From Participant to Planner, Wellesley Student's Year Is Framed by Writers Conferences

August 4, 2014
Austin at night

A working day for Patrice Caldwell ’15 this summer might include: interviewing literary agents and editors, making book art decorations, developing a schedule for a two-day event, talking to board members, matching experts with conference participants, moderating panels, or any of the attendant preparation that goes behind those activities.

She is interning as the programming manager for the Writers League of Texas, supported by a Global Engagement Grant from Wellesley’s Center for Work and Service. Global Engagement Grants provide funding for unpaid internships that students identify and develop on their own. Students apply to up to five organizations of their choice, usually connected by a common theme in their grant application (in Caldwell’s case, publishing), and inform the CWS of their final decision.

The job follows her passion—writing—and the political science major’s journey to this role began back in the fall semester of 2013.

That’s when she took Professor of English Susan Meyer’s course ENG205: Writing for Children.  The course is part writing workshop, part literary critique, and part industry understanding. Caldwell, who writes in the young adult fantasy genre, says the class got extremely close through workshop days. “It’s so hard to keep quiet but I really learned to take critique and not try to explain.”

As part of the class Meyer, an award-winning young adult author herself, brings in other writers, editors, and agents to talk about the art and business of writing for younger people. Meyer’s own agent came to class and invited students to contact her if they wished.

Toward the end of the semester Caldwell learned about the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ international three-day conference in New York City, and about a competitive student scholarship available to support students’ attendance. She threw her hat into the ring, submitting five manuscript pages, a cover letter, and essay explaining why she should attend the conference. Meyer wrote a letter of recommendation. Caldwell was one of only three students to receive this honor, and the only undergraduate to win a scholarship to the prestigious conference.

The New York conference was held early in 2014, and Caldwell calls it amazing, exhausting, and exhilarating—roundtable sessions, panels, talks, workshops, and meals with agents, editors, and fellow writers, including people who had worked on some of her favorite books.

It got her so fired up she wanted to spend the summer working in something related. She explored possibilities with the larger publishing houses but internships there promised to be pretty generic office experiences. In her search she reached out to Meyer’s agent, who connected her directly to a client of hers who heads the Writers League of Texas.

Caldwell, a Texas native, went for an interview over winter break. “CWS taught me that people want to know you’re qualified but also what your personality is like. They were impressed with my past experiences on paper, but…we ended up talking about Buffy the Vampire Slayer. They’re obsessed, and I’m a huge fan.”

Flash forward to the last days of May: Caldwell and two other interns arrived, and were immediately thrown into the immensity of planning a two-day conference to be held June 27-29. Early on, reports Caldwell, “We had a luncheon, ordered sandwiches, and went over the entire conference schedule in detail. They let us know the interns are second in command to organizers. They gave us a lot of responsibility and we got to apply a lot of skills we didn’t even know we had.”

Several other events filled the summer schedule, including monthly panels and a writers’ retreat, but the Agents and Editors Conference in June is the biggest event of the summer for the organization. The sold-out conference attracted writers from all over, says Caldwell. “It’s well known for being held in Austin but pulling a lot of agents and editors from New York and elsewhere.”

“The conference went by so fast,” says Caldwell. “I didn’t realize how long a day it was until I got home and crashed. It was really fun, a great experience. I was tired but really felt like I was putting my skills to use.”

In addition to events planning, her job also includes outreach to public schools to develop a program for getting authors in to talk to young students. “That was a really memorable experience to me,” Caldwell recalls of authors coming to her own classes as a kid. “It’s important to me that others get to have that experience too.”

Even with the hectic work at the Writers League, Caldwell has also managed to continue her own writing this summer, and is in the process of querying agents—about which she knows a thing or two by now.