When faced with the decision of how to present this year’s Writers Institute, director Marci Cancio-Bello, who is also program coordinator of the Miami Book Fair, knew the decision would be to move forward somehow.
“Instead of canceling the event altogether, we wanted to consider moving it online,” said Cancio-Bello. “Even though people are still really busy with everything going virtual, we still thought, ‘What better time to sit down and write that book, story, or poem?’ “
The event is from July 27 to 31; online workshops are capped at 15 people each. Once the decision was made to go virtual, the priority was ensuring the interaction with faculty and, “We’re very fortunate they all said yes,” beamed Cancio-Bello.
For the virtual events, they extended the Writers Institute to go an extra day, from Monday through Saturday. “We wanted to accommodate participants and give them more time to work on their writing throughout the week,” Cancio-Bello explained. “We also have it open to the public every evening, Monday through Friday on Crowdcast. This gives the audience a chance to see famous authors.”
Their lineup of authors includes Miami’s own Richard Blanco plus Boris Fishman and R.O. Kwon. “We have a nice variety of multi-genre writers who have wonderful personalities. Our goal is always to choose not only excellent writers but also great teachers,” she said.
R.O. Kwon, whose first novel “The Incendiaries” came out in 2018, is a veteran of the annual Miami Book Fair held in November, attending in 2019 as a speaker. “But this is my first time involved with the Writers Institute,” said Kwon. “I was really looking forward to coming back and was excited to see many of the authors again. I will miss that but am glad that, through virtual programming, we can proceed with what was originally planned.”
R.O., whose first name is Reese, will be teaching for an hour and a half every day. She will also be hosting a separate talk and reading from her first novel.
“I will be teaching a class that looks at different ways to be part of a larger literary community. It will cover researching, finding, and applying to residencies and grants along with other opportunities to sustain yourself while writing,” Kwon said. “We will also talk extensively about pitching and how to work with editors.”
In her workshops, Kwon finds it essential to present information that addresses practical concerns around being a writer, something she feels is not passed on enough to new writers. “I remember when I was starting to publish, there was a lot I didn’t know so I feel it’s essential that from my experience, I pass on along as much information as I can.”
An added bonus for those who sign up for Kwon’s classes, she has taught online before so she is comfortable leading a virtual class and feels “a small workshop with adults online can be invigorating.” Reese is also currently working on her second novel, an experience which will surely be beneficial to the participants as well.
What will participants experience during the workshops? They will work on generative exercises, receive individualized feedback, craft lectures, and participate in a discussion. “It’s a well-rounded experience,” assured Cancio-Bello.
“We have a literary agent giving individualized consultations that participants can either add to their conference schedule or pick as their solo option,” she said. “You can buy also either buy a workshop or just do the publishing seminar.” The manuscript consultation is not included with any of the bundles.
“The literary agent consultation is requested throughout the year, so we make sure to always include it as part of our offerings,” she said. “And although our Spanish workshop, one of the only ones offered in the country, is sold out, the author teaching it will be doing a reading the public can watch.”
Aside from the diverse programming offered, the program attracts a variety of age ranges from college students to senior citizens.
“Because there is no experience required, the Writers Institute attracts people of all ages,” she said. “It is also very affordable, our maximum workshop has never been more than $500 and this year, we reduced the cost. We are aware of the current situation and know there are many people who have lost their jobs.”
Affordability and access were the main incentives for creating the Writers Institute when it began over a decade ago as the brainchild of Lissette Mendez, director of the Miami Book Fair.
“After Lissette completed Florida International University’s MSA program, she realized that most people didn’t have time to take off three years to get a Master’s Degree, so she wanted to host a conference where anyone could sign up and have access to nationally recognized authors and agents without having to take so much time off,” said Cancio-Bello. “This way, we could bring the program to Miami instead of them having to go out and seek a similar program elsewhere.”
The concept has proven to be quite a success given the program has successfully matched several writers with agents, ultimately resulting in their work getting published.
Learn more about the Writers Institute workshops being offered and public programs by visiting their website.
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