By Glen Young 9/28/09
John Lamb believes his writers conference is unlike other such events. Lamb, director of the Springfed Writers Retreat has worked for 11 years to create a comfortable atmosphere for those who attend the mid-October gathering.
The retreat started out as a semi-irreverent affair, he says, but the wealth of writing talent hes been able to use to staff the event has turned it into one of the premiere seminars in the state, if not the country. Indeed, his staff is made up of some of the most notable writers of poetry and fiction found anywhere.
A singer-songwriter from Royal Oak who also organizes songwriting workshops in Northern Michigan, Lambs objective is to offer a worthwhile experience to those attending, while making each year different. Im careful about not repeating subjects, he says.
Hes also quick to point that all in attendance are equals. Its a retreat, not a class. Its like a summit where people can recharge, and share ideas.
Most of these conferences are essentially MFA students trying to meet famous writers, says M.L. Liebler of the typical writers event. A Detroit area performer and poet who has long assisted Lamb with the writers retreat, Liebler believes that Springfed draws students who are more interested in improving their writing.
And while Lamb and Liebler annually assemble famous writers, the atmosphere at Springfed is more relaxed. Liebler is convinced it is homier than other writers conferences. This isnt like other writers retreats, its much more friendly, much more comfortable. Theres more of a family feel to it than a typical writers conference.
I didnt want it to be academic in nature, says Lamb, who doesnt have any sort of agenda for each years event. Im getting better every year about making people feel better about their writing.
After nine years at Camp Michigania on Walloon Lake, Lamb moved the retreat to the Birchwood Inn outside Harbor Springs last
year. Birchwood, he says, is every bit as inspiring, while the amenities are more comfortable. Hes also moved the date back two weeks to avoid competing with the big-drawing Dodge Poetry Festival in New Jersey.
Joining the staff again this year at Springfed will be poet Dorianne Laux, who teaches at North Carolina State University. Laux also considers Springfed special. What makes it wonderful for students is they get to come together with some master poets and writers and get it going. she says of the students inspiration and motivation.
Theres a lot of hilarity, Laux explains. It really is not a stuffy conference, its much more process driven.
A new staff member who can relate to the goals and expectations of students at Springfed is Irina Reyn, who teaches at the University of Pittsburgh. Reyn, author of the critically acclaimed novel What Happened To Anna K, is a former student at the retreat. This year she returns as the Cranbrook Fiction Chair.
So often discouragement comes from so many different directions, Reyn says. A conference like this is so encouraging. She says that as an MFA student at Bennington, she had ready access to important writers. She prefers the relaxed mood of Springfed, which she recalls appreciatively. I found it an extremely warm, friendly atmosphere, something not found at all conferences of this sort.
Reyn, who is at work on a new novel, hopes to give her students an experience similar to her own. I hope to be able to offer that same encouragement, as well as the constructive critiques I had when I was there.
Liebler, who serves as the host of the weekends open microphone night, says Lamb has the right approach to putting together his staff. He ends up getting people who are really good with others and who are able to work with and workshop with people. But theyre also famous, he adds.
Lamb says students cannot get enough poetry. Its the poets that really draw. The poets are kind of like stars in their own right, he says.
This years staff also includes poets Marie Howe and Robert Fanning, as well as fiction writer Margo Lagattuta.
This years Springfed Writers Retreat is scheduled for October 8-11 at the Birchwood Inn, Harbor Springs. For more information or to register, check out their website at