We were all strangers to each other last summer when we first tentatively took our seats around a table in a classroom at the Stonybook Southampton College Summer Writers Conference. Everyone was nervous. The students all had submitted manuscripts waiting for critique. And I had signed on to direct the workshop for the next five days. Would the work be strong? Would the level of critique be high but not harsh? Would I, as the teacher, have enough to say to fill the time?
Flash forward to next Friday. Almost a year later, that same group is meeting for a reunion. To celebrate the pending publication of one student’s book. To celebrate one student whose book was selected for the prestigious Blue Bonnet award in Texas. To congratulate another student whose book has topped an Amazon.com contest for new writers. To celebrate one student’s decision to pursue an MFA. And to catch up on each other – and try to recreate the magic that we shared for those five days.
Somehow, I was lucky enough to draw a dozen talented, thoughtful, smart, well-read, funny, kind and just delightful students. Their work was consistently good, deep, and rich. And their feedback for each other was generous and consistently thoughtful. And not only did I have enough to say, we all agreed to squeeze in an extra session – and skip a trip to the beach – to discuss the ins and outs of publishing and to tackle all those questions aspiring writers are dying to ask. I also met with each student privately. It was a whirlwind schedule but a very rich and rewarding experience.
It was a very special week. We went deep in each session – because of the trust we had for each other. I knew I could count on the students to give positive, useful feedback to each other and they knew they could count on me to have enough publishing war stories to suit any occasion. We all came away inspired by each other and ready to run back to our computers to write more.
I was lucky enough to be invited back to the conference this summer. This time, the conference will last for a few extra days, giving students time to write in between workshop meetings and giving all of us more time for private meetings, for casual lunches, evening readings.
I’ve already heard a whoop of excitement via Facebook from one student who was accepted into the program and am hoping that this summer, with its more expansive schedule, will bring me into contact with another batch of talented and inspiring writers. I’ll put next year’s reunion in my date book now!