Tag Archive | "Writers Conference"

Julie Sheehan

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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.


Robert Reeves

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Stony Brook Southampton’s conferences in writing, children’s literature, screenwriting and now playwriting are in full swing and Robert Reeves, director of both the Southampton Writers Conference and the MFA in writing and Literature Program at Stony Brook Southampton, tells us what is new this year, ways the community can enjoy the fruits of the students’ labor and how the program will evolve.


What is different about this year’s conference and what has remained the same?

What’s new? We’ve added a Playwriting Conference this summer that runs concurrently with the other conferences throughout the month of July. We’re also sponsoring in residence a distinguished theater company, Ensemble Studio Theatre (EST). EST will be working with our playwriting workshops, developing their own work, and presenting two staged readings open to the public. That’s something else new — evening events. We have many more theater events this summer in our newly renovated Avram Theater.

What’s the same? As it happens, for the past two years, with Stony Brook University as the new institutional parent for the Southampton campus, one constant has been our continuous growth. The MFA in Writing and Literature sponsors a range of programs, including the summer conferences, and all of these are growing in scope, quality, and reputation. In addition to adding Conferences in Screenwriting, Children’s Literature, and Playwriting, we’ve turned The Southampton Review into a first-rate literary journal. We’ve begun the Young American Writers Project (YAWP), and we will be expanding our offerings the in the fall. We’re building a significant presence at the Stony Brook facility in Manhattan, so students can earn an MFA by combining course work in Manhattan and Southampton.


The faculty this year is especially strong. How do you put together your list of faculty?

Our faculty has always featured writers and teachers of the first rank. This summer there are simply more of them. What is common to all members of our faculty is this: they are accomplished, working writers who enjoy teaching and are good at it. We also have a family feel to our group, and our writers actually like each other. As for recruiting, it’s not difficult to entice writers to come to the Hamptons. Our reputation for attracting very talented students doesn’t hurt, either.


It seems as if there are also a number of local writers (Alan Alda, Marsha Norman, Emma Walton Hamilton) on the faculty this year. Was this a conscious choice?

We’ve always drawn on the enormous reservoir of talent on the East End, writers who live here either year-round or part-time. Roger Rosenblatt has been a mainstay of MFA faculty, along with Ursula Hegi, Melissa Bank, Marsha Norman, Alan Alda, Jules Feiffer, Lou Ann Walker, and Julie Sheehan, among many others. Just in the past year we’ve recruited local screenwriter and producer Annette Chandler to develop our screenwriting program, as well as theater luminaries Emma Walton Hamilton and Steve Hamilton to lead the playwriting effort. The result is we’ll have many distinguished playwrights, actors, and screenwriters joining us: Craig Lucas, Emily Mann, Robert Brustein, Lanford Wilson, Andrew Bienan, Christina Lazaridi, Ken Friedman, Peter Reigert, Alec Baldwin, Jon Robin Baitz.


Has the recession led to decreased enrollment and how is the college handling that?

I wasn’t sure what to expect with the dire economic news, but as it happens, we have the highest enrollment ever for this summer, with over 240 students registered, and dozens of faculty and distinguished visitors. Students apply to particular workshops — the novel, poetry, creative nonfiction, for example — and admission is competitive by writing sample. This summer most of our workshops have been filled with waiting lists for some time now. How to explain this? We may be at a time when people are assessing what is truly important, and in our view, there is nothing more important or lasting or meaningful than the creative process that leads to literary art.


At the close of the workshops, is there an opportunity for the students to share their work with the community?

The participant reading is on the last Saturday of the conference, July 25. It’s a daylong reading and all members of all workshops read, and the playwriting workshops put together special staged performances. In many ways, it is the most memorable single day of the conference. Unfortunately, it is restricted to workshop participants. The evening before, Friday, July 24, is the launch of The Southampton Review, featuring a reading by faculty member, and former US Poet Laureate, Billy Collins. For members of the community, that is one not to be missed.


Every year it seems the Southampton Writers’ Program expands to encompass new forms (most recently, screenwriting and children’s literature). How do you expect the program to evolve in the future?

We’ll be growing in many ways, but here are two areas in particular: Our “Manhattan Track” for the MFA promises to be hugely successful, offering the opportunity to earn an MFA by combining course work at Stony Brook Manhattan during fall and spring terms, with summer work at Stony Brook Southampton. Given the quality of our faculty, and the affordability of state tuition, I can’t think of another program that can match that.

Our second area of growth will be in collaboration with our new Dean and Vice President, Dr. Mary Pearl, a truly exceptional leader whose vision for science and the arts puts us very much at the forefront of interdisciplinary education. Our first step is to design for Southampton undergraduates an innovative minor in creative writing.