This past November I fled my drafty condo and the moody grey skies of Chicago for picturesque Sanibel Island, a haven much-loved by vacationers and retirees. The beaches there are known for their millions of pretty shells, and it’s also the place where you’ll find the renowned J.N. “Ding” Darling bird refuge. For the past nine years, the island has also been the site of an excellent writers conference affiliated with Florida Gulf Coast University. I was a member of this year’s fiction faculty, which also included novelists and short story writers Lynne Barrett, Emily Franklin, Steve Almond, David James Poissant, Julia Scheeres, Darin Strauss, George Singleton, Jeff Parker, and Tom Franklin. (The conference faculty includes poets, editors, novelists, essayists, publishers, live-lit veterans, literary agents, and musicians. This is the complete list: Steve Almond/ MK Asante / Lynne Barrett / Derrick C. Brown / Kevin Clark / Dean Davis / John Dufresne / Beth Ann Fennelly / Emily Franklin / Tom Franklin / Artis Henderson / John Hoppenthaler / Gary Louris / Jen McClung / Karen Salyer McElmurray / Kathryn Miles / Dinty W. Moore / Jeff Newberry / Jeff Parker / David James Poissant / Julia Scheeres / Christopher Schelling / Jennifer Senior / George Singleton / Christine Sneed / Wesley Stace / JL Stermer / Megan Stielstra / Parker Stockman / Darin Strauss / Johnny Temple / Karen Tolchin).
Tom DeMarchi founded the conference and has been its director since its inception in 2006. He and his wife Karen Tolchin (who also works hard to keep each conference running smoothly) are both members of FGCU’s English Department faculty and are two of the nicest people you could expect to meet anywhere. Richard Russo was so charmed when he met Tom and Karen not long ago while they were on vacation in New England that he agreed to come down from Maine to give the conference keynote this year.
I have to think it is their kindness and sincere interest in all the students and faculty at the SIWC that make it such a popular conference, along with the accomplished faculty, many with bestselling books to their names.