HippoCamp: Conference for Creative Nonfiction Writers

Founded in 2010, Hippocampus Magazine is an online publication set out to entertain, educate and engage writers and readers of creative nonfiction. HippoCamp: A Conference for Creative Nonfiction Writers is an in-the-flesh extension of that three-fold mission.

banner that says conference with hipopcamp 2015 crowd in background

HippoCamp, produced by Hippocampus Magazine and Books, is a warm and welcoming conference geared toward creative nonfiction writers of all skill levels and backgrounds, and it offers plenty of opportunities for you to hone your craft, explore publishing options, and find ways to balance your writing and “real” life, as well as chances to meet, learn from, and share with writers like you.

This three-day creative writing conference in PA typically features 40+ notable speakers, engaging sessions in four tracks, interactive panels, readings, social activities, networking opps, and optional, intimate pre-conference workshops. All of this, plus meals and snacks, bundled into a great, comprehensive conference rate. Our host city is Lancaster, Pa., a bustling mid-size metropolis rich in history, arts and culture.

Past keynote and featured speakers at the HippoCamp conference have included Carmen Maria Machado, Nick Flynn, Jacki Lyden, Tobias Wolff, Mary Karr, Abigail Thomas, Beverly Donofrio, Lee Gutkind, Dinty W. Moore, Ashley C. Ford, Marion Winik, and Jane Friedman. We can’t wait to tell you more about our next conference — and perhaps welcome you to Lancaster, Pa., a city rich in history, arts and culture.

Our volunteer-run CNF conference is largely a for-attendee, by-attendee event, which means we’re on the open proposal system. Each year we open a call for session proposals from speakers of all skill-levels and backgrounds. Our programming committee reviews each submission to build out the conference schedule. (Learn more about speaking at HippoCamp – link coming soon.)


UPCOMING HIPPOCAMP CONFERENCE DETAILS

  • HippoCamp 2023: A Conference for Creative Nonfiction Writers is scheduled for August 11-13, Lancaster, PA.
  • Call for session proposals opens Oct. 1, 2022.
  • Registration in open in March 2023; conference website to go live around the same time.

PAST CNF CONFERENCES: RECAPS & MORE

crowd of full conference room at Marriott for HippoCamp 2017

Our 2017 conference featured Tobias Wolff as the headlining keynote.

View our past conference websites (each its own standalone site) to get an idea of speakers, sessions, and a typical weekend schedule:

Additionally, our magazine website features a series of HippoCamp preview and recap posts from each year. You can scroll through them from the main Conference blog post category page. (They are listed in order by date.)


HippoCamp: Conference Questions

Each year’s conference has its own standalone website built on our event platform; we’ve used EqualMade since 2020. And, each year, our call for HippoCamp session proposals is open for a limited time through Submittable. To gather some of this disparate HippoCamp conference-related content into one easy place to find during “non-peak” season, we’ve assembled some evergreen HippoCamp information here that we hope you will find helpful.

As a reminder, this FAQ is meant to provide overarching details; please refer to the most recent call for submissions (during open periods) or to the current year’s conference website for the most up-to-date specifics.

What the..? What is HippoCamp? Why Call it That?

HippoCamp: It may sound silly at first glance, so if you’re new to us, we should explain why we call it HippoCamp: First, our magazine name comes from the seahorse-shaped portion of the brain related to forming memories: the hippocampus. So, then, our conference name is a playful take on our magazine title mixed with that summer-camp feeling you get when spending lots of time learning and bonding with new friends over a short period of time!

Voila! HippoCamp! (And this means we can call our attendees HippoCamp’ers!)

Format & Overview: What Can Attendees Expect at HippoCamp?

HippoCamp is formatted in the style of a professional development, industry conference more so than that of a typical writing or academic conference. It’s more like a TEDx than an AWP in that it’s focused on solo presenters passionate about a topic rather than panel after panel. Expect to learn a lot and return home with a notebook and brain full of ideas!

