Open Mic Night at the Willamette Writers Conference

Open Mic night started at the Willamette Writers Conference in 2013, when I mentioned to the conference chair that I attended a really fun Open Mic Night at another writing conference. This launched us into a talk about how we could make one for Willamette Writers and how we could make it even better than the one I participated in. We agreed it would be my “baby” and I could promote it and decide the structure of it.

The first evening we offered Open Mic night was when we had the conference at the Doubletree Hotel. We had a nice turnout despite the fact the chairs in our space were awkwardly set up and it was hard to hear the readers because there was a wedding in the next room, blaring dance music that was definitely R-rated! I’ll admit, it gave me a bunch of funny fodder to comment on as the emcee.

Our Open Mic the next year was at the Sheraton. We used the stage next to the Barnes and Noble pop-up store which was a great space but we had more people show up than we had chairs. Last year (2017) we moved the event to an even bigger space in the Garden Room and still had standing room only because over 100 people turned out to watch.

I’ve refined it every year. We don’t treat it as a “serious competition,” rather it’s in the spirit of supporting everyone on stage. However, we still give lots of prizes to encourage writers in all genres. We keep time limits to five minutes so we can get more people on the roster. We have standbys but it was impossible to get to everyone last time. But I’ll keep trying to get as many people up as possible!

The judges are agents, editors, authors and other industry professionals. Our prizes are great not only for your self-esteem but also for the query letter! One of the top prizes is a free pitch. But really, everyone who participates in the experience is a winner. As the emcee, I’ve laughed so hard at some of the stories, plays, and poems. But I’ve also been brought to tears by not only the subject matter of some readings, but also the sheer talent on display.

I’d like to thank everyone who has participated over the years for the gifts they’ve given me and the rest of the audience. The only little, niggling regret I have is that as the emcee, I can’t do a reading myself! But I wouldn’t trade the opportunity to be the ringmaster for this wonderful literary circus for the world. Hope to see you and hear an excerpt of your writing at Open Mic 2018.

Debby Dodds

Debby Dodds is the author of the novel Amish Guys Don't Call (Blue Moon, 2017), has stories in many anthologies, including the NY Times best-selling My Little Red Book (Hachette) and The Things That You Would Have Said (Penguin) The Sun, Salon, xoJane, Portland Family Magazine,, and Hip Mama. Find out more: on her website; on Facebook: @debby.dodds.tutor; on Twitter: @DoddsDebby; on Instagram @debbydodds and on Goodreads.