In the past, the foundation of the Southampton Writers Conference experience was the workshop. Twelve or so students and one established writer gather around a table, share work and talk shop. It’s an intimate experience, when your words are scrutinized and relished, torn apart and praised. And it requires great attention, as you are expected to give the same scrutiny to the works of others.
But there has always been so much more to the experience at the Southampton Writers Conference, which will be held this year from July 8 through 19. It’s about the speakers who light up your brain. It’s about Colson Whitehead holding his laptop above his head and playing a song from his childhood, or Richard Peck gazing directly into the eyes of the audience as he audaciously stated, “You cannot fire us. We are writers. We are unemployed.”
It’s about late evening hours when the wine goes to your head and you talk about your novel with people whose eyes don’t glaze over. You talk about your characters like most people would talk about their family, and nobody looks at you like you’re crazy. Because they’re all doing it too.
It’s about coffee breaks under the old elm trees, writing furiously in the margins of your notebook because inspiration just struck and you’ve got to get it down.
For these people, the people not looking for the workshop but looking for everything else, there are two new ways to access the Southampton Writers Conference.
The 12-day residency program is an opportunity for people to immerse themselves in the writer’s life, to get away from all the distractions of home, and to surround themselves with a community of writers. It’s ideal for someone who has a piece they’ve been working on and would like to complete, or for someone who’s looking to start a new project.
“The residency is for people trying to tackle a larger project,” says Christian McLean, the coordinator of the Southampton Writers Conference. “It’s a chance to get away from all the distractions and to focus.”
The Writers Conference without the workshop is for people who have a home in the area and would like to participate in the readings, events and camaraderie while maintaining their lives at home. Afternoons are always free for writing, beach going, or even checking in at the homefront in between writerly obligations.
And these obligations are barely obligations at all. Anyone participating in the Writers Conference can attend the five-part master class with Roger Rosenblatt, award winning memoirist. These will take place on alternating mornings and will offer insight on craft and style. Rosenblatt is a pro when it comes to storytelling, and will probably have his audience alternately in tears and bouts of laughter.
On the mornings when the craft lecture is not taking place, there will be lectures, readings and talks. Then is the lunch break, where writers will gather under the tent to share a meal and conversation. After the afternoon break, a new offering of an early evening salon will entice participants back to the tent for refreshments and connection.
“Writing by nature is a solitary experience,” McLean says, “and one thing we find important about the conference is the community of writers. Any opportunity to bring them together and let them share their experiences and thoughts with other writers is important.”
The salons will be followed by communal dinners, and then an evening offering. Readings by Paul Muldoon, Billy Collins and Amy Hempel are just a few of the highlights. After the evening reading is a nightly reception.
This year, the 40th anniversary of the Southampton Writers Conference, it’s about bringing people back together. It’s about giving writers what they really need: a sense of community, to remember that they’re not embarking on this solitary endeavor alone.
“It’s allowing our community in,” says Carla Caglioti, the executive director of Southampton Graduate Arts Campus. “This gives them a taste of the whole conference experience. We hope to inspire our community to write that piece they’ve always dreamed of writing.”
The workshops are filled, but there are still ways to immerse yourself in The Writer’s Life this summer at the Southampton Writers Conference. The deadline is May 1. Check out stonybrook.edu/mfa/summer for more information or to apply.