The Writers Retreat for Emerging LGBT Voices is a one-week intensive workshop in fiction, genre fiction, nonfiction, playwriting or poetry for LGBTQ writers. Hosted by the Lambda Literary Foundation, it is an amazing chance to learn from the LGBTQ writing community. Tony Valenzuela, Executive Director of Lambda Literary, shares what to expect in the Retreat and how you can apply. The application deadline is January 5, 2015!
Lucy Silag: Tell us about Lambda Literary as a whole–what are some of the main goals of the organization, and what’s your role within it?
Tony Valenzuela: I’m the Executive Director of Lambda Literary.
I’ll start by telling you our mission: “Lambda Literary believes Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer literature is fundamental to the preservation of our culture, and that LGBTQ lives are affirmed when our stories are written, published and read.” Our programs – the Lambda Literary Awards, the Lambda Literary Review, LGBTQ Writers in Schools, and the Writers Retreat for Emerging LGBTQ Voices – serve emerging and established writers, readers of all stripes looking for the next great book to pick up, librarians and booksellers interested in stocking their shelves with the best contemporary queer literature, publishers who want their titles reviewed and to win awards, and students who want to discuss queer literature in their classrooms. No other nonprofit organization in the world does as much to advance LGBTQ literature.
LS: Describe how you and your colleagues came up with the idea for the Writers Retreat for Emerging LGBT Voices, and how the Retreat helps writers.
TV: The Retreat was founded in 2007 by my predecessor, Charles Flowers, and the great Katherine Forrest, who were looking to establish a teaching arm for Lambda Literary. At the time, LL only had our review publication and the awards. They recognized that Lambda Literary needed a program to help develop and nurture emerging writers, that the future of LGBT literature depended on it. This was the idea behind the Retreat, and it’s taken off from there. In that inaugural class, Justin Torres came with his manuscript, which he workshopped with Dorothy Alison. Justin has told me that his experience at the Retreat was a turning point in his writing career. From then on, he considered himself a serious writer. Three years later in 2010 he published “We the Animals,” which went on to become a New York Times bestseller and be translated in nearly 20 languages. Justin is, of course, one very notable example of the kind of instruction, connections and community that students receive by attending the Retreat. But there are many dozens of students who go on to publish their novels, their short story collections, their YA or Science Fiction/Fantasy novels. They go on to start or finish MFA’s. They start literary journals. They win other fellowships and awards. They become leaders in their own arts and literary communities. They tell beautiful queer stories.
The Retreat has grown since 2007. We now offer five different workshops. Next summer, our faculty will be Justin Torres in Fiction (coming full circle!), Linda Villarosa in Nonfiction, Kazim Ali in Poetry, Sara Ryan in Genre Fiction, and Cherrie Moraga in Playwriting. We also hold a series of guest lectures and bring in publishing industry professions to answer questions about the ins and outs of getting their books out into the world. The students share meals, socialize, study, write, and participate in public readings in the LA community.
LS: Who can apply to participate in this retreat? What is expected of the participants, both during the retreat and afterwards?
TV: Anyone can apply in one of the five workshops I mentioned above. Up to twelve students are accepted per workshop. We give out generous scholarships to anyone who needs it. The application is online. The students spend three hours a day in the workshop. They attend guest lectures. They must participate in a public reading, which we video tape. Their days are very full. After the Retreat, we hope they continue to write. Lambda Fellows can return to the Retreat when they want to. They often end up writing for our review publication at www.lambdaliterary.org (which, incidentally, publishes more LGBTQ book reviews than any other publication in the world). But I think more than anything is that they gain this incredibly valuable experience of what it means and what it takes to be a writer writing queer stories.
LS: Have you ever accepted someone “untraditional” for this program, i.e. someone who has no formal writing training?
TV: Yes, we have a lot of students who haven’t been a part of a writing program before but are just talented and have a story to tell.
LS: While we have you, tell us about the Lammys. Can self-published or unpublished work be considered for an award?
There are a lot of specific guidelines to the Lammys that you can find on our website. But to answer these questions briefly, yes, self-published books are eligible and have gone on to be shortlisted and even win. Unpublished work is not eligible. What’s most important is that people submit their books for consideration in the year that they are published. If you published a book in 2014, you must enter it for consideration in 2014. That’s a requirement. It’s a shame when people don’t understand this clearly because they miss the opportunity.
LS: How can writers get involved with Lambda Literary in other ways, both here in NYC and outside the city?
In New York, William Johnson, our Managing Editor of the Review, is always looking for reviewers/writers and interns. Our annual Lammy Awards (which in 2015 will be on June 1st at Cooper Union) always need volunteers. There are a limited number of spots, and we definitely put you to work. But it’s a ton of fun, and you get to attend the ceremony and all the parties (for free, of course). It’s a blast. Beyond that, authors can volunteer for our LGBTQ Writers in Schools Program where teachers invite authors into their classrooms to discuss queer lit. We arrange those visits. We always have a strong presence at AWP, and we need volunteers there. Here in our LA office, we occasionally need help with projects, so its always good to check in with us. More than anything, we hope folks are involved in their literature communities in some way and, if they are, I guarantee our paths will cross.
About Tony Valenzuela
A graduate of the MFA in Creative Writing program of the California Institute of the Arts, Tony Valenzuela is a longtime community activist and writer whose work has focused on LGBT civil rights, sexual liberation and gay men’s health. Follow Lambda Literary on Twitter and Facebook.