For ten years I came to Sewanee every summer to work as staff for the Conference. Looking back, it’s hard to believe that each one of those conferences lasted only twelve days, that the sum total of my time at the Conference was a mere four months spread over ten years. The new relationships you form, the possibilities for your writing you discover, the moments of transcendent aesthetic pleasure—the Conference becomes one of those heightened, compressed experiences that takes up more space in memory than it did in actual time. My friendships from the Conference have lasted more than twenty years. From Amy Hempel, Marc Richard, and Margot Livesey, I gained valuable knowledge of craft that I still use in my writing and my teaching today. And when I think of the beauty of language, of its importance, I remember a Cushman Room packed with an audience hanging on someone’s every word.
Just as as a teacher I try to offer my students what I learned or wish I had learned, as the new director of the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, I want to help the Conference do for others what it did for me—bolster my understanding of myself as a writer, sustain my faith in literature, broaden my community. It’s an enormous privilege to be in the position to do this, with the invaluable help of the associate directors, Gwen Kirby and Adam Latham, and the staff that joins us in the summer. It’s also a privilege to take over from Wyatt Prunty, who founded the Conference and made it what it is over thirty years.
As we’ve looked ahead to 2020, the associate directors and I have decided on some exciting additions to what the Conference already provides. We’ve added nonfiction and a second playwriting workshop. We’ll be offering small master classes on a variety of craft and professional topics. Editors, agents, and theater professionals will meet one on one with participants. We’ll begin with a session called The Ethics of Workshop in which we open a community conversation about some of the challenges that arise as we come together to discuss our work. We hope to broaden our community through strengthening our commitment to diversity and inclusion. We’re going to emphasize sustainability, which means, among other things, no more plastic cups! And we’re thrilled to welcome new faculty and visitors, as well as to welcome back those who were already part of the Sewanee community.
-- Leah Stewart, SWC Director