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National Undergraduate Literature Conference celebrates 34 years

Weber State University annually hosts the National Undergraduate Literature Conference, where, this year, over 150 students, teachers and writers from across the country gathered on March 28 to March 30.

Weber State has hosted NULC since its beginning in 1985 and has brought some of the most talented writers within the country to the university.

NULC began as a simple idea from one of Weber State’s English Professors, Mikel Vause, and one of his colleagues, Mike Meyer. Their goal was to create a conference where students could showcase their undergraduate work. Now, 34 years later, NULC continues to attract students that participate in the three-day conference.

This year, students presented at sessions focused on the topic, “Why I Write.” Students often write as a method of expressing themselves beyond the spoken word.

Sarah Vause, Co-Director of NULC, said it is the goal of the conference to give students the opportunity to share their stories.

3-28 NULC Banquet (Kelly Watkins) (4 of 4).jpg
Jesmyn Ward tells of her life stories and he past. (Kelly Watkins / The Signpost)

“Everybody has a story to tell,” Sarah Vause said.

Before students can attend NULC, they must submit their literature entries to the conference. From there, each entry is reviewed and either denied or accepted. Many students submit multiple pieces of literature for the conference.

Vause never imagined that it would turn into what it is today. He said the biggest draw for students to participate is that it gives them an opportunity to showcase their work while meeting a variety of people.

“One, they get to network with their peers from around the country. And two, it gives students the opportunity to share their creativity in a professional academic setting,” Vause said.

This year’s NULC kicked off the conference with the opening banquet at the Timbermine Steakhouse. Participants enjoyed a meal and had the opportunity to hear from keynote speaker, Jesmyn Ward.

Ward is an accomplished writer and English professor at Tulane University. Ward was the first woman and person of color to receive two National Book Awards for fiction. She was also recently named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential People in 2018.

Ward addressed attendees with words of encouragement, as well as an open Q&A afterwards. Ward talked of the heartache and tragedies that she faced and witnessed as an African American growing up in the American south.

Ward said it was through these life experiences that she found her love for writing. “I was using literature not to escape reality, but to explore it.”

Ward advised writers to be willing to write “the hard things.” Ward said that writing these “hard things” can often be scary and difficult, but as you learn to embrace the hard in life, you will grow as a writer.

Ward also stressed the importance of not being afraid of failure. “Trying and failing has taught me many important lessons.”

Attendees showed their appreciation for Ward’s words by giving her a standing ovation as she concluded her speech.

The two additional keynote authors spread across the three days were Michelle Kuo and Tom McAllister.

Kuo, a teacher, advocate and lawyer, was the keynote March 29.

As a lawyer she worked for undocumented immigrants in Oakland. She is a daughter of immigrants from Taiwan herself. Her cases were focused on eviction, abusive housing conditions, wage theft and threats of deportation.

“Reading with Patrick” is Kuo’s first book. The book is a memoir about teaching literature in a rural jail.

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Tom McAllister comes to Weber State University to talk about his writing.
(Weber State University/

McAllister’s evening keynote on March 29 focused on his book “How to be Safe,” which follows the process of a school shooting told from the perspective of one of the teachers.

“Everyone had guns, even the people that didn’t have guns,” McAllister quoted the book. “If we didn’t have guns how would we stop people with guns, that’s logic.”

NULC is held annually during spring semester at WSU. Students can submit their work during the fall semester before NULC for a chance to present at the conference.

“Every year we wonder how the conference is going to get any better, but every year it seems to do just that,” Vause said.


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