1Through the many versions of the campus at Southampton College—from LIU’s undergraduate program to a SUNY campus devoted solely to graduate pursuits, one thing has remained the same: The Southampton Writers Conference. This summer marks the 40th year of the Writers Conference, which has grown exponentially from the handful of faculty members that started it all. Quietly toiling in the rooms of Chancellor’s Hall, the staff of the Writers Conference has been consistent in their mission: to facilitate the art of storytelling.
It comes in many forms, from poetry to essay, from memoir to children’s books. There are many ways to tell a story, and the goal of the Writers Conference is to provide an environment that is at once nurturing and challenging. To this end, the staff decided to make admission into the workshops more competitive this year, so that the level of writing that will be exchanged will be serious.
“We are able to offer generous scholarships to the top writers this year,” said Julie Sheehan, director of the MFA in Creative Writing as well as the Writers Conference. “It will allow our own MFA students, the ones in their 20s who are working at a bookstore and trying to make ends meet, to participate.” The scholarship application deadline is March 1.
In the intimate 12-person workshops, participants have trained eyes on their work. Students print out about 20 pages of a manuscript they’re working on, and everyone in the class reads them and makes comments, including the faculty. This opportunity to have a renowned writer read your work is precious, and it has often resulted in blurbs on the backs of book jackets for those who go on to publish work.
Another new development this year will be the five-part lecture series, with award-winning essayist and memoirist Roger Rosenblatt. These lectures will be open to a much wider audience, so that no matter what your level of writing, there’s a way to participate. Those who opt for the 12-day residency program can attend this lecture series.
“Anyone who loves writing can participate without breaking the bank or being shut out,” Sheehan says.
When you look back at the list of authors who have participated in the Writers Conference over the course of the last 40 years, the names are truly staggering. Edward Albee, James Baldwin, Betty Friedan, John Ashbery and Joyce Carol Oates are just a few of the masters who have spent summers on campus. So as longtime faculty members like Billy Collins and Meg Wolitzer come together with newcomers like Pulitzer Prize winner Vijay Seshadri this summer, they are in the best of company.
Still, it’s not for the prestige that the faculty keeps coming back. “I know the conference has gotten more prestigious or whatever,” begins Melissa Bank, who has been teaching at the conference for 12 years, “but its basic personality hasn’t changed—it’s big-hearted and unpretentious, inspiring, and incredibly fun.” Bank is the author of The Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing and The Wonder Spot.
When asked what she’s looking forward to most about this year’s conference, Sheehan’s voice was infused with energy. “Paul Muldoon!” she replied quickly of the legendary Irish poet and keynote speaker who will kick off the festivities.
“Last time he was here, [he] threw back his head and sang a nursery rhyme in Gaelic that his mom used to sing for him,” says Sheehan. “He and Roger [Rosenblatt] are going to kick off the whole thing. I am looking forward to opening night, and it will be a nonstop blast from there!”
The Southampton Writers Conference will take place from July 8–19, with two separate five-day intensive workshops. Writers are also invited to look into the 12-day residency program, where they can stay on campus and enjoy all the offerings—readings, lectures, and camaraderie—without taking a workshop. The deadline to apply for scholarship and receive financial aid is March 1. The deadline to apply for a workshop is April 1. All others looking to participate in the Southampton Writers Conference need to apply by May 1. Head to stonybook.edu/southampton for more information.