First UConn Writers’ Retreat investigates why, how to write


UConn hosts a retreat for writers and poets.  John Surowiecki gives a lecture titled “Getting Published Without the Education” at the First UConn Writers retreat on Sunday, April 2, 2017.(Tyler Benton/The Daily Campus)

Student writers aspiring to develop and publish their work gained insight into the barebones of writing and publishing during the UConn Coalition of Writers’ (UCOW) first Writers Retreat.

Over two days, UCOW facilitated student-led discussions, open-writing sessions and guest lectures by professors and published authors to better acquaint students with the profession and the craft of writing.

The guest speakers included writer and poet John Surowiecki, who earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degree at UConn, poet Brian Sneeden, writer Jotham Burello, English professor Matthew Shelton and children’s author Pegi Deitz Shea.

Shea, also a part of UConn’s English faculty, facilitated an interactive workshop along with her lecture on writing children’s books and young adult literature.

“She would talk to us about our personal ideas that we wanted to branch out about and stuff,” fourth-semester French and journalism dual-major and UCOW Vice President Daniela Doncel said. “She got me wanting to write a children’s book.”

Faculty advisor Ellen Litman provided UCOW President Julia Hersum with a list of speakers and professors who had previously visited UConn and spoke on their writing process.

Hersum was inspired to design a writers’ retreat after attending a workshop-oriented playwriting retreat at the University of Nebraska and gave her own lecture on playwriting.

Member and fourth-semester animal science major Marlese Lessing also gave a lecture on student journalism as a staff writer for the Daily Campus’ News and Life sections.

“I think my favorite part of this – I didn’t expect this to be such a networking thing, but I feel like I really connected with these authors and I’ll be able to reach out to them if I need to,” Hersum said.

“I’ve recently joined the club, so it’s been good getting to know other writers and learning how to be social in the writing world,” Beon Froest, fourth-semester bio-physics major, said.

“Generally speaking its very interesting for me to see how someone else takes their understanding and experiences and incorporate those into their writing,” Froest said.

Despite signing up for the coalition as a freshman at the involvement fair, Froest just started attending meetings as a sophomore and also took part in the retreat.

“I’ve recently joined the club, so it’s been good getting to know other writers and learning how to be social in the writing world,” Beon Froest, fourth-semester bio-physics major, said.

As a STEM major and UConn Marching Band member, Froest takes advantage of breaks and weekends to dedicate blocks of time to her writing, specifically speculative fiction and fantasy, in the form of short stories and an on-going novel.

“You make time for the things you love,” Froest said.

Brian Sneeden, a poetry instructor and poet himself, spoke on the second day of the retreat, drawing on writing and poetry from Spanish writer Frederico Garcia Lorca and American poets Frank O’Hara and Dorianne Laux.

Sneeden focused on Lorca’s term of “duende,” defined in the dictionary as a “quality of passion and inspiration,” but in Lorca’s own words is Pastora Pavon, an Andalusian singer, who sang with explicit passion and tore apart her own voice to bring “totally unknown and fresh sensations,” to “(generate) an almost religious enthusiasm.”

The writers in attendance conversed with Sneeden to dissect the blocks that build poetry including, but not limited to, form, figurative language, meter and sensory detail.

He brought forward terms and techniques like assonance, or the repeated use of vowels to create an echo in poetry, and synesthesia, the likening of two senses to each other (saying something tastes the way another smells for example).

The poet then likened the blocks alone to the mush of an unmade cake, which of course needs heat, or a passion like “duende,” to cook and attain the ultimate cake, and poem.

“Often times, you ask yourself ‘Why do you write poems?’ Well, usually they come as a result of catastrophes, of joys or of sorrow in our life, right?” Sneeden said. “Nobody ever said I fell in love with this girl; she’s so smart, she’s so sexy, I’m going to sit down and write a novel. No they usually will write a poem or a song. That’s where it comes from.”

Francesca Colturi is associate life editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at

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