Speaker and Session Preview: Matt Skillen and “Starting with Place”

matt-skillenMatt Skillen teaches at nearby Elizabethtown College. When he’s not preparing English teachers of tomorrow, he’s developing a community project that gets high school students writing. Here, he gives a peek into what he’s talking about at the upcoming creative writing conference and what he’s most looking forward to as an attendee. He also dishes out some important conference advice.


Hippo: We don’t want to give too much away about your session, but please share with us a golden nugget that you hope attendees will take away from your Starting with Place: How to Leverage the Special Spaces in Our Stories talk that isn’t found on the program description.

Matt: I think my presentation has an unexpected inspirational element in it. A big part of my session will feature the place-based writing of high school students from  Wamego, Kansas.  While Wamego may not sound like the most exciting place, just wait until you hear the stories from those who have grown up and experienced this unique and kitschy rural town. The students featured in my session share their compelling and heart-felt stories of growing up in middle America.

Another theme that is developing my presentation is mentorship.  While we may know how to leverage lived experiences in our creative endeavors, everyone may not know how to teach others how to write creative nonfiction.  In talking about the Rural Voices Project that I helped develop in Wamego I will also talk about how I and several other writing teachers supported the emerging writers through their creative processes.

Tell us who would benefit most from your session and why.

I’d like to think this is a general-interest session, but those who are just beginning their venture into creative nonfiction may find the most value in the session. It’s hard to say because I feel like no matter how long someone does something there is always more to learn. I mean, I like to fly fish. I am by no means an expert, but I can regularly pull a fish out of the stream near my home. When I get the opportunity to fish in other regions of the country I am quickly reminded that I don’t know much about fishing. Attending a writing conference is a very similar experience for me. Each session and workshop allows me to be introduced to new perspectives, and I like to think my writing craft is shaped by each new experience at a conference.

What is your best advice for attending a writing conference, whether it’s for newbies or veterans?

How to survive and thrive while attending a writing conference:

  1. Stay hydrated.  Your brain will be on hyperdrive as you encounter a deluge of new ideas and compelling perspectives.  Hydration helps improve circulation, which the brain desperately needs in these moments of increased neural activity.
  2. Bring plenty of business cards.  Although much of our communication has advanced with the digital age, business cards are still one of the most efficient modes for exchanging contact information while networking with fellow attendees.  You don’t have business cards? A number of online printing companies will print 50 for you for free if you let them put their logo on the back. Don’t forget to add your social media profile names to your business cards so that others can share and Tweet with you.
  3. Bring a back-up battery.  If you rely heavily on your digital devices you may want to bring a back-up battery to keep your phone, tablet, or laptop charged throughout the day.  Power outlets will become scarce in the conference rooms, so using your charging cable may not be an option.  I like the Mophie Juice Pack Power Station that I found at the Apple Store, but there are so many different options out there.

Aside from speaking, what you are most looking forward to about being part of the inaugural HippoCamp?

I am genuinely excited to meet like-minded, creatively engaged people.  I am looking forward to filling my notebook with new ideas and I hope I am challenged to think about my work in new ways.

What are you most looking forward  to share with attendees and other speakers about the central PA region?
Lancaster is a really cool city with an old-meets-trendy vibe. When visiting the city, which is about a 20-minute drive from my front door, I like to grab a cup of coffee and breakfast (or lunch) at Cafe One Eight.  The bright atmosphere couples well with the dynamic aroma and conversations of a city cafe.  If Central Market is open I always stop by the Linden Dale Farms booth to try a sample of their goat milk fudge.  If they don’t have any samples available I still buy a slice or two for later.  And I never miss an opportunity to stop by BellaBoo Boutique to browse for a new dress for my daughter Mabel (age 2) or a small classic toy for my son Wyatt (age 4).