About our name: the longleaf pine has a shallow root system, allowing it to grow tall; they are responsible for the unique environment of lake and dunes abundant in South Walton and throughout the South. We like the fact that without the wide and thirsty root system, there would be no gulf-side beaches or dunes. We feel that the wide roots of literature and creativity do the same for our humanity and for our communities.
Our vision: we started the Longleaf Writers Conference (what was called the Seaside Writers Conference from our first conference in May 2013 through our third conference in 2015 before we decided to make our name more inclusive of the whole region) with four core principles: 1. to bring to the Gulf Coast a unique opportunity for writers of all backgrounds to meet and learn and grow alongside contemporary literary masters of genre and form. 2. to provide financial aid for emerging writers and veterans and under-represented writers and to be a springboard for their careers. 3. to create an outreach program that sends those fellows and scholars to local underserved schools in order to expose students to the value of literature and writing. 4. to make this conference an exemplum of what a small conference should look like by creating a community of writers and poets without any sense of hierarchy or professional competition. We wanted open dialogue, a rich and integrative and personal experience with working writers. In short, the directors wanted to build a conference that was both a deep learning experience, a wonderful vacation on one of the most beautiful beach towns in the US, and ultimately a career and life-changing week of fun, sun, writing, and celebration of the written word.
Our future: what started as a handful of dedicated writers on the beach, led by just two faculty members, has grown to an event-driven conference with 60-80 visitors: we bring two Visiting Writers, two Agents, seven Faculty, three Fellows, three scholars, and a host of attendees to celebrate on the beach and in the cute town of Seaside. Over the years, the Longleaf Writers Conference has developed relationships with the Cultural Arts Alliance of South Walton, Seaside Books, the University of Mississippi, Emerald Coast Magazine, IntelliGracs (Celia Baker), the Cabana Man, Amavida Coffee, Grayton Beach Brewery, the Seaside Institute, The Rep Theater, and many more to bring our visitors the best of the Emerald Coast. We are constantly evolving and growing, but we hope to max out at around a hundred or so attendees in the future, and we plan to offer YA/Speculative workshops as well as Screenplay Writing. The LWC funds all events and financial aid straight through our non-profit entity of the Longleaf Educational Services 501(3)c and is run exclusively by volunteer directors Seth Brady Tucker, Matt Bondurant, and Jonathan D’Avignon. Unlike many conferences, the LWC has no endowment (though we are working diligently to change that), so what you see when you arrive is truly a work and labor of love.
The features of our conference: we are an annual gathering of creative writers from all over the nation and feature award-winning writers in poetry, CNF, and fiction who offer a full week of intensive writing workshops, one-day seminars in a myriad of genres, school outreach programs, readings, bonfires, and social events. The LWC takes place every year in the second week of May and offers the opportunity for beginning, intermediate, and advanced writers to celebrate writing, to network with other writers, and to hone their craft. There are seminars hosted by professional editors and literary agents, and we offer one-on-one consultations. For local writers, we offer an option to just attend events and seminars, or a la carte pricing allows for a pick of classes and workshops.
We know you will love every minute of the experience.
Seth Brady Tucker, Executive Director
Matt Bondurant, Creative Director
Jonathan D’Avignon, Education Director
Seth Tucker, Executive Director
WHY WE DO IT, from Seth:
I loved every second of the time I lived in the Seaside area, working at Borago Italian Restaurant as a bartender while finishing my dissertation for my Ph.D. from Florida State University. Jonathan was teaching here, and we remained friends after I moved away to teach in Colorado, and on a subsequent visit in 2010 (soon after I had returned from my own scholarship trip to Bread Loaf) he mentioned that there were Katrina cottages being installed for the Seaside Institute. I don’t remember whose idea it was, but that night was really the birth of the Longleaf Writers Conference. Matt had recently had his second book meet with great success and I knew that he loved Seaside from our time together, so we looped him in and began to brainstorm. We were off! That night, we begin to formulate what the conference might look like by centering it at the Institute, taking cues from those wonderful large established conferences like Sewanee and Bread Loaf, all while keeping the key differences we wanted for our event carefully in mind. We hoped to build a haven for writers to come together for a week of real writing work. We wanted poets and writers to benefit from kind and thoughtful and direct feedback and enthusiastic instruction. We began to formulate how our conference might look: we wanted to build a community, and we wanted to build up a financial aid program so we could give back to our literary community, and we wanted to bring literature and writing to the community of the Gulf Coast. We made it a critical component of our conference that we would only bring great writers who also happen to be wonderful and charitable people. We began working on grants and relationships in order to fund fellowships and scholarships. We used Jonathan’s work as an educator and principal to build those relationships with local schools that ended with the creation of our Writers in the Classroom Program. We launched in 2013 with just Matt and me as faculty, with a cohort of ten attendees. The next year we brought editors and agents to the beach to join us, and Jacqueline Mitchard was our headliner along with fifteen attendees. We began to believe, and the conference has grown by nearly 20% every year. This endeavor has been a steep challenge, but every year is a joy, every year I get to see what our work creates for our visitors; and every year I revel in the bright glint of creative inspiration I see in the eyes of our visitors. In 2020 we will have six financial aid recipients who don’t pay anything to attend (not common), nine faculty and writing guests, two agents, a whole host of more than fifty writers from all sorts of backgrounds, and we will have the beach and we will have our good cheer, and I will leave on May 17th with the enthusiasm of a proud parent, ready to build and grow again for 2021.
