The festival known for bringing major literary talent to Winter Park has hit its stride this season, and we’re taking a closer look at the interns who are making it all possible.
In 1930, esteemed author and journalist Sinclair Lewis made a point to mention Rollins College in his Nobel Laureate address. While Lewis had been known to scoff at the American educational approach to literature, he gave Rollins a pass when he said it was one of only four universities that had an “authentic interest in contemporary creative literature.”
Before and perhaps especially since then, world-class writers (including Lewis) have accepted the College’s special invitations to campus for readings and master classes. From Carl Sandburg and Zora Neale Hurston to Maya Angelou and Justin Cronin, generations of Rollins students have had a chance to compare notes with some of the world’s top contemporary writers.
The College’s annual literary festival, Winter With the Writers, continues this strong community connection to living writers of contemporary works. And each spring semester, Rollins offers an internship course for a group of students to engage first-hand with visiting writers.
The Winter With the Writers Internship
Carol Frost, Theodore Bruce and Barbara Lawrence Alfond Professor of English and Director of Winter With the Writers
Reading and group discussion are critical in this course, but there’s also more to it. It’s a true internship that helps students learn what it really takes to put on a national literary festival for the public. Students help with marketing, website maintenance, photography, hospitality, staging, and building an engaged social media presence for the festival. While there’s no financial compensation for being an intern, the long-term rewards are extraordinary. Students get to work closely with the contemporary authors in both workshop and classroom formats to gain a better sense of the elements of fiction, poetry, and non-fictional prose.
Even before January’s first day of class, interns complete the selected readings written by the authors who will visit Rollins later in the semester. This year, the interns were assigned nine books by five writers—Antonio Skármeta, Philip Deaver, Chase Twichell, Sy Montgomery, and Ross Gay.
On Thursday, February 11, we dropped by the SunTrust Auditorium for a master class on poetry. Student interns presented their own poems for a discussion led by guest writer and poet Brian Turner. He talked through the finer points of how students can improve their poetry and fiction—like using language to “create spaces,” writing for rhythm, and when to enhance a poem’s setting with sound descriptors.
“Winter With the Writers is one of the main reasons I chose Rollins,” says Spencer Riggi ’17, an English major in the Hamilton Holt School. “[The course] is a fantastic source of inspiration and motivation. Every single time I sit down with one of the visiting writers, attend a reading, or participate in a workshop, I’m supplied with the potent fuel to just sit down and write something. It’s challenged me to create and refine every day, something I had previously convinced myself I wasn’t capable of doing.”
But Riggi’s writing is not the only thing that’s improving.
“I’m a terrible procrastinator and I think you realize fairly quickly you have to stay on top of strict deadlines,” he says. “When you’re expected to represent the best of yourself, the best of your writing, and all of it is wide open to the public there’s a little added pressure. And one of the things we do is talk to people—a lot of people. I’m an introvert at heart, so through the course I’ve had to come out of my shell a little bit.”
“There is this oddly unfathomable joy in hearing the writer read their works in person,” says English major Ariana Simpson ’16. “I love listening to recordings and seeing videos of this sort of thing, but being there in person as an audience member—you share in this intimate exchange with the writer as they tell you their stories. They share a bit of their personality with you and it’s comical, it’s refreshing, it’s beautiful.”
Rollins College stepped up on the national stage last year when Winter With the Writers announced a new partnership with the National Book Foundation, presenter of the National Book Awards. Rollins is the Southeast’s only representative of the National Book Awards on Campus program, and 2015 NBA finalists Sy Montgomery and Ross Gay will be Winter With the Writers guests later this month.
And since lunching with a visiting writer on Park Avenue is one of the perks of the Winter With the Writers internship, it’s entirely possible that student interns will be spending quality time with a Nobel Prize winner.
Applications for the next intership with Winter With the Writers will be available in October 2016.