A few distinctions:

  • Our vocabulary is a bit different than other writing conferences: rather than faculty and classes and students, we have presenters and sessions and attendees.
  • We offer many sessions outside the traditional literary world, many of which draw inspiration from business, technology, media, education, and creativity — we expect that attendees will use critical thinking to see how these ideas can translate to their own writing life. In short, everything here is not literally literary.

HippoCamp is funded solely by registration and sponsor-vendors, and the conference operates on a super thin margin. (In other words, this conference isn’t about generating revenue; it’s about generating community and ideas. Any extra funds go toward funding the magazine, such as contributor payments and operating expenses.)

What HippoCamp is NOT: Finding the Right Conference Fit

Investing in professional development is a big deal, so you should always make sure the event you’re registering for is the right fit for your goals at this stage in your writing life or project.

For this reason, we want to reiterate that HippoCamp is not a retreat or writing workshop, and it’s main goal is not generative work or to revise a work-in-progress; rather, it’s rooted in sharing information through engaging lecture-style presentations on a wide range of topics, including, but not limited to the craft of writing.

If you are looking to workshop a specific work-in-progress or want to attend an event focused on “doing the writing” HippoCamp is not that — but it can be a great supplement to it! However, if are only planning to go to one writing conference a year, be sure to choose the one the best fits your goals.

Additional Distinctions

We also include these in our call for HippoCamp proposals, but it might be useful to attendees, too:

  • Our vocabulary is a bit different than other writing conferences: rather than faculty and classes and students, we have presenters and sessions and attendees.
  • We’re not an academic conference, and we’re not a retreat or workshop. Rather, we’re formatted in the style of a professional development conference, modeled after those in the marketing and tech fields.
  • We offer many sessions outside the traditional literary world, many of which draw inspiration from business, technology, media, education, and creativity — we expect that attendees will use critical thinking to see how these ideas can translate to their own writing life. In short, everything here is not literally literary.
Does HippoCamp Offer Writing Conference Scholarships?

Yes. HippoCamp offers several full and partial scholarships, including ones sponsored by other attendees. You can find information on the current year’s opportunities on the conference website. In 2022, we offered the following awards:

  • Friends of HippoCamp Scholarship – full registration and $200 travel stipend (two awards)
  • Writers of Color HippoCamp Scholarship – – full registration and $200 travel stipend (three awards)
  • Sponsored scholarships from attendees/speakers:
    • Jean Snow Memorial Scholarship (gifted by Athena Dixon) – for an unpublished writer of color – full registration
    • Work Hard Not, Not Smart Neurodiversity Scholarship – for a neurodivergent writer – full registration
    • The Memoir Your Way Legacy Scholarship – for a late-blooming memoirist – full registration
    • The Brief Encounters Scholarship for Flash Writers – for a flash CNF writer – full registration

Writing conference scholarships may change from year to year; the above information is an example of what was offered in 2022.

How to Present at HippoCamp

HippoCamp is a for-attendee, by-attendee conference. With the exception of keynotes, workshops and a few panels, our conference is built from the proposals YOU submit!

We operate on an open proposal system; our call for proposals typically opens in the early fall and lasts for a few months. Our volunteer programming committee reviews and selects sessions, and we announce the line-up before registration goes on sale.

Conference attendees who are also interested in being part of the speaker line-up are welcome to submit an idea during each year’s call for session proposals.

Selected speakers receive a special presenter rate (about 60% off conference registration).

Please note: We are most interested in speakers who truly want to be part of the entire conference experience and community; if you want to come in only for your 60-minute presentation and then leave, this may not be the right conference for you.

What We're Looking for in HippoCamp Proposals: Sample Call for Submissions

While our specific call for HippoCamp speaker proposals changes a tad each year, we’ll provide an excerpt of our 2022 call to give you an idea of what to expect, should you decide to submit an idea to present at a future HippoCamp conference.