Matt Bondurant, Creative Director
WHY WE DO IT, from Matt:
I lived in Tallahassee for about five years while doing my PhD at Florida State and at times it seemed I was spending more time on the coast than I was working on my studies. When our friend Jonathan D’Avignon invited us to Seaside for the first time I was shocked by the beauty of the place. Seaside may be known as an architectural gem, a beach community with a strong commitment to design and aesthetics, but I’ve always been a water and sand person. These are the things that mean the most to me, and I’ve been to many beaches up and down both coasts of this country, and I’ve still never seen anything like Seaside. Seth and I had talked about our desire to start and run a writers conference, but it seemed like an idle fantasy. Then Jonathan managed to come up with some grant money through his work as a high school principal and we felt that maybe we actually had a shot. Why not us? So we took it.
It also offered us a chance to do something, just a little bit, to counteract the terrible imbalance that exists in our public school systems throughout the country. As a university professor of English I’d seen how knowledge and attitudes about literature were shaped by student’s intermediate and high school experiences. I’d seen how students at poorly funded and performing schools were often never even exposed to literature in a meaningful way. And so from the beginning, we wanted our conference to have an outreach program as our reason for being; we knew that we could coax talented writers to Seaside and then we could bring these writers into some of these local underserved classrooms. Maybe we could make a difference. I also wanted to do it for selfish reasons. I’d been lucky enough to get fellowships at Bread Loaf and Sewanee and felt both experiences changed my life as a writer. I love the feeling of being in a community of writers, being surrounded by people who share my love of books, stories, writing, words. It seemed like a brief utopian experience. A good part of this is the social aspects of the conference and from the beginning, I wanted to run a conference that was full of social events and opportunities to interact with our fellow writers. And so I’m going be there at every reading reception, cocktail party, book signing gathering, and beach bonfire, mixing with my fellow lovers of the word. And you can also bet that I will be on that pure white sand and in that clear blue water every chance I can get.
Jonathan D’Avignon, Educational Director and Founder
WHY WE DO IT, from Jonathan:
During the summer of 2013, I was granted the opportunity to create the first collegiate charter high school in Walton County, Florida. During this formative time, there were many differing agendas, points of view, and priorities about how to educate a ‘whole student.’ I knew students needed a learning differential focused on the humanities and arts: a reoccurring event that would highlight their creativity, their voice, and their genius. The event would also need to usher in professionals and educators that would mirror the highlights I wanted for every student. I met Seth Tucker and Matt Bondurant while they were finishing up their Ph.D.’s at the top-ranked Florida State University Creative Writing Program, so with a little polishing and thought, we came up with the idea of a writers conference that would bring authors and educators to the region in the hopes of creating writing workshops and seminars for students of the county and beyond. We felt we could embed this experience with students into a week of professional workshops, teaching seminars, readings, and literacy advancement for both our local population and national writers. The mission was simple: create a writer’s conference for students and teachers alike with the hope of generating new works of art. After six years and over 600 high school students served, this event has become a marquee event for literacy, writing, reading, and creative reflection. I commend and express my deepest gratitude to both Seth and Matt for leaning into the breach with me, and what has now become the headwind for so many students and emerging and established authors.