Summer Literary Seminars (SLS) is the world’s foremost, entirely one-of-a-kind international literary study and cultural organization, founded in 1998 and currently operating on three continents: North America (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), Europe (Vilnius, Lithuania), and Africa (Nairobi-Lamu, Kenya). After ten years (1998-2008) of running its groundbreaking series of seminars in St. Petersburg, Russia, SLS has established its flagship program in Montreal – its home base. Over the years, SLS has played, and continues to play, a pivotal role in bringing together the North American and international literary and cultural communities, fostering the artistic cooperation between the two and serving to increase mutual understanding across the cultural and geographic divides. SLS sees it as the crucial part of its mission to increase the literary and cultural visibility of every locale of its presence.
This, in particular, is true with regards to the SLS-Montreal program, which is quickly establishing itself as one of the most important and cultural events in this beautiful, free-wheeling, idiosyncratic, benign, endlessly fascinating and unique city. Each summer, in June, SLS brings the most prominent writers from North America, Europe and Africa and emerging writers from all walks of life together with their local counterparts for a richly variegated array of literary and cultural offerings. Past faculty members of the SLS programs include Poet Laureates of the US, winners of the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the MacArthur Foundation Genius Award — such luminaries as, for instance:
Aimee Bender Christian Bok Amy Bloom George Elliot Clarke Billy Collins Robert Coover Robert Creeley
Toi Derricotte Stephen Dobyns Cornelius Eady Dave Eggers Stephen Elliot Tibor Fisher Mary Gaitskill
Vivian Gornick Saskia Hamilton Robert Hass Steve Heighton Brenda Hillman Edward Hirsch Tony Hoagland
Fanny Howe Denis Johnson Wayne Johnston Joe Kertes Sam Lipsyte Phillip Lopate Glyn Maxwell
William Meredith Erin Moure Padgett Powell Francine Prose Claudia Rankine Dawn Raffel George Saunders
Lynne Shareon Schwartz Rebecca Seiferle Gary Shteyngart Johanna Skibsrud Christopher Sorrentino
Anthony Swofford Lynne Tillman William T. Vollman Binyavanga Wainaina Mac Wellman C.K. Williams
SLS programs draw participants from every corner of the US and Canada – 120 people in all in 2011. Over its history, SLS has brought well over 1200 emerging writers to Russia, Kenya, Lithuania, and Montreal. Since SLS is not rigidly affiliated with any university and is the largest independent international literary program in the world – although it enjoys strong cooperative ties with Concordia University in Montreal, which serves as the program’s academic base of operations — it draws a much wider range of participants than other conferences do.
The median age of its participants is 35, and SLS always recruits a significant number of writers over the age of 50. 70% of SLS participants are women. SLS also always brings together a number of the most talented young local writers from Canada, Kenya, and Lithuania, to work with their peers from abroad, as well as the internationally renowned authors working in a language other than English.
There are many uniquely distinct features to SLS. SLS enjoys its place as the foremost, most innovative program of its kind, because it profoundly affects everyone who participates. Many of its participants over the years have cited the SLS programs as a life-chance experience, and different from any other of its kind. As Ann Giesken-Kel said:
“I have attended several writing conferences, and they were all very interesting and helpful. Yet, SLS was so much more than that. Most conferences pride themselves on having approachable faculty, but yours act as mentors and friends. How pleasant it was to have lunch with an accomplished writer. Even more commendable was that SLS faculty were present and politely attentive for hours of student readings. I have not experienced anything close to this level of involvement at other conferences.”
And Casey Kait, a 2007 SLS-Russia alum, explained:
“The time I spent in Russia gave me an invaluably fresh perspective on what it is I’m trying to do with my work, as well as with my life. I’d like to thank you for creating this incredible program. I could never have anticipated the impact it would have on me.”
Or as Francisco Fermin Cantolan, another alum, put it:
“I truly will remember SLS as one of the greatest moments in my life.”