Where can you meet writing greats like Richard Blanco, Amy Stewart, and high-powered literary agents all in one place? If you think you need to be a part of an exclusive organization or an accredited university, think again. All you need to do is attend the Writer's Institute, coming this May.
This is the ninth year of the Writer's Institute, and this year promises to be just as inspiring and educational as years prior. Lissette Mendez, program director at the Center for Literature and Theatre at Miami Dade College, said the Writer's Institute began close to when the center got started. Mendez was one of the people behind the original grant to form the center, and the idea behind it was "to promote reading and writing and to create [programs] that emphasize reading and writing."
One such program is the Writer's Institute, which brings some of the biggest names in the country to Miami to teach and support the city's expansive creative community. The best part is that you don't have to be a college student to gain access to this opportunity. All you have to do is sign up.
"At the time, there weren't many writing programs that were not credited by universities," Mendez said. "If you wanted to get the same caliber of instruction, and the opportunities to work with authors who had been published for a long time and had extensive teaching experience, you had to go [programs at universities]. There weren't many [programs] that I could find [where] you could just get feedback on your writing, get encouragement from people who were doing the same thing you were doing, and work with people from different parts of the country. You had to leave Miami."
The Writer's Institute isn't some piddly set of workshops that only last for a couple of minutes each.
"[These are] really strong creative writing workshops that were really deep and weren't like a five-minute thing," Mendez said. "A few days where you could spend some time with other people that were doing the same thing you were doing with really good writing teachers, getting some feedback, tips and techniques that could help you on your journey."
The classes are really small -- only 15 people are allowed for each workshop. The list of the workshops include:
- "Writing Nonfiction That Sells: The Art of the Book Proposal" with Rachel Vogel, an agent for Waxman Leavell Literary Agency specializing in narrative nonfiction, memoir and upmarket and literary fiction.
- "How to Land the Right Agent: Selecting an Agency and Crafting the Near-Perfect Pitch with Emmanuelle Morgen, an agent for Stonesong specializing in adult and children's fiction -- particularly middle grade, young adult, women's fiction, historical fiction, romance, and certain thrillers -- narrative nonfiction such as memoir, psychology, sociology and popular science.
- "The Spirit and Craft of Poetry" with Richard Blanco, the youngest and first Latino and openly-gay person to become the presidential inaugural poet and author, with books including City of a Hundred Fires, which has received the Agnes Starrett Poetry Prize, Directions to The Beach of The Dead, which has received the PEN American Beyond Margins Award and Looking for The Gulf Motel, which has won the Patterson Poetry Prize, the Thom Gunn Award, and a Maine Literary Prize.
- "The First 20 Pages: Establishing Voice, Method and Narrative Stakes at the Beginning of Your Memoir" with Bill Clegg, an agent at WME representing narrative non-fiction, fiction, memoir and poetry. And Jill Bialosky, the executive editor and vice president at W. W. Norton & Company
- "Nonfiction and the Craft of Storytelling" with Amy Stewart, an award-winning author of six books including four New York Times bestsellers, The Drunken Botanist, Wicked Bugs, Wicked Plants, and Flower Confidential.
- "Creating Fictional Art" with Robert Olen Butler, who has published 14 novels and six volumes of short fiction, and is the recipient of the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the 2013 F. Scott Fitzgerald Award for Outstanding Achievement in American Literature.
- "Taller de Creatividad Periodística: El Arte de Preguntar" with Andrés Correa Guatarasma, an editor and reporter for newspapers and magazines, including Venezuela's El Universal, the Associated Press, and other publications. (Workshop in Spanish)
There are also agent manuscript consultations with Emmanuelle Morgen or Rachel Vogel.
"That's been very successful for people and a number of folks have come through who have either gotten enough feedback as to whether they need to revise or change the story in some way [and] getting reassurance that they're on the right track," Mendez said, in reference to the consultations specifically. "There have also been a number of people who have met agents, and books have been sold."
Whether you're attending the workshops, or just jumping in for lunch and a reading, The Writer's Institute provides a lot of chances for people to learn about the craft.
"It allows another place and opportunity for people in Miami who are writing to work on their projects and hear feedback from people and meet other people," Mendez said. "It provides a community where people can gather with intention. It allows anyone in Miami to sign up and come take a class or two, or listen to the readings. The lunch is open to anyone, so if you want to just come downtown for lunch, you can and be part of the reading, talk to other people who are writing. It gives people the opportunity to work with authors they might not have had the opportunity to work with aside from leaving town. If you're in Miami, you've saved a plane ticket and a reservation. It just gives you a space to hang out with other people who are doing what you're doing."
The Institute also helps writers get past the plateau of writing and reach the next level -- the business.
"I think one of the things that happens is that, in terms of writers who are further along --meeting with agents and taking the [publishing] workshops -- it's very useful," Mendez said. "I have a number of friends who are in the MFA programs or who have spent a lot of time writing and have a body of work, but going the next step toward publishing can be pretty complicated, because we're not in New York. There's a lot in terms of the art of writing here, which I'm happy about, but there isn't a lot in terms of the business of writing and publishing in Miami."
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Suffice it to say, the Writer's Institute provides a big bang for your buck. It can go above and beyond the price to affect you in every part of your life, not just your writing career.
"I've never had anybody come out and say that this was a waste of time," Mendez said. "For the most part, what I find people get out of it is to really have an in-depth experience in which they feel like what they're creating is better for the experience of having been to the workshops. We've definitely had some tried-and-true success stories. We have had people who have met their agents and have gotten published as a result of taking part in The Writer's Institute. We get people that come every year because of that. Because we're a part of Miami Dade College, our whole focus is to give you a good education, whether its an education for a degree, or an education to make your art the best it can be. That's our whole reason for being."
The Writer's Institute begins Wednesday, May 7, and ends Saturday, May 10. Three-day workshops are $250 (including lunch May 7 to May 9); four-day workshops are $300 (including lunch May 7 to May 9). Any two workshops are available for $450, and a manuscript consultation is $80. Register at flcenterlitarts.com.