I’ve just returned from the annual Southeastern Writers Workshop on St. Simons Island, Georgia. It—-and this is according to others, not just me—-is one of the greatest bargains in Writerdom.
It’s a four-day affair in a beautiful subtropical setting, a causeway’s drive from the mainland. What makes the conference unique is that its faculty is embedded with the students. To say it another way, the instructors, some with highly recognizable names in the field of literature, are not averse to breaking bread with we lesser lights in the province. We chat like old friends over meals, in hallways, over coffee, during a stroll across the campus.
Ah, yes. The campus: Epworth by the Sea, fronting the lazy Frederica River where dolphins frolic. Epworth whisks you away into the South of yore, the South of Scarlett and Rhett. Rocking chairs staff the front porch of the main office. Ancient live oaks, some so huge their limbs rest upon the St. Augustine grass, populate the grounds. And tendrils of Spanish moss, like gray bridal veils, wave gently in the daily sea breeze.
It’s a wonder we got anything done, for all the beauty and peacefulness that surrounded us. But we did. We learned. We were inspired. We found ourselves awash in hope.
But it’s the people that made the meeting memorable. A writer who, with her tale of breast cancer, had me in tears—-tears of laughter. Another who could stand in front of us and say, “I’ve denied it in the past, but I’m epileptic. I’ve written a book for kids with epilepsy.” A professor who held his audience enraptured as he taught novel writing with an absolutely unique blend of humor, entertainment and scholarship.
I struck up lengthy conversations on a pier overlooking the slow-moving Frederica with people I would have guessed I had absolutely nothing in common with: a bearded, pony-tailed, ball cap-wearing poetry instructor from Appalachia; an immaculately groomed, uplifting lady in a wheel chair who talked about the blessings of life, even though she herself had struggled through the deep shadows of grief after losing her husband and daughter.
And who was the chick on roller blades? And the gal decked out like she was president of the Steven Tyler fan club?
Looking back, it was a remarkable week, one that transcended the mere mechanics of writing and publishing.
-June 22, 2012-
(In my next post, I’ll look at why writers attend conferences, something I think book readers may find illuminating, too.)
IMAGE: Main entrance to Epworth by the Sea.