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Meet Dean Nelson

Today we’d like to introduce you to Dean Nelson.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Dean. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I was already the director of the journalism program at PLNU (the university hired me to start the journalism program in 1984. I had been working as a business writer in Minneapolis), and I wanted to add some kind of event that would celebrate and encourage great writing. I invited local writers — journalists, essayists, poets — and they came to give talks, but the big “get” was Joseph Wambaugh, a local writer whose work mesmerized me. Wambaugh wrote both fiction and nonfiction, and his former career as a Los Angeles cop made his writing colorful, astonishing, disturbing, funny and deep.

I had also been writing about the U.S./Mexico border for the Boston Globe, and Wambaugh’s book “Lines and Shadows” was a jaw-dropper for me. I was able to get an invitation to him, and his quick response was a “No.” I had asked him to come to our university (he lived just a few blocks away) and talk about his writing. “I don’t like to give speeches,” he said. “But if someone wants to ask me questions, I’m happy to answer them.”

With that, the interview format of the Writer’s Symposium was born. The interview was televised by UCSD-TV, and it was very successful. So, I started doing interviews each year since. UCSD-TV has been a partner since the beginning, and those interviews have been viewed or downloaded about 4 million times.

It’s a huge event now for the San Diego writing community. Last year approximately 5,000 people attended the Writer’s Symposium by The Sea at PLNU.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Smooth? Are you kidding? Of course not! Apparently, not everyone in the world thinks that writers are rock stars the way I do. So, generating interest, finding the money to do it each year, and attracting great writers are my annual worries. Even after 24 years of doing it, it’s a struggle to draw a crowd and to make ends meet. But I do it because I love it and because I think it’s important.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with you as a Director of Writer’s Symposium By The Sea – tell our readers more, for example, what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
The purpose of the Writer’s Symposium By The Sea is to encourage, model and celebrate great writing. It could be novels, songs, plays, poems, essays, nonfiction, movies — whatever. Great storytelling is what makes us understand where we came from and where we’re going. If the audience can hear the great writer Ray Bradbury encourage them to get out there and bear witness to the beauty of the universe, which he did, then there is a strong chance that someone in the audience is going to want to write. It doesn’t matter if you don’t become the next Stephen King. Our purpose is to inspire you and help you celebrate the creativity that’s out there. We’re not giving formulas or false hope. We’re bringing in great writers and saying to the audience, “Aspire to this.”

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
We want to keep celebrating and discovering great writing. We will continue to acknowledge the importance of storytelling in society.


  • $15 for evening interviews
  • $5 for students (at any level and at any school)
  • Financial support from donors helps keep us afloat. Contact me if you would like to be listed as one of our donors!

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Garrett Richardson, Marcus Emerson

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