Tag Archive | "Billy Collins"

Julie Sheehan

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Star Black photo

Star Black photo

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.


A Conference For the Written Word

Tags: , ,

Every July in Southampton, novelists, poets and other writers come together like a giant family on a holiday weekend, each year with new faces and old. Director of the MFA in Writing and Literature program at Stony Brook Southampton Robert Reeves would no doubt be the patriarchal figure in the bunch, while other writers and faculty like Lou Ann Walker, Roger Rosenblatt and Billy Collins play the role of the unruly offspring who return each year.
“I’m a repeat offender,” said Collins, who is taking part in his seventh consecutive Southampton Writers Conference (SWC).
Rosenblatt joked, “I think I come before the parole board next year.”
The conference, which author Tom Wolfe has called the “best in the country,” is celebrating it’s 33rd year. There are many aspects that set it apart from the numerous other conferences, and one is the family vibe it fosters.
“We’ve created a sense of the familiar,” said Reeves, “with people returning, as they often do.”
Collins described the inner core of returning faculty as adding “stability” while the newer writers add “freshness.” Other “inner core” members include Frank McCourt, Melissa Bank and Matt Klam. This year Amy Hempel, Christopher Durang and Derek Walcott will embody the “freshness.”
Unlike most family get-togethers, according to Rosenblatt there is very little, if any, bickering with his contemporaries.
Said Rosenblatt, “The oddity is that we all get along, even sober, which is saying something.”
What truly sets the conference apart from others, though, is the fact that it’s a teaching conference. Most writers conferences include fly-by appearances from big name authors who drop in, read their work, sign some books and then skip town, or maybe sit in on one or two panel discussions. The SWC involves intense daily workshops where participants are afforded the opportunity to engage with respected authors and hone their craft.
“Most conferences are just for showing off,” said Rosenblatt. “Which is fine. But even writers tire of showing off. At the center of this conference is teaching.”
“We have plenty of big names,” said Reeves, “but we’re not about celebrity, per se. We are about honoring the craft and the people who care about writing as art.”
Collins admitted to the conference becoming a little more “glamorous” as first Long Island University and now Stony Brook University has become “increasingly aware” of the demographic of Southampton in July. He said that awareness, however, has not taken away from the goal.
“Overall the conference still has a serious nuts and bolts commitment to the workshops,” he said. “There is work to be done.”
One of the benefits of the workshop approach, according to Collins, is the breaking down of the author myth.
“[Participants] come into very close contact with well established professional writers. The hope is they find they’re just as human as anyone else. Though they pretend to be gods, they are just regular mortals who have kept at it for a very long time.”
Walker said she benefits from the workshops just as much as the participants.
“What’s always surprising to me each year is how much I learn,” she said. “You feel recharged, as if you’ve gone away for a vacation. You find yourself rethinking how you approach your writing and how you view other people’s writing.”
Rosenblatt said he goes into every workshop with the goal of allowing his students to find their “original language.”
“That’s a center of all good writing,” he said. “I gear everything in class to encourage [that], so they know they have something in them that no one else has. It takes work to discover what Twain called the difference between the word and the right word.”
The SWC has established itself as an institution on the East End, and this year two other bookend conferences were created with the aim of doing the same. Last week Walker presided over the inaugural Children’s Literature Conference.
“It was quite extraordinary,” said Walker. “It exceeded any expectations we could have had. One woman said it was a life changing experience. I’m definitely hooked and I’m already looking forward to next year.”
After the SWC, the inaugural Southampton Screenwriting Conference will be held from July 30 to August 3. About the two new conferences, Reeves said, “I think it can become a wonderful tradition. We have an opportunity to fill up the summer and really make it a writers’ summer.”
In a time when some see the written word as becoming increasingly endangered, Reeves acknowledged that he couldn’t predict the future. He did however say it has no bearing on the SWC and that people will always care about the art of story telling.
“Poetry at one time was a primary genre,” noted Reeves. “It was at the center of the culture. The novel has not always been around and it’s not written in stone that the novel will always be around, but people will always want the equivalent.”
“This is the place for them. If [the importance of the written word] is declining in the world, so be it. It hasn’t declined to us.”

Top Photo: (L to R) Ursula Hegi, Matthew Klam, Meg Wolitzer, Robert Reeves, Billy Collins, Frank McCourt, Carol Muske-Dukes, Lou Ann Walker, Melissa Bank, Roger Rosenblatt and Marsha Norman.