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Winter With the Writers showcases a lively mix

Rollins’ annual literary festival aims to strike a balance between ‘excitement and disquiet’




various times, Feb. 6-27 | Rollins College, 1000 Holt Ave., Winter Park | 407-646-2000 | | free

“Imagine, I thought, if WWW this year featured a best-selling novelist two-thirds done with his post-apocalyptic vampire trilogy, the 2007 poet laureate with a Pulitzer and uncanny insights into the human predicament, a celebrated short-story writer who graduated from [Rollins], another novelist with his own trilogy – historical fiction set during the Haitian Revolution – and a very funny poet?”

That’s Carol Frost’s description of the design of this year’s Winter With the Writers, Rollins College’s annual star-studded literary festival. The month-long program is a mix of master classes and readings open to the public (every Thursday in February) and a behind-the-scenes opportunity for a dozen or so students in Rollins’ English department to work closely with some of the leading writers of their time. Professor Frost oversees the process and crafts the mix. With the suggestions of her colleagues and WWW’s “loyal and discerning” audience in mind, Frost says, “I read a lot of books, looking for the most original voices.” Frost sees her brief in booking the festival season as “strik[ing] a balance between excitement and disquiet.” Regarding the mashup of genres and forms (not to mention ages) she’s put together this year, she advises a flexible perspective:

“Certainly there are people who think that without meter and rhyme, the result isn’t poetry. There are readers who won’t go near vampire fiction and others who look at flash fiction and wonder what the fuss is. One aim of Winter With the Writers is to present the best writing that can be found in as many genres as there are. We’ve had playwrights before, and we will again. I’d like to invite a songwriter some year,” Frost says. “Flash fiction, prose poetry, song, found fiction, genre fiction, literary fiction, free verse poetry, classic poetry, play, skit, translation, mini-saga, new media poetry – it’s a wide world of literature, full of possibility, and Winter With the Writers embraces that possibility.”

Charles Simic, Feb. 6
Master class 4 p.m. Bush Auditorium | Reading, on-stage interview and book signing 7:30 p.m., Bush Auditorium

Poet Charles Simic was born in the former Yugoslavia and emigrated to the United States in 1954. He has published more than 60 books, including 20 volumes of poetry, and has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. After winning a Pulitzer Prize in 1990 for The World Doesn’t End, Simic was appointed the 15th Poet Laureate. “Simic has been a favorite for many years of my students at Rollins, who particularly enjoy his prose poetry,” Frost says.

Justin Cronin, Feb. 13
Master class 4 p.m., Bush Auditorium | Reading, on-stage interview and book signing 7:30 p.m., Bush Auditorium

Justin Cronin is an interesting choice for WWW, generally a highbrow affair. Cronin, on the other hand, is an author who moved from literary fiction (the New York Times called his debut “subtle and beautifully realized”) to genre fiction (the New York Times called his first vampire novel “overwritten and overrated … preposterously self-important”). Colson Whitehead, another author who’s crossed the aisle, has called that attitude “other people’s labels; other people’s hang-ups.” Cronin may be able more than any of the other WWW visitors to answer students’ knottier, more modern questions of credibility and authenticity.

Alan Michael Parker, Feb. 20
Master class 2 p.m., Winter Park Plaza 330 | Reading, on-stage interview and book signing 7:30 p.m., Bush Auditorium

Alan Michael Parker shares with Cronin the resistance to labels. Equally assured – and equally prolific – in poetry and the short story form, Parker splits the difference in his latest collection, written in the ultra-brief, concentrated bursts known as flash fiction. He will share time on stage at his reading with Laura van den Berg, also a short-story writer, but Parker has a rare fluidity for a writer with so many publications under his belt: seven collections of poetry and three novels, one of which is a linked collection of 99 flash-fiction “fables.”

Laura van den Berg, Feb. 20
Master class 4 p.m., Bush Auditorium | Reading, on-stage interview and book signing 7:30 p.m., Bush Auditorium


Short-story writer Laura van den Berg may have only two published books thus far, but both of them featured prominently on critics’ best-of-year lists. (In our Jan. 15 review of van den Berg’s second collection, The Isle of Youth, our critic called it the best book of 2013.) There’s an extra level of joy in van den Berg’s WWW appearance: She is a graduate of Rollins’ Hamilton Holt School who grew up in the area (and lets it color her work), and while she’s here she’ll present the van den Berg Award for writing, a cash award to a WWW intern enrolled in Holt.

Madison Smartt Bell, Feb. 27
Master class 4 p.m., Bush Auditorium | Reading, on-stage interview and book signing 7:30 p.m., Bush Auditorium

Don’t let Madison Smartt Bell’s august collection of work, a veritable doorstop of print – more than 20 books, both fiction and nonfiction – dismay you; his references are fresh and right-on, with no discernible creep of out-of-touchness. The blues guitarist, creative writing professor, novelist, writer of historical fiction, essayist, short-story writer and biographer even gave away his last book for free (Zig-Zag Wanderer, a collection of short stories titled for his favorite Captain Beefheart song). Understanding – and creatively confronting – the paradigm shifts of the digital age? It doesn’t get much more modern.

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