Feature by Stacey Parker, LSWA staff

First-year students Annie Ning and Miles Stephenson were awarded scholarships to attend one of the week-long conferences offered by the Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing (MVICW). They were on the island for the conference on June 16-22, 2019. (Special thanks to LSWA, the Anschutz Committee, and MVICW for providing these scholarships for Lloyd Scholars and Alice Lloyd Hall residents to attend.)

Photo courtesy of Alexander Weinstein. Pictured here Miles Stephenson (top row, first) and Annie Ning (top row, fourth)

This summer marked MVICW’s tenth year, and LSWA has sent two students each year since 2014. LSWA instructor Alexander Weinstein prompted the idea of sending two Lloyd students as he became more involved with MVICW. He is currently its director. 

Annie and Miles were two of 45 who attended the second week at MVICW. Both students were surprised by the variety not only in age but in geographic locale of the attendees. MVICW welcomed undergraduate students, graduate students, and professionals alike. Annie, after noting the range of differences, said “We were all there for the same passion.” Miles said, “I was surprised by the strong sense of community despite the disparate ages and backgrounds.” He was one of the youngest and yet the group “developed a close bond in all our workshops and I never felt at a disadvantage for my juniority.”

Photo courtesy of Alexander Weinstein.

MVICW Director and LSWA instructor, Alexander Weinstein said the “typical age range is 18 to 81.” Alexander also said, “One of the joys of having LSWA students attend MVICW is seeing our young writers interacting with writers of all ages from across the world. It opens the classroom of our U of M campus to a worldwide network of writers. The authors and poets who teach at MVICW interact with our LSWA attendees not just as students but as emerging writers. It's such a joy to see these attendees return to campus and engage in creative writing and literary publishing, and to see them publishing their own stories and poems in national literary journals.”

MVICW’s schedule includes panel discussions, evening readings, one-on-one editing sessions, and wraps up with a chance for attendees to share their writing. Alexander said, “Most importantly, the program's core ethos is to foster a creative community which is non-competitive and deeply supportive. We invite writers to play creatively, experiment, take chances with their writing, and bond with other writers on a truly beautiful island.”

Photo credit: Annie Ning

Being “on location” on Martha’s Vineyard is the perfect backdrop for the writing conference. Annie confirmed its beauty despite some clouds. However, she explained, “Most of all, I think it was the feeling of simply being 'somewhere else,’ somewhere unfamiliar where I could shed off the subconscious boundaries I'd set at home and leave them for the gulls. It made me feel like I didn't have to think so much anymore.” For Miles, the Vineyard held childhood memories and was the place his parents got married. He shared how the location impacted his writing: “There was definitely a bohemian artistic energy in Oak Bluffs that informed my writing and the seaside vistas and beautiful towns made it feel like a proper writer’s retreat. All of these factors bled into my writing and helped me turn off my inner editor and write more openly and freely.”

Throughout the week, MVICW instructors held seminars about poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. Annie’s favorite session was "Story Structure: Charting a Forest from the Trees" led by Rachel Lyon because of its timely application to Annie’s own work. “The seminar made me realize just how much I had been overthinking it and that I was, in fact, just missing very basic elements. It was a good experience to be able to step back and finally see the bigger picture, rather than continuously burrowing into a self-made hole,” Annie explained. Miles’s favorite session was “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised–Unchaining Your Writing from TV Tropes” by Phong Nguyen as he enjoyed the exploration of alternative history fiction. Miles said, “I loved his story about an alternate reality where Buddhism was never founded, and I connected his lessons directly to my own alternative history piece about hippos in the American South in the early 1900s. Phong’s voice and command of language is very impressive, and he definitely inspired me to continue my stories.”

Carol Tell, LSWA’s director, said, “In LSWA, we encourage students to apply for many creative opportunities, awards, and scholarships, such as MVICW. MVICW is an especially good opportunity for our students, though, since only residents of Alice Lloyd are eligible to apply. When students return from Martha's Vineyard, we ask them to give a reading to all Alice Lloyd members--which is a great recruiting tool for the next group of students. After attending the MVICW reading in the fall, I had several students contact me asking about how to apply. But more generally, I hope we as a program encourage students to apply for the wonderful opportunities afforded to students at U-M.”

Miles sums up MVICW: “My experience was incredibly instructive and fulfilling. Not only did I regain momentum on some of my written works that were stuck on the shelf but I also learned new techniques and ways to discipline myself as a writer and refine my voice. The institute reinforced the idea that I want to have a career in writing.”

Thinking about applying? Annie encouraged that you consider applying and said, “It's an incredible experience, and having the chance to get a scholarship for it is simply irreplaceable. You get not only the accessibility to the experience itself, but to a way to find out more about your passions and more about yourself in the process. There is never harm in applying!” Miles, likewise encouraged applying, and said, “It’s a wonderful opportunity to gain connections in the writing world, refine your voice and style as a writer, and get a look at the contemporary literary world.” 

Alexander advised to “submit your best creative work, and make sure to put a lot of thought into your letter of interest. MVICW is particularly interested in attendees who want to gain a better understanding of what it means to make your life as a writer, and who are looking for community and support in their creativity.”

Annie currently plans on majoring in Creative Writing and minoring in Computer Science and possibly Interdisciplinary Astronomy, and Miles is majoring in Film, Television, and Video Media with a possible double major in either Creative Writing or Communications. All majors are encouraged to apply for the scholarship.

For more information about Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing, head to https://www.mvicw.com/, and look for LSWA to publicize the scholarship timeline and details near the beginning of Winter 2020.