An Abbreviated Version of or 2022 Call for Proposals

We’re looking for dynamic speakers and engaging, informative, practical 60-minute sessions that will give our attendees actionable takeaways.
  • CREATE – craft topics related specifically to CNF, but which may apply to other genres (all levels or advanced)
  • SHARE – sessions related to publishing and promotion – getting your work out there
  • LIVE – sessions dedicated to living the writer’s life: how to balance writing with family and/or a job, how to make ends meet, etc.
  • SPECIAL TOPICS – sessions devoted to either a niche writing area, or bigger-picture topics related to writers today.
SUBMITTING A PROPOSAL
  • Submission period is [typically each fall and lasts through early winter]
  • Sessions are reviewed and selected by the conference programming committee.
  • We’ll announce the initial line-up before tickets go on sale in March.
To submit your proposal, through our Submittable form, you will need to have ready:
  • tentative title
  • abstract (100 words; this is what would appear in the attendee-facing conference program)
  • short bio (75 words)
  • any applicable links or past conference highlights
  • suggested skill level
  • answer to open-ended questions:
    • why you’re a fit for HippoCamp (100 words)
    • why your topic is relevant to CNF writers of all backgrounds (100 words)
WHAT WE’RE LOOKING FOR…
Based on our highest-rated sessions and speakers from past events, here’s what we’re looking for in speakers and sessions:
… IN SPEAKERS
We want smart, dynamic, passionate, friendly speakers to fill our roster! Here are some details:
  • Speakers of all backgrounds and levels of experience are welcome – we love giving people a chance to make their professional conference debut! Your passion for and knowledge of your topic is often more important to us than your years of experience or publication credits or professional affiliations. (In fact, we find budding speakers to be more committed to the following bullet!)
  • We look for well-prepared, rehearsed speakers who can deliver an informative, inspiring presentation with energy, confidence and poise. We’re not looking for people who “just wing-it.” We love speakers who take speaker preparation seriously and respect our requests/suggestions for maximum audience engagement.
  • We love speakers who aren’t afraid to get out from behind the podium and engage with the audience; it’s why we provide lavaliere mics rather than tie you to a podium. Even better when that engagement continues throughout the conference.
  • We look for sincere speakers who care about the audience and are here to share knowledge and help writers – not just to add a bullet point on a resume or CV (but that IS a perk, too!)
  • We’re also looking for speakers from outside the literary world! Some of our highest-rated or most-Tweetable speakers were from other industries who were able to tie their expertise to the writing world.
  • We’re looking for professional, cordial speakers who are committed to their involvement in this conference – this means communicating with us before the conference and helping us plan by providing technical needs, reading/replying to speaker correspondence and providing requested information in a timely manner.
MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL: We are most interested in speakers who truly want to be part of the entire conference experience and community; if you want to come in only for your 60-minute presentation and then leave, this may not be the right conference for you.Our most successful speakers, the ones that return year after year, are a prime example of making the most out of the conference sharing experience; they are here to share, but also know they are here to learn and connect. Again, we’re for-attendee, by-attendee; it’s what makes us different.
… IN SESSIONS
We love TEDTalks. We prefer giving one rock star a chance to light up a room at a breakout session over offering only panels (although we have a few of those, too!).
  • We love fresh ideas! Topics we haven’t seen before at conferences.
  • We love variety! While memoir is a big part of the CNF genre, our offerings should include more types of writing and other publication goals.
  • We love practical sessions: presentations that leave attendees with a list of notes and to-dos.
  • But not every session has to be a writing lesson per se – we also look for inspirational, this-is-my-story-type or this-is-how-I-did-it presentations. Sessions of the latter nature should still have key takeaways.
  • We love sessions that share lots of examples/case studies – seeing the theory in action makes a presentation more memorable
What we’re not looking for in a session proposal:
  • We’re not typically looking for breakout sessions that rely on writing activities or group work; it’s not manageable given the allotted time and large group. Small prompts and some interaction are OK and, in fact, encouraged and well-received. But our breakout sessions are not intended to be a work-shopping scenario. Keep in mind 80+ people could be in your room.
  • We’re not looking for ultra-specific topics, such as exploring the works of one particular writer.
  • We’re not looking for sessions led by more than two people.
  • We’re not looking for paper presentations. (However, use that paper and research to build an awesome presentation!)
 HippoCamp speaker expectations:
We’re looking to produce a smooth conference and that goes beyond amazing presentations – there are nuts and bolts-type things too we expect of our team of brilliant presenters. (This may seem like a lot, but these are questions we’re often asked, or issues we’ve encountered in the past, so we’re sharing these details ahead of time!)
In the submission form, we ask you to check that you’ve read our speaker expectations form; please take this seriously; in past years, from questions we received, it was evident the guidelines we provide were not read or retained.
  • Presenters MUST be registered attendees of the conference (at your special discounted rate) and must officially register before the conference program goes to print; speakers are responsible for their own travel and lodging.
  • Presenters MUST agree to read and respond in a timely manner to speaker communication emails/requests for information to help with day-of logistics/meet deadlines for technology requests, etc. Day-of/last-minute requests will NOT be honored or tolerated; we give speakers more than six months to prepare and think about your presentation needs. We will take past experiences/interactions into consideration when reviewing proposals this year.
  • Presenters must agree to have their session photographed for future use and for marketing and archival purposes.
  • Presenters are encouraged to share slides and/or presentation materials (if applicable) for use for post-conference promotion; this is not required.
  • Should we decide to record sessions, presenters are encouraged to allow us to record (audio) presentation for archival purposes/attendee access.
  • Presenters are responsible for bringing their own handouts (if applicable).
  • Presenters must respect time limits (no doing so adversely affects their peer presenters); this means you’ll take your presentation preparation seriously and practice.
  • There is a maximum of two presenters for break-out sessions and one presenter for flash sessions.
  • Presenters must agree to adhere to our conference code of conduct.
What's Included in HippoCamp Registration?

