On Saturday, May 14, seasoned and aspiring writers of all ages flocked to Saint Leo for the fourth annual Sandhill Writer’s Retreat. The event attracted renowned novelists and poets from across the state of Florida as well as a few out of state newly published authors.
The all-day event was hosted by Gianna Russo, editor and chief of the Sandhill Review magazine and instructor of English and Creative Writing. Russo and other members of the Saint Leo English department teamed up with award winning published writers, such as novelist Rita Ciresi and Lane DeGregory of the Tampa Bay Times to present attendees with a series of insightful courses on improving certain aspects of their craft.
“The department of language studies and the arts really wanted to connect a little bit more with the community,” says Russo, regarding the purpose the retreat. “We also wanted to nurture and grow the literary arts for our community and for the school.”
Aside from directing the event, Russo also taught one of the courses. In “How to Give a Dynamic Reading”, she demonstrated the proper way to deliver a memorable performance when reading aloud before an audience. Other courses on the schedule of events included flash fiction, dialogue, poetry, and nonfiction.
Throughout the day, blossoming writers learned a myriad of tips for developing a well written story, be it fiction, nonfiction, or poetry.
“I enjoy writing poetry and fiction,” said Craig Graves, a recent graduate of Saint Leo University. “Nonfiction is not my forte, I like being fantastical.”
“I write everything,” said April Pettit, a Dade City resident. “I’ve written journalistically, I write fiction, poetry, short stories, and novels. Pretty much whatever tickles my fancy. If I have a deep emotion, I express it, and it comes out however it does.”
Rita Ciresi, author of “Bring Back My Body to Me” and director of creative writing at the University of South Florida, taught participants how to introduce a memorable character into their story.
“At the heart of fiction is its characters,” Ciresi stated during her lecture. “And first impressions work the same way in fiction that they do in real life. So make the first impression of your character a good one.”
During a break in the events, participants got the chance to utilize all that they’d learned by
reading some of their work aloud. Some told stories and others recited poetry; each reader managed to effortlessly reach out and connect with their audience on an emotional level.
Even experienced and published authors seemed to learn something new and helpful from the retreat’s guest speakers.
“It was massively helpful,” Said Pettit. “Especially the first course I took, which was about combat veterans and writing about conflict. I’ve been having a really hard time with writing about such things, but the things that
the professor talked about definitely helped me to express things that I’ve had locked inside of me for a very long time.”
Russo considers the retreat a massive success; participants seemed to have learned a lot from the guests’ teachings. Both first time and returning attendees left with renewed vigor and the powerful urge to begin writing or finish a masterpiece. This year’s attending novices could be next year’s published poets.