It's February, and the weather is briefly mellow in Central Florida. It's the time of the year when Orlandoans dig out our favorite sweaters, our flannel shirts, our hats that look like they've been shoved into the back of a closet for nine months, because, you know, they have been. At the same time, like migratory birds drifting in with the cold fronts, selected writers from across the world make the trip to Winter Park for Rollins College's annual Winter With the Writers festival. This year's readings begin on Feb. 5 and continue on each Thursday throughout the month.
The literary fabric of Orlando is thick, like those sweaters we're all wearing right now, but Winter With the Writers' selection of visiting writers is second to none. This year, that list includes Sapphire, author of Push (upon which the film Precious was based), on Feb. 5; Natasha Tretheway, the 19th United States poet laureate, Feb. 12; Katie Farris, author of BOYSGIRLS, and Malena Mörling, celebrated poet and translator, both Feb. 19; and Amy Bloom, best-selling author of Away, wrapping up the month on Feb. 26.
In addition to the evening readings and interview sessions, visiting writers at WWW also conduct master classes on Thursday afternoons. In these sessions, which are also open to the public, the visiting writers critique the work of Rollins student interns who are assisting with the festival. Beyond the opportunity for the entertainment of a public reading, or for the insight offered by a Q&A session, these master classes afford the opportunity for attendees to witness the instructional methods of some of today's finest literary minds.
That this year marks the 75th birthday of Winter With the Writers may come as a surprise to Orlandoans who are not familiar with the festival. Furthermore, the staggering list of acclaimed writers who have participated in the literary programs of Rollins may also astonish. This catalog includes Maya Angelou, Kurt Vonnegut, Allen Ginsberg, Ogden Nash, Tim O'Brien and Tobias Wolff, among many others.
Seeing writers discuss their own work in a public forum lends a life to their words that, no matter how agile our imaginations are as readers, isn't likely to occur to us in isolation. This year's slate of award-winning writers is among the best that WWW has selected, and is well worth the time of Orlando's literati. Amy Bloom, though, in her notoriously dry-witted way, has suggested otherwise. In an interview with Bernice Harrison of The Irish Times in 2014, Bloom had the following to say: "Anytime you take a writer out of their house there's some pressure that they should be performing. Most of us are not made for this type of activity. There's a good reason we work by ourselves and sit around in our pajamas drinking coffee and that's because we're not really fit for public consumption."
To Ms. Bloom, who has been nominated for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award, and who has been touring extensively for her most recent book, we say, "Challenge accepted." This public will see you and your fellow writer-readers throughout the month, and we suspect the whole thing will be pretty damned consumable.