Is the Future of Writing Conferences Virtual?

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Author Melissa Bank during a previous Writer's Conference at Stony Brook Southampton. Photo by Star Black.

This summer, Stony Brook Southampton will attempt something it has never done before — offer its annual Writers Conference totally online.

“The Southampton Writers Conference has been a staple of the Hamptons summer for 45 years,” says novelist and essayist Roger Rosenblatt, a professor in the university’s MFA program which hosts the conference, and a member of the conference faculty. “Given the choice between breaking that tradition or taking it online, we chose to make the virtual as valuable — and as much fun — as possible.”

The virtual Southampton Writers Conference will run online from July 8 to 12 at substantially reduced rates. Rosenblatt will be joined by regular workshop faculty members Billy Collins, Matthew Klam, Melissa Bank and Frederic Tuten, as well as new workshop leaders Jami Attenberg, Paul Harding, T Kira Madden, Matt Phelan, Camille Rankine, Karen Thompson Walker, Maryrose Wood and Susan Verde.

In addition to the daily workshops, which encompass poetry, fiction, memoir, children’s lit and graphic novel, there will be guest lectures and readings from a dazzling array of writers, agents and publishing professionals including Meg Wolitzer, Suzanne Gluck, Kathy Engel, Bruce Holsinger, Jynne Dilling Martin, Courtney Maum, Caitlin Mullen, Melissa Rivero, and Emily Temple.

While many conferences around the country — from Skidmore to Yale to Sewanee — have chosen to take this summer off, Southampton Writers Conference co-director Christian McLean was “adamant about continuing,” he says. “Now more than ever, we need the community and support of our fellow writers.”

According to McLean, the biggest challenge is building an online environment that “mimics the real connection of our conference.” The conference team extensively researched platforms and support systems and feels confident that the virtual world they’re putting together will be both entertaining and educational.

“We have restructured the way the daily schedule works in order to provide an environment that’s comfortable for a student working from home, wherever that might be,” he adds. “We’ve had applications from as far away as Cyprus for this year, which is so exciting.”

For lovers of good writing, there is a five-day lecture and reading series pass available for $150. For more information, visit stonybrook.edu/writers/.

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