The Only Writers Conference I’ve Ever Dreamed of Attending
Interview of The Writer’s Hotel Founding Director, Shanna McNair by LA Markuson
When I saw the lineup of superstar faculty for this experience, my jaw dropped, both literally and figuratively. Click that link to see who — there are too many stunning names to list here.
The idea of the annual conference is to provide a “mini MFA” experience over the course of one week in Manhattan, preceded by intensive reading and editing from an expert team to get you shiny and ready to go on day one of the actual in-person event.
Ingeniously, The Writer’s Hotel is set at four hotels in Midtown: The Bryant Park Hotel, Library Hotel, The Algonquin Hotel and Cassa Hotel New York. I can’t be the only one who finds hotels to be the ultimate most inspiring and elegant spaces on the planet, after houses of worship perhaps.
Then, after a week of intensive study with celebrities of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry, attending writers get to go downtown to read their own original work at KGB Bar Lit, The Cornelia Street Café, and of course my beloved Bowery Poetry.
I got to speak with Shanna McNair, the founder of the event. They’re all full for this year, but are already opening applications for June 6–12, 2018, when I myself might even be ready to take my seat.
LA: Who are the types of people that attend this conference, and why?
SM: The Writer’s Hotel is a writers conference for those who are serious about their writing. We work with writers we feel have a real shot at publication, and who are skilled and talented and passionate about writing. We work with adult writers of all ages, all demographics, from the US and from abroad. It is for those who have completed an MFA program or have never attended an MFA program. This year, we’ve got attendees from Australia, Norway, Canada, England, China, South Africa and more. Very exciting to see such diversity, and such an inspiration to hear these different voices and work with such a variety of writers. We love it. It’s like being a part of an enormous book club. And when we get to NYC and meet everyone, it’s a joy. The different perspectives are a gift. I’ve seen writers in their 20s talk with writers in their 70s, and really listen, and give one another meaningful critique. A shared love of writing is a big part of this incredible interaction. And Scott Wolven, TWH Consulting Director, is a huge inspiration to all of us. He’s truly the heartbeat of the conference. Attendees often tell me that TWH changed their life. TWH has certainly changed mine.
LA: Where does the name come from? Why are hotels the most inspiring places to write and think? (I think they are)
SM: The Writer’s Hotel name came from that wonderful romantic notion — of getting to write, alone in a hotel room. Hotels are marvelously private, and yet you can write in a hotel while feeling the buzz of the world around you. And hotels cater to each individual. You’re on your own, writing, and yet you are taken care of. I think, too, that most writers oscillate between the desire or need for complete solitude and the desire or need for excitement and socializing. Writers tend to be fascinatingly introvert and extrovert. A hotel nourishes a writer’s interiority and also her want to go out stepping if the mood takes her. Setting The Writer’s Hotel in NYC deepened things; NYC is maybe the most thrilling city on earth. And NYC’s literary history and publishing tradition just makes it all even more incredible. As attendees hop from hotel to hotel, the city is revealed — our rooms are at the top of the buildings; the city below. It’s pretty wonderful.
LA: What’s the best success story you’ve heard from one of your attendees?
SM: We just learned last night that one of our attendees was signed by the Don Congdon Associates, and this morning, we learned that another got accepted to Sarah Lawrence. We’ve seen a large number of our attendees gain representation via our channels, and we’ve seen several go on to do great things in their own right. We get great news all the time. Writers are publishing novels and poetry manuscripts and memoirs, and one of our authors got a two book deal. We work hard to give writers fantastic tools — from revising to giving readings to navigating the publishing industry. We hope that the tools we provide make writers better able to hit their mark when writing and when taking their work to market. I am uncomfortable saying that TWH is directly responsible for anyone’s success — the writers are keeping the faith and doing the work. We hope to foster discipline and growth and create community. We also run The New Guard literary review and the new workshop, MFA in A Day, on September 30th of this year. We’re writers ourselves, and our greatest aim is to be good literary citizens.
LA: What is it (is “it” intangible) that attendees get from being in such close proximity to these unbelievable names in poetry, fiction, and non-fiction? Are they friends? How did you get such an amazing faculty together?
SM: We have an outstanding cast of instructors this year. We always do. We’re very proud of our faculty. I think it’s exhilarating for writers to sit in a penthouse loft hotel room in NYC and talk about their manuscripts with industry powerhouses and their peers in class. And it’s also quite grounding. This is real. Writers attending TWH 2017 get to work together with Francine Prose, Tim Seibles, Richard Blanco, Rick Moody, Roxana Robinson, Scott Wolven, Tina Chang, and many more. I’m so happy we can offer this program to writers. It is truly a labor of love. I believe the experience is more than meaningful. I believe TWH inspires writers to greater heights.
I’m saving up to join for MFA in A Day (because you know I don’t have any other MFAs…) and if you’re interested in learning about a more extended year-long program, check out the information about The Writer’s Hotel’s Private Study program.