Writers in Paradise 2021: Its Own Heartbeat

When I applied for the Writers in Paradise conference, I was crossing (and recrossing) my fingers that I’d be selected for the St. Petersburg, FL ocean-side gathering at Eckerd College. Being with writers! Being with those who love writing! And all that sun. But when the day came for the announcement, the organizers didn’t share invitations and regrets about WiP, as the week-long experience is affectionately abbreviated. Rather, they said it was canceled due to pandemic safety concerns.

My heart jittered for a moment — even though an acceptance would have meant trying to figure out if I could magically-safely attend an in-person conference. But then all was OK: WiP organizers cued up their contingency plan faster than a taxi driver choosing an alternate route in construction season. Now, I have a welcome glint of 2021 teasing me from around New Year’s corner.

Visit the Writers in Paradise (WiP) site here to learn more about the gathering. WiP isn’t accepting more applications for their January 2021 virtual event, but they will announce the application for 2022 on the site. WiP was co-founded by Dennis Lehane and Sterling Watson.

One reason I found myself more upbeat than down on WiP’s substitute path was the clear care in WiP Conference Coordinator Marina Pruna’s communications. When I told her this, she said much of the success of their Plan B has been managing expectations for what they will be offering in January 2021 to all those who applied to the in-person WiP. “We’re not recreating the conference in a virtual way,” she said. “Lots of conferences have tried to replicate themselves virtually, but that’s definitely not been our goal. We can’t imagine truly having the same energy and intimacy that we’d have in person, so why try?”

Marina also shared the need to respect the limitations of technology. A writer expects a certain kind of deep interaction when in person; could WiP provide it online, in a way that would keep their audience engaged, considering the variety of tech experiences of their attendees? Nope. She and the team decided to plan it simpler to ensure audience participation at a level they and their presenters can promise. Again: managing expectations.

She also allowed herself some personal creativity and grace: “When I tried to use materials from our in-person conference, I found myself getting frustrated because things wouldn’t fit exactly.  Then I’d say to myself, ‘Wait a minute!  This is a different event!'” In doing so, she could know for sure she wasn’t planning WiP 2021 Online. She was planning a different event, as she says, “with its own heartbeat.”

I am eager to soon attend Virtual WiP with Emily Bernard, Andre Dubus III, Ann Hood, Michael Koryta, Major Jackson, Laura Lippman, Ana Menéndez, Sterling Watson, and Les Standiford. And don’t forget Marina, perhaps coordinating from backstage, but who I predict will be the glue of the now two-day event.

Read more about my fiction writing here.

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