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Been There, Done That – January 2019

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In our "Been There, Done That" series, Literary Mama editors and readers share their experiences at conferences, workshops, classes, and residencies. Fiction Editor Colleen Kearney Rich recalls her time at the Sewanee Writers' Conference in Sewanee, Tennessee.


What program did you attend?

Sewanee Writers' Conference

2. Where was it and what was the time requirement?

The Sewanee Writers' Conference takes place for two weeks every summer at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. This year’s conference runs July 16-28.

3. What were the course offerings? 

You are assigned to a workshop with two of the faculty in your genre. They offer fiction, poetry, and playwriting. You get a packet of manuscripts, and slowly over the course of the two weeks workshop your story and the work of your classmates in class meetings. You also meet one-on-one with your assigned faculty member to talk about your work. There are also craft lectures by the faculty, readings by faculty and fellows (these are attendees with books out or coming out), and panels with agents and editors. Social activities and meals are a big deal and give you the opportunity to meet other writers.

4. How did you spend your time? 

I went to everything they offered. I didn’t want to miss a thing. There is some down time in which you can explore the campus and the town of Sewanee, which is adorable. Some great places to hike, but it is hot in Tennessee in July. I did do some writing while I was there, but it was mostly journaling so I would remember the experience.

5. What did you take away from the experience?

Sewanee is really a magical place. I made some great writer friends, and it has been amazing to see their successes. When one is reading nearby, I always make the effort to attend. The writing life is hard. The people around you every day often don’t quite understand you and what you are trying to do with your work. Finding your tribe is so important.

6. Did you have the opportunity for a writing critique? Was it helpful? 

Several people in my class were workshopping novel excerpts including me. That’s really hard. You are looking at one little sliver of manuscript, and you have no idea how it works in the larger piece. I wouldn’t do that again. Getting to talk one-on-one with novelist Jill McCorkle about my writing was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. One of the things she did was read parts of the excerpt aloud to me as we talked about them. At one point I did ask her: “Did I write that?” Seriously, if book publishers to could hear Jill McCorkle read my novel, they would buy it in a minute.

7. Would you attend this event again? 

In a heartbeat! But I also think the experience could easily be addictive so I promised myself I wouldn’t go back until I’m at different point in my work. I will definitely be back some day.

8. Share some helpful tips for a writer considering this experience. (Tips may include transportation, lodging, food, classes/instructors, or anything you think future attendees would benefit from knowing.) 

This is the South. It is hot in Tennessee in July and there is some walking—to meals, to workshops, to readings. Make sure you bring the right clothes so you will be comfortable.

Take a look at work of the faculty writers to see who you might want to work with. You do get to list your first and second choices on the application.

Don’t workshop your novel. It is too hard to get valuable feedback from people who are only seeing a few pages.

Attendees sleep in dormitories. Beautiful dormitories, but they are still college dorms. Think about your bedding especially if you are driving yourself there. I would definitely bring my own pillows next time and maybe one of those foam toppers.


Have you attended a conference, workshop, residency, or class? We'd like to hear about your experience. Email us at lmblogcontact (at) literarymama (dot) com.

The Literary Mama Blog Editor searches for mama-centric news you can use — including information about publishing opportunities and literacy efforts; essays and writing prompts that motivate and inspire; and announcements about events, classes, and workshops. The current blog editor is Bridget Lillethorup; read her bio here

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