Features — 09 March 2019 — by Harriet Arzu Scarborough
The Belize writing conference—why attend?

When I learned that Belize would have its first-ever writing conference in 2018, I knew I had to participate. How could I not? I am a writer and I am from Belize. Even though I’ve lived in the U.S. longer than I’ve ever lived in Belize, Belize is my querencia; this is where my umbilical cord is buried. I felt that the Belize Writers’ Conference was offering me the best of two worlds—a week seaside in Belize and, at the same time, a week to devote to my writing in the company of like-minded people.

I was among the first to register, and I was not disappointed. During my 40+ years as an educator, I have conducted my share of writing workshops, but after years of being the teacher, I welcomed the opportunity to be a learner once again. I figured that at the conference I would attend sessions designed to nurture my writing, I would be provided ideas to explore and time to do some writing, and I expected that participants would have opportunities to workshop our incipient writing. The conference met those expectations and it went well beyond to give me much more.

By the end, I had gained new comrades in the enterprise of writing. Those serious about their writing well know that writing can be a solitary pursuit. But at the conference, we had time to be solitary, as well as to become buoyed by the camaraderie that resulted from our time at the first Belize Writing Conference. Each participant was a member of a smaller group of five and met with a workshop leader every morning. In our meetings we discussed the manuscripts that each member had submitted and provided feedback to each other.

My workshop facilitator was a published writer and a retired professor of creative writing at a number of universities in the U.S. She guided us in exploring strategies that other authors had used in producing worthy writing, and without being didactic, led us to experiment in areas that we may not have considered.

All five participants in my group were published authors, but what struck me was the lack of ego, the lack of defensiveness, and the openness in which we were able to stretch our repertoire. Every participant enjoyed the intimacy of a smaller group, but we also had whole group sessions that helped us build community with the larger group. By the end of the conference, many of us had made plans to continue this new collegiality, whether physically or virtually. Several of us have stayed in touch through social media.

I left the conference with a renewed purpose and a different perspective about my writing. Although I am passionate about writing, I find that my passion for teaching and nurturing other writers tended to push my writing to the back burner. So I wrote when I was done with everything else.

But at this conference I came to the realization that I needed to make my writing a priority if I wanted it to contribute to Belize’s literary presence in the world. I felt relieved of the guilt that those of us who were raised to a life of service sometimes are burdened with when spending time on something seemingly as self-focused as one’s own writing.

Joey Garcia, the founder and executive director of the Belize Writers’ Conference, said that an impetus for organizing this event was her frustration with not seeing Belize represented in the global literary world. I was surprised to hear that, because I know of many published Belizean authors. But she mentioned that there hasn’t been a Belizean author included in global literature since Zee Edgell. That’s been a while.

It’s possible for writing in Belize to remain insular. This happens if manuscripts are not optioned by publishers with access to a wide market, and if publications are not marketed internationally. We know that there are talented writers in Belize who deserve to be recognized as part of the global literary world. Writers attending the second Belize Writers’ Conference this April 6 -11, 2019 at Jaguar Reef Hotel in Hopkins will have the opportunity to meet with literary agents and experts in writing and the publishing world who will provide guidance in building a fulfilling career as an author.

Joey was born in Belize and her passion is contagious. I have signed on as an advisor to help her bring her plans to elevate Belizean literature to fruition. In addition to launching Belize’s first writing conference, in 2018, Joey established the first literary fellowship for a Belizean in our country’s history.

The 2019 recipient is Ix-chel Poot. Fellowship applications will be available for the 2020 conference through the Belize Writers’ Conference Facebook page or by emailing [email protected] Partial scholarships may also be available.

Belizeans who are not able to register to attend the full conference this April are invited to join us for the professional development panels on Sunday 4/7, Monday 4/8, or Tuesday 4/9, from 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. for BZ$30 per session.

The schedule is here: www.joeygarcia.com/schedule. In addition, all Belizeans are invited to attend free of charge the Celebration of Literature reading and book-signing event featuring five authors on Tuesday 4/9 from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Jaguar Reef. My feeling is that if you experience one of these events, you will want to attend the whole conference in 2020.

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