Words with Friends

Sarah Gerard Wants to Build a Literary Community in Sarasota

New College of Florida's writer-in-residence is organizing several literary events in the coming weeks.

By Giulia Heyward October 25, 2018

Sarah Gerard

Image: Justin Lane

Sarah Gerard says that she grew up writing. However, it wasn’t until studying English in college that she was motivated to pursue writing as a profession. Since then, Gerard’s first novel, Binary Star, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction; her collection of essays, Sunshine State, was longlisted for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. Now, Gerard is the writer-in-residence at New College of Florida, a yearlong position as a visiting professor at the institution.

But Gerard’s job doesn’t stop at working with her students—she's organizing several local events to engage with the literary community in Sarasota.  

Gerard teaches two classes at New College, one a writing workshop that challenges students to explore identity, especially as it relates to those from underrepresented groups, in both their own writing and those of others. Her second seminar-style course features students workshopping longer pieces of work, such as essays or anthologies of poems, that revolve around the topic of love.

She’s also invited Geoff Bouvier to headline a reading from students in her “Anti-Love Stories” class on Oct. 30 at Bookstore 1 Sarasota. The award-winning writer has published two novels and is an assistant professor of poetry and nonfiction at the University of Tampa.

On November 5, novelist SJ Sindu will also perform a short reading and signing of Marriage of a Thousand Lies at New College’s College Hall Music Room, Sarasota. Sindu is a professor at Ringing College of Art and Design, where she teaches creative writing. Her novel Marriage of a Thousand Lies has received the Publishing Triangle Edmund White Award and is an American Library Association Stonewall Honor Book. 

On Nov. 8, there will be a bonfire reading at Brant's Used Bookstore headlined by writer Patty Yumi Cottrell, who won the 2018 Whiting Award for Sorry to Disturb the Peace. Also on Nov. 14, Eleanor Kriseman will be signing copies of The Blurry Years at the New College Music Room in College Hall. Kriseman will also speak at the 2018 Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading taking place next month. 

Along with their impressive resumes, Gerard has been intentional about featuring writers from marginalized groups that do not traditionally see themselves in mainstream media.

“It’s important to recognize writers of color, writers at the margins,” Gerard says. “Straight, white voices have been amplified for generations on. There is a change that is happening, so I want to be an agent of change.”

At the beginning of the semester, Gerard made a point to compile a list of literary events in the Tampa Bay area for her students. She’s a fan of Wordier than Thou, a collective organization known for hosting open mic nights in the Tampa Bay area as well as Sarasota, and local indie bookstores such as Brant’s Bookstore and Bookstore1. For Gerard, establishing a literary community in the area is of great importance.

“There are things happening, but there could be a lot more,” Gerard says. “People have to show each other that they want it and work together to make these things happen. A lot of that is networking; a lot of that is communicating. If you want writers to work, you have to pay them a living wage. There is a lot of money in this area. The question becomes where we place our value, because money is value and how are we supporting literary culture here. I’ve been making efforts to network, organizing events for people to go to, and also to show writers, and future writers who could be working in this area, that there is a way to work here that supports your writing.”

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