It hardly seems that a whole decade has passed since the first ten scribes came to Positano at the beginning of the season for what has since become a landmark writers’ conference: Sirenland. But ten years it is, and it’s been an exciting journey. With its roots in the desire of Le Sirenuse owners Antonio and Carla Sersale to reconnect Positano with its literary past – a past that included, among others, John Steinbeck, Norman Douglas and Gore Vidal – Sirenland has grown and evolved, under the tutelage of its founding writer-instructors, Dani Shapiro, Michael Maren and Hannah Tinti, into an annual week-long appointment that has generated well over a dozen published books, and a steady stream of short stories and essays.
Asked to take stock of ten years that have somehow flown by, and to raise the curtain on this year’s workshop, Dani Shapiro found time en route to the airport to jot down the following thoughts:
“We’ve had an amazing track record with our fellows — all of whom were chosen based on nominations we solicit from our friends in publishing and graduate writing programs. The fellows are all writers who have not yet published a first book at the time of their visit to Sirenland. They have included Dalia Sofer, Said Sayraviezadeh, Bruce Machart, Karen Thompson Walker and Mia Alvar — and many of these writers have gone on to win some of the most prestigious awards in the United States, including The Whiting Award, the Guggenheim Fellowship, and The Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Award.
Our faculty has been showered with honors as well. Just after teaching at Sirenland three years ago, Karen Russell received the MacArthur “Genius” grant — I believe she is the youngest recipient in its history. And last year, Anthony Doerr, who already had had tremendous success with his novel All The Light We Cannot See, received the Pulitzer Prize just a few days after teaching at Sirenland. Other esteemed teachers have included Andre Dubus III, Meg Wolitzer, Susan Orlean, and Jim Shepard. We’ve often also invite a visiting writer to spend time during the conference. This year, Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Russo (Nobody’s Fool, Empire Falls) will be joining us. In recent years, visiting writers have included Daniel Mendelsohn, Sarah Manguso, Nam Le, and André Aciman.
This year, Karen Russell will be back to teach (straight from her wedding — Sirenland is part of her honeymoon!) and Jim Shepard, who has taught most years, will be back as well. And I teach every year. Hannah Tinti — the wonderful writer and editor of the esteemed One Story Magazine — floats from workshop to workshop, lending an additional voice and editorial eye.”
We wish Dani, Michael, Hannah, the rest of the faculty and all this year’s students an inspiring and creative Sirenland 2016.
Photo © Roberto Salomone