Southampton Writers Conference Set for the Summer

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Frederick Tuten

Frederic Tuten once spent his summers visiting with Roy and Dorothy Lichtenstein — their days filled with art, writing and deep friendship, while basking in the East End sun.

The novelist eventually found his way to the Southampton Writers Conference, an annual meeting of minds featuring lectures, readings and workshops, where he has taught fiction and short story writing for more than a decade.

And this year, following the recent release of “My Young Life,” he is making his debut as a memoirist.

“It’s my first time, but I’ve been living and reading memoirs and now, having written one, I feel it’s a good idea for me to do it,” Mr. Tuten said of his summer workshop. “I’m excited to do it, and I’m excited to talk about something different than short story or novel writing. Usually the summer students are terrific, so I’m looking forward to seeing what new things and fresh things they have to say and think about, and hope I can be of some help.”

Hosted by Stony Brook Southampton’s MFA in Creative Writing program, both full-time professors and guest faculty will lead the 44thannual Southampton Writers Conference from July 10 to 21. The lectures and workshops cover a wide breadth, from fiction, nonfiction and poetry to children’s literature, playwriting and TV writing, according to co-directors Christian McLean and Susan Merrell.

A Local Voices scholarship to attend the conference is available through April 2.

“This is always one of the real highlights of the year, for everybody on our team,” Ms. Merrell said. “We have such a great group of students and professors, and having these other people join us, it validates what we do, it enhances what we do, it makes our world bigger in the most beautiful way. I really love it. I’m always really looking forward to this time of summer.”

With deep roots on the East End, the Southampton Writers Conference continues a storied tradition dating back to 1976, one that has drawn luminaries such as Joyce Carol Oates and E.L. Doctorow, Kurt Vonnegut and Tom Wolfe, Elizabeth Strout and Derek Walcott.

“It started off as a much smaller summer program and, in the 1990s, it grew pretty rapidly,” according to Mr. McLean. “It’s pretty amazing when we go through it and we actually look at who has been a part of it over the last 44 years. It’s a really fantastic list of people. When I think about the number of writers that I’ve met, being a part of it over the last 10 years, it’s pretty crazy.”

The legacy only continues this year, he said, with three different ways to participate in the Southampton Writers Conference. The first is the lecture series, providing access to all morning programming, salons, evening readings and social gatherings throughout the 12 days.

The next level is either a five- or 12-day workshop — small, intimate gatherings designed for emerging writers seeking feedback, or those looking to jumpstart their practice. And for participants who want more time to write, they can sign up for the workshop and residency option, which can be devoted to writing entirely, or paired with a five-day workshop on either side of a week-long writing residency.

“It’s for people don’t necessarily want a workshop, but want some time and space away to finish something, with this community of writers in the background,” Mr. McLean said. “So when they’re sick of smashing their heads against their keyboards, they can come down and hear a reading or talk, or hash out ideas with fellow writers. The idea is to create this community of writers at all levels.”

Prior to his memoir-writing workshop, Mr. Tuten will request 20 pages of work from each of his students, and then ask the following of them: Why they want to write a memoir, what it means to them, what they are willing to do to get there, and how truthful they are willing to be.

He asked the same questions of himself while contemplating “My Young Life.”

“I turned 82, I was working on this for six years — different versions of the memoir — and I’ve lived an interesting life, I think, at least from my point of view,” he said. “That’s sort of telling you, ‘Oh what a great life I’ve had,’ and I don’t mean that at all. I mean the people I’ve known, the people who helped me.

“I wanted to have their memory preserved in some way, I wanted to have people know who they were, what they did, and how extraordinary they were,” he added. “Not famous people — people who are living very beautiful lives, honorable lives. And I wanted to tell that story.”

Poverty dominates much of Mr. Tuten’s earliest memories of growing up in the Bronx during the 1940s. At age 15, he dropped out of high school to pursue a life making art and dreaming of Paris. But first, the aspiring painter landed in Manhattan, working odd jobs and gathering friends, mentors and many girlfriends along the way.

“The Lower East Side in the ’60s, was an extraordinary period of creativity, a wealth of young people living there — not wealthy young people, wonderful young people from all over America, because the rents were affordable,” he recalled. “There were artists and poets in my building, it was a glamorous time.”

Mr. Tuten did eventually live in Paris and, not long after he returned, first visited the East End and Mr. Lichtenstein, renting a home in Southampton to be closer to his friend. Now, more than 20 years since the pop artist’s death, Mr. Tuten’s portrait  — painted by North Haven-based artist Eric Fischl — still hangs in the family home, and the writer finds joy in relationships he’s made at the Southampton Writers Conference, he said.

“It’s warm, it’s inviting, it’s generous, it’s kind, and some of the people there are phenomenal, like Roger Rosenblatt and Amy Hempel,” Mr. Tuten said. “You see the roster of names — illustrious people, but deservedly so, not just the taste-of-the-moment writer. Solid writers, wonderful writers, and engaging. That’s the part I love so much.

“I look forward to it,” he continued. “When the summer’s over, I really miss it. I can’t wait to go back again.”

The 44thannual Southampton Writers Conference will be held from July 10 to 21 at Stony Brook Southampton, located at 39 Tuckahoe Road in Southampton. Faculty will include: Melissa Bank, Jericho Brown, Karen E. Bender, Alexander Chee, Billy Collins, Donna Freitas, Ursula Hegi, Alan Kingsberg, Matthew Klam, Dawn Lundy Martin, Roger Rosenblatt, Susan Tan, Frederic Tuten and Dan Yaccarino. 

The deadline for the Local Voices Scholarship, open to East End residents, is April 2, and will cover a five-day workshop, as well as all lectures and readings, valued at $1,495. For costs, registration and scholarship information, visit stonybrook.edu/writers.

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