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Writers Speak Wednesdays Returns to Both Southampton and Manhattan Campuses

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Stony Brook’s Writers Speak Wednesdays program returned to its pre-pandemic in-person format with a guest lecture February 14 at the Stony Brook Manhattan campus, the first of nine such events planned for Stony Brook Southampton and Manhattan during the Spring semester.

Chloe Cooper Jones, contributing writer at The New York Times Magazine and a 2020 Pulitzer Prize finalist in Feature Writing, spoke at the Stony Brook Manhattan Center for Creative Writing and Film on Eighth Avenue.

The series, part of the Lichtenstein Center Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and Literature program, has been running since 2012 and introduces students in the writing program to actual working writers who provide insight into what writers can expect post-graduation. Though it kept running, the program’s format was changed to accommodate challenges encountered during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“During the pandemic it was virtual,” said Christian McLean, associate director, MFA in Creative Writing. “But we’ve been doing it in-person in Manhattan since fall 2022 and we’re also streaming it, but we wanted to get it up and running again in person in Southampton. Now we have in-person readings in both Manhattan and Southampton.”

McLean said it’s crucial to bring professional writers to students so that way they can engage with the contemporary literary world.

“Writers Speak lets our students see what’s down the line for them,” he said. “These speakers give them a glimpse of what life is like as a graduate, what the experiences of those who have done it are, and what publishing is like. It’s informative for them to see that success can come quickly, or it might come three or four manuscripts down the line.”

Robert Lopez, a faculty member in the MFA Program in Creative Writing and Literature, has spearheaded the effort at Stony Brook’s Manhattan campus.

“After I joined the Creative Writing program, I wanted to provide something beyond teaching classes, and curating this series became the ideal platform for what I could bring to the students,” said Lopez.

As a long-time writer and creative writing teacher, Lopez had a long list of professional connections that has enabled him to bring in a variety of writers from all backgrounds and genres.

“I felt the best way I could serve students would be to expose them to writers who I know are not only good on the page, but good teachers who can talk about the craft of writing and the writer’s life beyond,” said Lopez. “Getting your work done, revising it, getting it published… what happens then? You’re talking about the entirety of a writer’s life. 95 percent of our time in the classroom is spent on the work that we are examining, but there’s so much more to the writer’s life post-MFA that they need to know.”

“The writers who participate in Writers Speak don’t sugarcoat how hard it is to make a living as a writer,” McLean said. “But with each writer that comes in, I think our students see possibility. They identify with the guests and that creates inspiration and broadens their community. Validation is something that aspiring writers need. It’s beneficial to have professional writers say that what you’re doing is worth something and to keep at it.”

A realistic view of the economics is also important.

“The reality is, ‘yeah, you’re probably going to need a day job,’” said McLean. “Which is also important to hear, but the writing is real and it’s something you should be doing.”

To illustrate the point, one writer on the Southampton schedule, Scott Chaskey, is a poet and farmer.

“That event is co-sponsored by the MFA in Creative Writing program and a program called FoodLab that is also run under the Liechtenstein Center,” said McLean. “It’s a great example of showing students where two worlds can meet.”

FoodLab is a hub for culinary exploration, innovation, and education with a mission of establishing Stony Brook as a national center for the study of the challenging food-related issues the world faces.

Beyond the educational aspect of Writers Speak, McLean also appreciates the opportunity to showcase new work.

“Every time I sit in one of these it’s still a thrill to hear contemporary writers read their work,” he said. “It’s always exciting, it’s always inspiring, and it always reminds the listeners that this work is important.”

The Spring schedule will also feature two graduates of Stony Brook’s MFA in Creating Writing and Literature program. Vanessa Cuti, whose debut novel The Tip Line (Crooked Lane) was released in 2023, will speak February 21 in Southampton. Anthony DiPietro, a poet and deputy director of Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University, will speak in Southampton on March 20.

All Writers Speak talks are free and open to the public, and are also livestreamed.

Robert Emproto

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