According to Tom DeMarchi, one rule applies to restaurants, real estate and writers’ conferences: Location is everything.
DeMarchi, the co-director of Florida Gulf Coast University’s annual writers’ conference, has a favorite anecdote in which he emphasizes the importance of location in planning the conference. He approached a renowned author at the Miami Book Fair and asked if she’d like to lead a fiction workshop at the 2007 conference. She politely declined, explaining that she was cutting back on invitations like his to focus on her next book. DeMarchi thanked her for her time and handed her his card, proudly featuring the name he hadn’t yet mentioned: the Sanibel Island Writers Conference.
“She said, ‘Sanibel? In November? Oh yeah, I’m there. Do I have to pay you to make me a presenter?’” DeMarchi says. “Multiple people have had the same reaction. They love the idea of presenting in paradise.”
This year, the location for the Nov. 3-4 Sanibel Island Writers Conference is a different piece of paradise: the FGCU campus.
Between 2006 and 2018, the conference was held 13 times at BIG ARTS on Sanibel Island. Due to BIG ARTS’ building renovation in 2019, a shorter version of the conference was held on the FGCU campus.
Due to the unfortunate surge of COVID-19 in 2020, the format changed to a one-day virtual conference, which was retained in a hybrid fashion in 2021. Five weeks before last year’s scheduled event, Hurricane Ian hit Southwest Florida. Undeterred, DeMarchi and co-director Jason Elek hosted another mini-conference virtually.
“We had hoped to return to Sanibel and BIG ARTS this year, but the island is still recovering from Hurricane Ian,” DeMarchi says.
For the fifth year, a scaled-down version of the conference will again be held on FGCU’s campus. Sessions will be free and open to the public, as they have been since 2019. DeMarchi hopes to return the conference to Sanibel in 2024.
The conference is open to 150 participants, including 35 students in DeMarchi’s writing theory and practice class who read books written by many presenters. The Department of Language and Literature instructor recognizes that holding the conference on campus rather than on Sanibel makes it more convenient for students to attend.
“We’re so grateful to hold the mini-conference on campus while Sanibel Island recovers from Hurricane Ian,” he says. “FGCU has a gorgeous campus with beautiful facilities, and we love the idea of welcoming people from the local community who might never have visited the campus before.”
This year’s lineup consists mostly of returning presenters. “We know they deliver in the classroom, and because we’re holding the conference on campus for only a couple of days rather than on Sanibel for four days, we decided to invite only Florida authors who could drive in,” DeMarchi says.
The opening event will feature FGCU instructor Allison Dieppa in conversation with Kyle Arrington, a television and feature writer as well as a professor at Florida State University and the University of California, Los Angeles.
“Kyle has firsthand knowledge about the recent Hollywood Writers Guild of America strike. And, like many writers, he’s concerned about the impact of generative AI on student writing, storytelling and writers’ paychecks,” DeMarchi says.
Richard Blanco, the fifth poet to read at a United States presidential inauguration and a recent recipient of the National Humanities Medal, will deliver the keynote address during the closing event.
“His readings are part performance art and part motivational speech, in the best way,” DeMarchi says.
“He’s a true ambassador for the arts and writing, and students love him.”
Recordings from past virtual presentations are archived on the conferences’ YouTube channel and Meta page. “As grateful as we are to have had a virtual component when we couldn’t meet in person, it pales in comparison to the in-person experience – just as there’s a difference between watching a music video and being in the front row of a concert,” DeMarchi says.
DeMarchi says keeping the conference alive is a team effort. “It wouldn’t have survived and thrived if not for the support and encouragement of all the volunteers, donors, colleagues, presenters, students and participants who’ve contributed their time, money and effort to the cause.”
Information about the conference, including the schedule and registration link, can be found here.