Who Doesn’t Want to Go to Florence?

A trip worth considering
The Duomo in Florence, Italy, is one of the many inspiring works of art, architecture, and culture that Stony Brook Southampton students will take in during a short-fiction writing conference in January. Christian McLean

    If you are an adult and you write, or even if you don’t, Stony Brook South­ampton’s Florence Writers Workshop is a trip worth considering.
    The trip, planned for Jan. 13 to 23, has as its centerpiece five three-hour short-fiction writing workshops led by Frederick Tuten, a Guggenheim fellow who writes fiction and essays on art. But afternoons are left for exploring and field trips such as a tour of the Accademia, an excursion to Tuscany and a winery, a class on how to describe wine, and a cooking class and dinner at the culinary school of the Florence University of the Arts.
    To draw attention to the program, on Wednesday at 7 p.m., Stony Brook Southampton will screen “The Tiger in the Snow,” a film directed and written by Roberto Benigni in 2006. It is set in both Italy and Iraq in 2003.
    Christian McLean, the conference director, said on Thursday that it “made sense to have one of the leading Italian filmmakers” shown in connection with the conference. The fact that Mr. Benigni plays a poetry professor doesn’t hurt either. The screening is free and open to the public.
    The cost of the conference is $3,600 for three credits and $3,030 for non-credit participants. The cost includes the hotel and the tours and several electives, which may include a night at the opera, a digital photography workshop, a faculty-led walking tour, an introduction to the Italian language, and other possibilities. Daily breakfast and several meals are also included. Class size will be limited to 12 students.
    Mr. McLean, who did his graduate work abroad in Scotland at St. Andrew’s University, said he enjoyed the opportunity to study British writers he had never heard of before and delve into another culture. “It is part of what inspired me to do this,” he said. After being here full time for some 10 years, he found that January was a good time to be away, he said.
    “It is great to get away from everyone and everything in your daily life that is taking you away from writing. You are focusing on the things you want to be focusing on and having great cultural experiences. It is also a nice way to go with like-minded people. I often see people bond over a drink explaining where they’ve been for the day.”
    His own experience with the Southampton campus came several years ago when he took a summer conference playwriting workshop with Marsha Norman. “I felt comfortable here and I kept coming back,” doing work for the school along the way. When the conference coordinator left, he needed a job and it was a simple, organic process.
    The weather in January is variable in Italy but can be warm enough to go without a jacket or heavy coat. Held during the gap between semesters at Stony Brook University, “it’s a block of time where nothing is scheduled.” The conference expanded last year in order to take 16 poets to northern Kenya with Richard Leakey for 11 days.
    Mr. McLean said the school will continue to look for unique opportunities such as that and may alternate from Florence to other places biannually, but the model works, “because it fits what we’re doing now here. The Florence University of the Arts echoes our own ideas for a culinary school and visual arts programs. It’s a good fit for what we’re doing and what we want to be doing.”