He was a prickly guy, had a couple of failed marriages, died of alcoholism, but oh, he could write. The first American to win the Nobel Prize, Sinclair Lewis, born in Sauk Centre ("a prairie village in that most Scandinavian part of America, Minnesota," as he put it), made millions from his big novels about small towns--"Main Street," "Babbitt," "Elmer Gantry."

For more than 20 years, the Sinclair Lewis Writers Conference has taken place in Lewis's home town, a day-long conversation about various aspects of the craft, with a nice break for lunch at the famous Palmer House Hotel (where Lewis once worked as a night clerk).

It's a great conference; I went years and years ago, maybe to the very first one, and listened to Patricia Hampl talk about "A Romantic Education," and went back home to Duluth all charged up and inspired to write.

This year's conference has--yes! Hampl again, as keynote speaker. Other speakers include poet and essayist Barton Sutter, wniner of a Minnesota Book Award for fiction and one for poetry, as well; Brooks Landon, a professor at the University of Iowa and the author of four books; and Therese Zink, physician and author of "The Country Doctor Revisited," and "Becoming a Doctor."

Registration is $60; the form is online here. Deadline is Oct. 4.High school students can attend for free.