The HippoCamp registration covers access to all official conference events and materials, which include:

  • Printed conference program
  • Attendee arrival guide
  • Conference tote bag (often with goodies inside)
  • Breakout sessions Saturday and Sunday (choose from 4-5 options in each 60-minute time slot)
  • Flash Talks - 4-5 fast-paced, 10-minute talks (all-conference general session)
  • Topical panel du jour - (all-conference general session)
  • Several meals and snacks (see below)
  • Bonus "unofficial" events such as a story slam, morning yoga, and live podcasts
  • Online attendee directory
  • Content & private conference Facebook group (this is also available to non-registered attendees)

The following meals/snacks are including with your registration:

  • Opening reception (heavy appetizers and cash bar; one drink on us w/ a ticket)
  • Saturday morning hot breakfast
  • Saturday lunch buffet
  • Sunday morning hot breakfast
  • Sunday morning snack break
  • Sunday lunch buffet
  • Sunday afternoon refreshment break
How is HippoCamp Funded

HippoCamp is part of Hippocampus Magazine and Books, and it’s an independent, self-funded conference, supported by registration fees and table rentals alone. In full transparency, this conference is not intended/expected to be a revenue-generator; its main goal is to break even: that is, for registrations to cover expenses each year and for any additional fund to support contributor payments and other magazine expenses. Your attendance helps our magazine continue to do what we do.

HippoCamp is held in a professional convention/conference venue, and along with this comes a contractual obligation for AV services and an attendance-based food and beverage minimum, which makes up the bulk of the conference budget.

Is HIppoCamp Offered Online? Or Are There Recordings

The short answer is no.

Due to our size and format it would be cost-prohibitive (in an extreme way) for a volunteer-run literary organization like ours to provide accessible live-streaming AND audio/video recordings (and transcriptions) of five concurrent sessions over the course of three days. Equipment aside, the AV staffing needs for that alone (~80 hours) would significantly increase our conference budget, and we simply could not remain at the size (under 300 attendees) and price-point (under $500) while still managing to offer an accessible, smooth online conference experience.

Aside from budget and staffing constraints, HippoCamp grew from the idea of an exclusively online literary magazine offering a way to connect way to connect writers in real life.

We DO plan on hosting a few webinars each year, either on our own or with a partner service/organization, as a way to offer unique, valuable CNF-related programming to a wider audience.

We hope to see you at a future HippoCamp!