With a bang that I think you could hear from this side of the river, Summer Writers’ Week returned to Manhattanville College the last week of June after a 2-year hiatus, bringing an invigorating infusion of craft development talks, readings of new work, and inspiring discussion to local writers. Workshops in poetry, nonfiction, fiction, YA fiction, and dramatic writing formed the week’s backbone, led by Melissa Tuckey, Michael McGregor, Mitchell S. Jackson, Meagan Brothers, and Sharbari Ahmed. Additional talks and readings featured a keynote reading by PEN/Faulkner Award winner Joseph O’Neill.
In keeping with Manhattanville’s tradition of inclusivity and community engagement, this program overflowed with offerings that were free and open to the public, including not only the keynote reading, but also intimate readings and craft discussions with Carl Potts on the Graphic Novel; Dan Zevin on writing comedy; Con Lehane and John Langan in writing genre fiction, particularly mystery and the fantastical; Rivka Galchen, who reprised a recent presentation for NPR on cross-genre works; New York Times book review fiction editor Greg Cowles on the art of writing reviews; Suzanne Parker on structuring the poetry manuscript; Kristin Prevallet on writing and the mind-body connection; and Alan Felsenthal of the Song Cave on starting a small press.
Just trying to revisit the luminosity feels explosive! This was a rare, backyard opportunity to study and converse with authors and publishing visionaries on themes both planned and unplanned. Mitchell S. Jackson challenged writers with a slideshow based on his new project portraying survivors of American crime culture and race-based exclusion. Among the spontaneous projects that arose was Haiku for Humanity, an initiative that you can follow and add to via #HaikuForHumanity on Twitter, which was spawned in Melissa Tuckey’s “Writing for Social Justice” discussion. SUNY undergrad Finola McDonald followed up on Alan Felsenthal’s small press workshop by beginning Vine Wrap Press, which hopes to publish its first anthology based on work from Summer Writers’ Week.
Traditionally geared toward MFA students and aspirants, Summer Writers’ Week offered a limited number of scholarships for the first time to SUNY students and recent grads in creative writing. The week provided a great opportunity for budding young writers to get a taste of an MFA program. I got to stay with some of these millennials on-campus—and listen, if anyone reading this is on an MFA admissions committee, these are the people you should accept to help form vibrant programs. They are natural community-builders, with original voices and eagerness for the discipline of a serious writing life. (The way we came together to make sangria on our last night was like the Bloomsbury Group meets Stone Soup meets the hip-hop Merry Pranksters.)
Manhattanville MFA Director Lori Soderlind, who organized the week and didn’t seem to sleep much, said, “This is what writing is really all about. Of course it’s about craft, of course it’s about producing and revising all those pages, but the soul of the literary effort in my mind is connecting, bringing people together in creativity. I hope that’s what we accomplished with Summer Writers’ Week, and that we will all continue to grow as artists in this effort.”
I’m looking forward to seeing Manhattanville host many more great summers of writing! Visit Manhattanville’s MFA program at mvillemfa.com.