Reading in Paradise
Every year, Eckerd College attracts high-profile writers from around the country to its Writers in Paradise retreat, co-founded by megahit novelist Dennis LeHane and the no less brilliant novelist/Eckerd writing prof Sterling Watson. While most of the weeklong program is a chance for aspiring writers to learn from heavy hitters behind closed doors, the event also includes an evening reading series that’s open to the public.
But this chance to meet renowned writers often feels a bit overlooked. So we decided to profile the readers at this year’s WIP series, to help readers navigate the offerings. It’s eminently worth attending for the community alone – these events draw the biggest local literary figures out of the woodwork.
All readings start at 8 p.m. (show up early for some wine and cheese), at Eckerd’s Miller Auditorium. Follow the signs/ sounds of joyful gossip.
Saturday, January 14 – Richard Blanco, Keynote
Blanco, whose family came to Miami from Cuba when he was an infant, was the Inaugural Poet for Barack Obama’s second ceremony. His work explores his status navigating Cuban culture as a gay man, and more general issues of identity in America and the world. He’s also the recipient of a litany of prizes, and serves as the Education Ambassador for the Academy of American Poets.
Sunday, January 15 – David Yoo, Laura Lippman
Yoo is an author of young adult fiction, including the novel Girls for Breakfast, as well as the collection of essays The Choke Artist: Confessions of a Chronic Underachiever. His YA work has been described as both hilarious and painful, which is about right for the age bracket. He’s earned awards and praise from the Bloomsbury Review and the New York and Chicago Public Libraries.
Lippman, a New York Times bestselling crime author, with an edge that draws on twenty years as a crime reporter in her native Baltimore. Critics from the likes of the Chicago Sun-Times have praised her for writing gripping crime fiction with the elegance of great literature – which puts her in appropriate company with LeHane and Watson.
Monday, January 16 – Fabienne Josaphat and Andre Dubus III
Each year, WIP features at least one emerging author in its reading series, and Miami-based Josaphat fills that role this year. Her fiction and poetry focuses on her Haitian background, and she got her MFA from Florida International University.
Dubus is a regular at these conferences, and has been known to share intimate stories about his father, the great short story writer Andre Jules Dubus II. The son is the author of House of Sand and Fog, basis for the harrowing 2003 Ben Kingsley film, and has won the Pushcart Prize and a Guggenheim fellowship.
Tuesday, January 17 – Denise Duhamel, Stewart O’Nan & Helen Pruitt Wallace
Duhamel has been speaking out for women through poetry since the early 1990s, with work that spans from satire to surrealism. She was recently shortlisted for the National Book Critics Circle Award.
Stewart O’Nan’s dozen-odd novels focus on everday life, with frequent strains of tragedy quiet and loud. Though most of his work qualifies as “literary fiction,” he has collaborated with Stephen King.
Wallace, a St. Pete native who teaches at Eckerd, released her first collection of poems, Shimming the Glass House, in 2007. It won a Florida Book Award.
Thursday, January 19 – Les Standiford & Ann Hood
Standiford, co-organizer of Writers in Paradise, is the author of both a series of Miami-based crime novels, and a run of a half-dozen nonfiction books, many about Florida history.
Ann Hood is a renowned literary author whose novels explore interpersonal themes including grief and gender. Her own life, including the losses of both a father and young daughter to illness, are a frequent source for her writing.
Friday, January 20 – Sterling Watson, Major Jackson & Peter Meinke
I’m always eager for the chance to praise Sterling Watson. His novels are bleak and uncompromising, often digging into some of the most unsavory of human drives. But they’re also gripping narratives – especially his recent Suitcase City, set in Tampa.
Major Jackson’s poems have earned him a Whiting Award, a Pew fellowship, and nomination for an NAACP Image Award. Though his work digs into African-American themes, their appeal is universal.
Peter Meinke is the Poet Laureate of Florida, and a former Eckerd professor. His work, developed over a dozen volumes, bridges the mythic formality of modernism with the urgency of the personal.
Saturday, January 21 – Lan Samantha Chang
Lan Samantha Chang is the director of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop – the most prestigious creative writing program in America, and probably the world. She’s the recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship, for work that often grapples with the experiences of Chinese people at home and abroad.