Sanibel Island Writer’s Conference to feature “The Secret Life of Bees” author

The Eleventh annual Sanibel Writers Conference will be held from Nov. 3-6. The conference is open to those interested in creative writing. It will be held at the BIG ARTS Center and the Sanibel Island Public Library.

The keynote speaker will be author Sue Monk Kidd, best known for her 2002 novel “The Secret Life of Bees.” It spent more than two and a half years on the New York Times bestseller list.

Other presenters will include best selling author Steve Almond, Steven Elliot who will be giving a workshop on screenwriting, short story author John Dufrense, former FGCU creative writing professor Nathan Hill, and other authors, poets, editors, and publishers. Songwriter Rhett Miller, the lead singer of the band Old 97’s will also be in attendance.

Secret life of bees author at Sanibel
Sue Monk Kidd, the author of “The Secret Life of Bees” will be the keynote speaker at this year’s annual Sanibel Island Writer’s Conference. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

“Every year it’s new and thrilling, like falling in love,” the director of the conference, Tom DeMarchi said in an email. “This year we’re adding a few new workshop topics: food writing, writing for TV, and collaborative/ghost writing.”

During the course of the weekend, there are several events going on.

Every morning, Dufrense will be holding morning writing exercises. Following that, workshops will be held per the attendee’s choice. These include a one-on-one manuscript consultation with an author, poet, or publisher and a small-group manuscript reading workshop.

Other parts to the schedule include panels, readings, concerts, a screening of Stephen Elliot’s “After Adderral,” and the keynote address by Kidd.

When asked on how he specifically chooses people for the lineup, DeMarchi said that it’s mostly based on who is available and who is a good fit for the conference.

“In addition to the prospective presenter’s publishing history, which of course matters, I poke around about his or her teaching experience,” DeMarchi said. “Plus some people are so enthusiastic about teaching and working with students that it’s obvious from the beginning that this is a person you want at the party.”

DeMarchi said that it’s hard to pick favorites, however, the conference is almost like a big family reunion to him.

“I of course love seeing old friends who come back every year,” DeMarchi said. “In this respect it’s like a big family reunion, which I know sounds corny, but it’s true nonetheless.”

Registration for the event is $300 for students with a valid student ID, while standard registration is $500.

DeMarchi, who also teaches Writing Theory and Practice at FGCU, encouraged those enrolled in his class, who get a free pass to the event, to attend.

The registration includes general craft workshops, readings and panels, an evening cocktail hour, as well as nighttime events such as concerts, readings, and the keynote address from Kidd.

The Manuscript consultations and small-group workshops are an extra fee of $100 per workshop.

DeMarchi said that people who attend the conference go for a variety of reasons.

“Everyone’s got different goals and aspirations and endeavors when it comes to their writing,” DeMarchi said. “And they have different levels of skill, commitment and discipline coming in, so unless they’re willing to do the long term work of devoting multiple hours a day at the desk, for years, the conference isn’t going to do much other than give them a pleasant memory and a suntan.”

According to DeMarchi, the conference serves several functions to attendees, including “providing a community of like-minded people the chance to connect and support each other.”

The Sanibel Island Writer’s Conference began 11 years ago with only a handful of people in attendance. Now, the cap for registration has reached 175, 25 more than last year.