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41st Southampton Writers Conference Highlights Another Arts Summer

Writers sitting
The Southampton Writers Conference celebrates its 41st year this summer. Photo by Star Black

For four decades, writers have made the summer pilgrimage to the Southampton Writers Conference to hone their craft, and while the proximity to the ocean and the presence of literary luminaries like Roger Rosenblatt, Jules Feiffer and Billy Collins have certainly been a draw, what has set the popular conference apart has been its knack for helping attendees achieve their goal.

They get work done.

“Writers write, and so our first, best hope is that our writers will come away from the conference with fresh work that they’re proud of, new friends with whom to share the writer’s life, and new tools for managing and understanding their work,” said conference director Susan Scarf Merrell, Fiction Editor of The Southampton Review and Assistant Professor in the MFA in Creative Writing & Literature at Stony Brook Southampton.

The Southampton Writers Conference, now in its 41st year, runs from July 6-17 and is at the heart of Stony Brook Southampton’s summer slate, which includes the Southampton Theatre Conference and the five-day Children’s Literature Conference (July 13-17), as well as a Master Class in Acting for Directors (July 6-10) taught by Academy Award-winning actor Mercedes Ruehl.

”Year after year, the most important writers in our culture grace the conference lecterns, and this year is no exception,” Merrell said.

Lauren Groff, Marisa Silver, Martin Espada, Matthea Harvey, Adam Gopnik, Gayle Forman, and Lucas Hnath join the conference faculty this year. Returning are Collins, Meg Wolitzer, Melissa Bank, Frederic Tuten, Matt Klam, Daniel Menaker, Stephen Adly Guirgis, Tor Seidler and Peter Reynolds. Expected visitors include Mary Norris, The New Yorker’s Comma Queen, the breakout novelist Garth Greenwell, short story writer Sara Majka and super-agent Esther Newberg.

The Southampton Writers Conference is held alongside the Chlidren’s Literature Conference and the Southampton Theatre Conference. Photo by Star Black

“The primary identity of the conference is an allegiance to writing as art,” said Robert Reeves, Associate Provost of the Southampton Graduate Arts Campus. “We have fun along the way, but everyone who comes here is prepared to put in the hard labor that art requires. The intensity of the two weeks can have a lasting effect on someone’s writing life.”

One of the highlights of the Writers Conference is the Master Class taught by Rosenblatt, a Stony Brook University Distinguished Professor of English and Writing. The class includes Rosenblatt interviewing a master craftsperson — this year, he’ll be speaking with Alan Alda, Mark Doty, Espada, Wolitzer and Groff — about imagination and other aspects of writing.

The Children’s Literature Conference features three workshops — picture book, middle grade and young adult — which are filled to capacity and led by Reynolds, Seidler and Forman.

“All three of our workshop leaders are rock stars in the children’s lit industry,” said Emma Walton Hamilton, conference director and Director of the Children’s Literature Fellows program. “I’m looking forward to some really wonderful work coming out of the conference, along with a dynamic dialogue about the state of the children’s lit industry right now.”

The Southampton Theatre Conference has gathered some of the greatest working theatre artists in their fields to lead 5-day playwriting workshops and 11-day script development labs. Hnath and Guirgis are teaching playwriting workshops, and there will be a two-day intensive Acting Master Class taught by award-winning actor Alec Baldwin and Michael Chekhov International Association master teacher Bethany Caputo.

Magdalene Brandeis, Associate Director of the MFA in Film, is excited to have Ruehl return for a second year to lead the Master Class in Acting for Directors.

“Last year’s students are still raving about this class, how it changed the way they see writing and directing, as well as giving them first-hand knowledge and experience in understanding the amazing and intense dynamic between actors and directors,” she said.

There will be an outdoor MFA faculty reading Monday, July 11, at 7 p.m. on the lawn behind Chancellors Hall. The event is free and open to the public, and features readings from Feiffer, Ursula Hegi, Julie Sheehan, Neal Gabler, Jessica Soffer, Lou Ann Walker, Star Black, Christian McLean and Susan Merrell.

Another public event that is sure to entertain is the Literary Death Match, a twisted take on literary competition that marries the literary and performative aspects of Def Poetry Jam, the rapier-witted quips of American Idol’s judging (without the meanness), and the ridiculousness and hilarity of Double Dare.

Collins, Wolitzer, Gopnik and Washington Post book critic Ron Charles will be the guest judges for contestants Helen Simonson, Timothy Liu, Tracy King-Sanchez and Iris Smyles. The event celebrates the launch of the newest issue of TSR: The Southampton Review. Tickets are $25 each and can be reserved on the conference website.


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