afternoon through Sunday morning, and I am working together with them on sharing a few speakers and on hosting at least one of their sessions at our conference. WLAers are welcome to attend any of the Festival’s functions in Deadwood on Friday through Sunday morning; I will include their program in your registration packets.

We are eagerly anticipating David Fenimore’s several-faceted homage to the late and lamented Deadwood, entitled something like “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Audience”(sorry, David, I had to crib and invent that) and preformed (another regionalism) by the disclaimed Deadwood Deadend Players (ibid., David). We will be screening one or two films, observing the 20th Anniversary of Edward Abbey’s death with a special session, providing a special emphasis on South Dakota’s “own” author and director Oscar Micheaux, giving another special emphasis to the 40th anniversary of the publication of N. Scott Momaday’s House Made of Dawn, honoring Cormac McCarthy with our Distinguished Achievement Award, and by yiminy and golly, so much more. It appears most likely this will be in absentia, his attendance, in his own words from The Crossing, likely a “doomed enterprise,” in contrast to rumors that keep reaching me regularly from WLA members, though I’m still trying.

Food and Miscellaneous Events/Details: Our food/restaurant costs around here tend to be average but mostly lower than in the cities where we’ve been in recent years. Spearfish and nearby locations offer everything from solid Italian and Mexican to a couple of fine steakhouses to the best Indian Tacos I’ve yet to have anywhere—and as a loyal culinary follower of Jim Harrison (though he’s assuredly wrong in his disdain for rosemary) and Chuck Bowden, I know my food. The Holiday Inn’s in-house restaurant, Amelia’s, offers very good breakfasts (which I can vouch for), and I hear their other meals are above the average hotel fare. Applebee’s is just a short walk in front of the hotel. Otherwise, the only places within easy walking distance are fast food: Culver’s, Subway, and Papa John’s Pizza (in WalMart), though within about 3/8th of a mile are a Perkins, KFC/Long John Silver’s Combo, and another pizza place. Most of the best eateries are at least two miles away in or just outside of one end of town or the other. I will be including a list of places and my food critic evaluation in your registration packets.

Thursday Night will involve a new feature for the WLA: “A Night on the Town.” How I will pull it off logistically remains a mystery, but I will try. Everyone will be encouraged to go into or near Spearfish for dinner, then meet back at an off-conference grounds location for the Reader’s Theater and two more special events that evening, including Sturgis musician Hank Harris’s (and possible special guests) performance of selected numbers from his two volumes of “The Deadwood Songbook,” along with a special speaking session. I am hoping we can hold that event in Spearfish’s Historic Matthews Opera House, and I am supposed to receive final word on that early next week. If that doesn’t pan out with gold, we’ll move our special location.

For those who imbibe of spirits, the hotel has the pro-forma full service bar, and the city offers everything from a cowboy/redneck bar to a biker bar to a fine Irish Pub in town (guess where I hoist a pint now and then). There are other Falstaffian facilities in this long-ago cow town, even an ex-English pub now sea-themed establishment called Riptides, though why, I don’t know. And for those lovers of New Belgium’s Fat Tire, NB began distribution in South Dakota just this week.

Outing(s): Leaving at approximately 12:30 p.m. on Saturday afternoon, we will ride up Spearfish Canyon, stopping a couple of times and including a late lunch at Cheyenne Crossing at the top of the canyon. The canyon itself is typically at peak (mostly the gossamer golds of aspen, scrub oak, ash, and paper birch against the evergreens of Ponderosa Pine and Englemann Spruce). We will then wrap around Terry Peak and swing down through Lead to Deadwood (or, as is conventional here, Lead/Deadwood), with a shorter route back that evening.

“Must-Know” Trivia: Lead is pronounced “Leed,” much as nearby Belle Fourche is pronounced “Bell Foosh,” and our state capitol Pierre is pronounced “Peer.” You are likely in store for other regionalisms both in pronunciation and terminology—for example, here in the Mount Rushmore state, much is “taken for granite”—along with both myth debunking and grand lies perpetuating those debunked and other myths.

I will attempt to arrange transportation back from Deadwood in two waves, one earlier (leaving around 8 p.m) and one later (around 10 or 11 p.m., though the logistics and costs for two separate transits may prove impractical). The outing charge will be $40.00 per person, which will include the transportation there and back and your lunch at the wonderful Cheyenne Crossing; you will be on your own for evening meals. I recommend Jake’s (Costner’s joint atop his Midnight Star Casino, which includes movie memorabilia) and The Deadwood Social Club for evening meals, though you’ll want reservations and should make them early. Various other eateries are available.

Finally, I wish to extend my thanks to Black Hills State University, the South Dakota Humanities Council, and the Charles Redd Center for significant financial support.  My special thanks to our Organization’s Treasure, Sabine Barcatta at Utah State University, for all her help and guidance both future and past, the latter which included catching a couple of unclear allusions, incorrect details, misplaced possessives, and superfluous transitions in this letter.

To mingle our 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award honoree Cormac McCarthy with good old F. Scott Fitz: So we ride on, Western pilgrims against the Current. I look forward to hosting and serving you as we seek the many green lights of existence.

Windswept regards of the highest order,

David Cremean, your 2009 WLA President


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