By Stephen J. Kotz
The director of Stony Brook Southampton’s MFA Program in Creative Writing talks about this summer’s upcoming Writers Conference, the deadline for which to enroll is Tuesday, April 1.
Can you give us an overview about what the Writers Conference is?
It is an intensive experience that centers on taking part in a writing workshop. When you apply you are applying for a specific workshop. And we offer them in poetry, fiction, memoir writing, playwriting. The workshop meets five times for two and half to three hours per day. The rest of your day you will take part in embarrassing and enriching readings, panels, performances, talks. It’s nonstop and we’ll have some really impressive authors coming in.
The whole vibe is beach. You won’t have much time to actually go to it—maybe you’ll get a chance to slip away one afternoon and stick your toe in the water. People work extremely hard, but it has a relaxed feel; it’s very soul enriching to be among 120 to 150 other writers. Plus, the dorms are available, so it’s cheapest 12 days you’ll ever get in the Hamptons.
Are there any new or special faculty members this year?
One of the great things about this is we’re in the Hamptons. From the faculty members’ view, it’s a paid vacation. This year we were able to get Terrance Hayes, a fantastic poet, very laid back, but also a genius. Julia Glass is a terrific novelist. Libba Bray writes young adult novels. It was a coup to get her. She’s a big deal in the YA field. Two other new faces are Peter Lerangis, who also writes young adult fiction, Dan Yaccarino, who is known for his picture books and illustrations. A new face in playwriting is David Adjmi.
Then we have faculty who come every year: Billy Collins, Meg Wolitzer, Roger Rosenblatt, Matthew Klam, Patricia Marx, who collaborates with Roz Chast, The New Yorker cartoonist, on children’s books, Frederick Tuten, a novelist and short story writer who also writes art criticism, and Annette Handley Chandler, who teaches screenwriting.
What’s new this year?
There’s an introductory writers workshop that will be taught by an MFA student. It will be a chance to try your hand at range of genres. You can sign up and come and enjoy a writing workshop and not have any of the stress that come with the more intensive offerings.
I think there’s something about signing up that just sort of commands your muse. There is something about the mental act of signing up. You might not write anything beforehand, but when you get into that small group of 12 to 15 people, you get your work done.
There is a 12-day conference, from July 9 to 20, and a five-day “intensive” conference from July 9 to 13. Why do you do that?
We started doing that a couple of years ago. For some people finding 12 days, where you essentially have to take two weeks off from whatever you are doing, is difficult. We just found the five-day version of events would allow people to come who just can’t take that much time out of their lives.
What does having this program do for the community and what does the community do for this program?
We try to make sure we keep our ties to the community strong. We have regular reading series on Wednesday and Thursday nights. Masha Gessen, who just wrote the book on Pussy Riot and blogs on events in Russia is coming this Wednesday, April 2 [at 7 p.m. in the Radio Lounge, as part of the Writers Speak series.] We want there to be a constant interchange between us and the community.
In turn the community is a great resource for us. There is a great community out here of writers, artists, filmmakers, playwrights, and actors. That’s where our guest list comes from. They have really enriched our students’ lives.
For more information, visit stonybrook.edu/southampton/mfa/summer.