L I T E
IMMER Julie Gedeon describes how the Summer Literary Seminars, based at Concordia, bring novice and awardwinning writers together to share and improve their craft in a dynamic milieu. Photos by Julia Blaukopf
Above : Participants on a café tour/walk in Vilnius at SLS Lithuania 2009. Next page: Obie-Award-winning New York playwright and three-time SLS faculty member Mac Wellman reads at SLS Lithuania in 2009.
ndrew Battershill, BA 10, will never forget how wonderfully strange it was to sit at a café in the whimsical Republic of Užupis in Vilnius, Lithuania. The artists populating the 0.6-square-kilometre area declared the district an independent micro-nation in 1997. “It has this odd constitution posted everywhere asserting things like, ‘Noone has the right to make another person guilty,’ and, ‘A dog has the right to be a dog,’ ” Battershill says. “A place like that really opens you up to things that are fundamentally different and, instead of being intimidated by them, you’re more willing to experience and learn from them.” That’s exactly what Mikhail Iossel, associate professor of English and Creative Writing at Concordia, had in mind when he started the Summer Literary Seminars (SLS) program 12 years ago. The SLS program invites writers of various genres and levels of accomplishment to step out of their routine for at least two weeks and into an unfamiliar location to join other writers keen to share and improve their work and discuss their craft. “We choose locales that have a special energy that comes from being places in transition,” explains Iossel, the program’s CEO and executive director. “We then accelerate that energy by creating an environment for participants to learn from acclaimed writers, editors, publishers, scholars, artists and each other.” Concordia is an integral SLS partner. It provides a home base and affiliation with a university known for its strong Creative Writing program. It also supplied the classroom and auditorium space for last year’s inaugural Montreal program, which I attended along with Battershill and many other local writers. This year’s programs will take place in Montreal, Lithuania and Kenya.
Different worlds The concept started when Iossel paid a visit to his native Russia. Before immigrating to the U.S. in 1986, he belonged to a circle of underground samizdat (self-publishing) dissident writers in Soviet Russia. SLS derived from Iossel’s desire to share his hometown of St. Petersburg with his American 16 | spring 2011
concordia university magazine
Concordia Magaine - Spring 2011 issue