Sanibel Island Writers Conference Open to All FGCU Students 


Photo by Chris Montgomery, Unsplash

Veronica Amador, Contributing Writer

The Sanibel Island Writers Conference moved to an online format scheduled for Nov. 5, yet again after Hurricane Ian damaged the Sanibel Causeway. 

Hurricane Ian made landfall on Sanibel Island on Sept. 29, sinking the Sanibel Causeway. Because of remodeling and COVID-19 cancellations, Tom DeMarchi and Jason Elek, Directors of the Sanibel Conference and FGCU professors, have been eager to return to the island since 2018. 

“I have so many memories there now, thanks to the conference,” Beth Ann Fennelly, a returning author to the conference, said. “One time, I was there with my children, and my son picked up a beach shell, and in the center of the shell was an opening that formed the shape of a perfect heart. It hangs in my office, so a part of Sanibel Island is always over my shoulder when I write.”

The Sanibel Island Writers Conference is known for authors of poetry, memoir, and narrative writers that come and share their work, hold seminars, and lead workshops. The conference nurtures a learning environment for individuals who attend and offers student service learning hours.

“While the conference is an FGCU event, and many students attend, it’s always been open to the public,” DeMarchi said. “Over the years, more than half of the participants have been non-students. People drive in from all over the state and fly in from all over the country to attend.” 

Hurricane Ian damaged several parts of the Causeway, which is Sanibel’s only access to the mainland. It left dozens of people stranded with no exact date for recovery. As of Oct. 20, the Causeway is open with temporary repairs and limited access to residents. 

“My initial response to seeing the Sanibel Causeway being down was a part shock, part sadness,” Elek said. “The thought of what our folks in the Sanibel community had to endure and the uncertainty of the road ahead.”

DeMarchi and Elek have hosted the conference since 2006. From 2006 to 2018, it was held in person at BIG ARTS over a full weekend in Sanibel. 

“The decision was made for us when Ian made landfall. We would much prefer to meet in person rather than online. We’ve been waiting since 2018 to return to Sanibel. There’s an intimacy and spontaneity that can only happen in person,” DeMarchi said.

In 2019, the conference was canceled due to the host facility’s renovation. The directors decided to hold a mini-conference on campus and moved online because of COVID-19 in 2020 and 2021. 

“I think the main important bits of the conference will stay the same online as it would in person,” Samantha Garcia, FGCU Creative Writing minor student, said.“I am so happy they even got it online with such short notice after hurricane Ian. It will still be an amazing conference online as it would have been in person.”

Garcia plans on attending to learn editing and writing techniques from experienced authors. 

“We know much of the island has a long way to go, and we’re just thankful that we can use our modest platform to help support the people of Sanibel as they rebuild,” Elek said.

People who initially couldn’t attend in person now have the opportunity to watch it online from the comfort of their living room. There will be links provided connecting the audience to different hurricane relief organizations. 

“There’s a lot of work to be done before Sanibel, and the rest of SWFL is fully restored. So we’re doing what little part we can to support the recovery effort. And we’ll be back out on Sanibel when it’s ready for us.” 

The Sanibel Island Writers Conference will be free to join on Nov. 5 from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. For those interested, all majors and faculty are welcome. The link to the stream can be found on FGCU’s website.