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The Mendocino Coast Writers Conference began as a one day event in 1990 at what was then the Fort Bragg Center for the Arts in the old Daly department store on Main Street. The brainchild of College of the Redwoods English teacher, Marlis Broadhead, the event was conceived as a broadening experience for her creative writing students. The following year, 1991, the conference grew from one day to Friday afternoon, all day Saturday, and even a Sunday morning session. Friday night even featured scenes from an opera in progress written by one of the conference participants.

Marlis shared directorship for a year when she left Fort Bragg in 1997. From 1998 to 2005, Suzanne Byerley, Marlis's successor as CR creative writing instructor, and Ginny Rorby, Fort Bragg author, co-directed the conference with help from a diverse and able committee. They oversaw growth and increasing success for what became a three-day conference. Novelists and short story writers including John Dufresne, John Lescroart, Charlotte Bacon, Carolyn Cooke, and Roy Parvin; poets Dorianne Laux, John Millar, Diane Thiel and Kim Addonizio to name a few, were joined by a host of other talents in childrens' writing, memoir and essay, journalism, screenwriting and playwrighting, editing and agenting. They filled the schedule with talks and workshops which attracted a growing list of writers from California, the west, and beyond.

The conference writing contest resulted in the discovery of many new poets and writers, and generous grants and gifts made increasing numbers of fellowships available to writers—from local high school students to wordsmiths in their 80s.

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