This summer, I was lucky to attend the Sewanee Writers’ Conference as a Walter E. Dakin Fellow in fiction. Like Bread Loaf, it was a tremendous experience–on the way home, I counted thirty-six readings and lectures I heard in twelve days. I was introduced to the work of some amazing new (to me) talents, like Kevin Wilson (whose The Family Fang is just as good as the reviews say), Anna North (who read beautifully from America Pacifica), fellow Graywolfer and There Will Be Blood fan Alan Heathcock, and fellow Irvine grad Allison Benis White, whose haunting Self-Portrait with Crayon is going to inspire a unit on ekphrastic poetry with my creative writing class. I also got to meet incredibly talented playwrights, like Enrique Urueta and David Roby and Beth Henley, who staged readings for us throughout the conference (we heard staged readings from two new Beth Henley plays).
The tradition at Sewanee is for the faculty to read from new work, so I was also incredibly lucky to hear Jill McCorkle, Randall Kenan, Tony Earley, Christine Schutt, Margot Livesey, and Alice McDermott read from gorgeous new novels. I think Margot’s may be the first to come out–The Flight of Gemma Hardy will be published in January. I can already picture myself reading it in the loft this winter.
One thing I noticed about Sewanee is that it has the best audiences I think I’ve ever seen: warm, appreciative, quick to laugh. Maybe it was the spell Jill cast with her first-night reading of her wonderful (and hilarious) new novel, but every poet and short story writer and novelist and playwright was met with tremendous support. I read early in the conference, from “Jonas,” and got some great feedback on new work, which I hope to tell you about soon.
As always, I bought a T-shirt for my dad (printed with an apropos quote from Jill: “the freedom of writing, this license to lie”) and a lot of books. I’m having some new shelves built just to hold them all using this as the inspiration.
The photo above is the swimming spot near Sewanee’s campus, where some of us went almost every day before dinner. (Those are writers’ heads, not turtles.)