Gribodeva Canal

The deadline is approaching for submission to a writing contest that could give you access to one of the best literary seminars/writing conferences in the world. Aspiring and practicing travel writers will find it particularly attractive. No, it’s not the Book Passage travel writers and photographers conference in San Francisco, although I’m sure that one’s well worth attending, too. But Book Passage doesn’t take place over two weeks during White Nights in St. Petersburg, Russia.

The Summer Literary Seminars (SLS) have been running for less than a decade, but have quickly taken their position as one of the most inspiring writing conferences around. I attended in 2006, and heard from professional and beginning writers alike that St. Petersburg gave them the best creative high they’d ever gotten from a writing conference, including revered institutions like Bread Loaf.

Church on Spilled Blood From the giddiness of walking around in the midnight sun, to readings from Russian poets; from late nights of chilly vodka shots with the visiting writer to following Roskolnikov’s footsteps during the Dostoevsky Tour, the Summer Literary Seminars offers travelers packed days and nights of a singular immersion experience: that of writing and place. Their mission statement says it all:

“SLS is premised on the not-so-novel idea that one’s writing can greatly benefit from the keen sense of temporary displacement created by an immersion in a thoroughly foreign culture and street vernacular.”

I was lucky enough to take the travel writing class from the fantastic Tom Swick (and subsequently shame myself by almost getting him lost when I was meant to be guiding him through the metro), who unfortunately won’t be teaching this year. But you’ll get the entertaining Stephanie Griest instead (author of Around the Bloc: My Life in Moscow, Beijing, and Havana).

Since it’s the second year in a row I won’t be able to attend (grr), you won’t see me propping up The Office bar at 2 in the morning, you won’t be getting my walking tour of the Krestovsky Islands, and you won’t get a Russian dinner at my aunt’s apartment. But you will get to hear even more Russian writers read their work; a chance to take the midnight train to Moscow; and coffee-, sunlight-, and vodka-fueled inspiration with some of the most interesting people you’ll ever meet.

The deadline for the writing contest is February 28th, and the winner gets tuition and airfare paid for. Open admission is on a rolling basis, but why not try to go for free? SLS also runs a sister program in Kenya over Christmas, and submissions to the Russia contest are also considered for the Kenya program.