April 2010, Volume 14, Number 2

Cultural Spotlight


Writers Institute nurtures new talent

Each fall, the Miami Book Fair presents top-notch authors and their newly published books for hundreds of thousands of fans. And every spring, the Florida Center for the Literary Arts, presenter of the Book Fair, grooms the writers who one day will take the Book Fair stage during another nationally recognized program: The Writers Institute.

Established in 2005, the Institute is a boutique conference offering high-level, intensive instruction in creative writing. Taught by prize-winning authors with impeccable teaching credentials, the rigorous workshops run three and four days. The class meets for three hours at a time and classes are limited to 15 students, sometimes less.

This year’s conference takes place May 5-8, and features Dorothy Alison, Rick Bragg, Connie May Fowler, Samuel G. Freedman, Carolyn Forche, Carolina García Aguilera and Mark Siegel, who is teaching a workshop on writing graphic novels, an innovative twist on the traditional conference.

Another way The Writers Institute stands apart is by its attention to writers working in Spanish.

“From the beginning we offered substantive attention to those aspiring authors in our community who feel most comfortable writing in their native Spanish,” said Alina Interián, executive director of the Florida Center for the Literary Arts. “We’ve offered workshops, but also a lecture on translations, and a seminar on the publishing industry.”

This year, the workshop in Spanish, Como escribir y publicar su cuento (How to Write and Publish Your Stories) will be taught by novelist and playwright Teresa Dovalpage.

The success of the Writers Institute can be attributed in great part to the simple formula that guided its founding — small workshops focusing on the bones and muscle of stories and poetry, and lasting long enough for writers to walk away with new work or markedly improved work.

“We want to offer a range of workshops, but nothing fluffy. I love it when students tell me that they had to work hard, that it was difficult to listen to the critiques sometimes, but that they were learning, gathering the tools to help them continue,” said Lissette Méndez, program coordinator.

The strategy has worked. Writers come from all over the country to take workshops at the Institute. Over the last few years, registration forms have revealed attendees from Wyoming, Maine, California, New York, New Jersey and Georgia among other states, plus from just about every part of Florida.

The Center can also tout a number of success stories — Roxanna Elden, a schoolteacher, revised her manuscript one year at the Institute (with author Rick Moody) and met her agent the next year at the Institute. She published See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers the year after. Nicholas Garnett met his agent at the Writers Institute last year. She is now shopping Garnett’s memoir, Straight Guy, around to publishers.

“It is quite difficult to land an agent, but Nick and Roxanna, are not the only ones to have done it at the Writers Institute,” Méndez added. “Often if the agent doesn’t take you on right away because your manuscript needs more work, he or she stays in touch, recommending revision strategies and often independent editors with whom the writer can work to give the manuscript that extra bit of polish — which in this market can make all the difference.”

Another successful Institute alumnus is Lilly Prellezo, whose nonfiction book, Seagull One: The True Story of José Basulto and Brothers to the Rescue, is forthcoming from University Press of Florida. She worked on her manuscript at the Writers Institute and took her manuscript to the university presses on the advise of an agent who has taught at both the Institute and in the Center’s year-round creative writing program.

“We are very proud of these and our other successful alumni,” Interián said. “But we are even more proud of the ones who are still in the trenches of writing their stories, who are still working on perfecting their tales. That’s where the true glory is, in the dedication and the hard work of creation. And that is why we are here — to offer these writers our support.”

This year workshops will focus on various aspects of writing poetry, fiction and nonfiction, including making scenes work, writing book proposals, writing mysteries, and writing different forms of poetry. Agents will meet one-on-one with registrants for consultations, and Pitch-o-rama will give everyone, including walk-ins not registered for any part of the program, the opportunity to pitch story ideas to a panel of experts. To learn about everything else happening at the Institute and to register, visit www.flcenterlitarts.com or call 305.237.3023 for a brochure.


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