7 of the Best Writing Residencies in Florida
If you need to get away and write, look no further than the sunny shores of Florida
I love writing in the wintertime, but what I love even more is when that winter is sunny and brisk, no snow or polar vortices, and I can take walks to rejuvenate and stay productive. Pray, tell, where can a writer be assured of such an experience? Why, Florida, of course—where locals call this time of year “snowbird season.” Temperatures won’t be warm enough for you to swim, but remember, beaches and pools would be too much of a distraction. You’re there to write, possibly in an outdoor café under a heat lamp, thus avoiding a nasty slip on ice outside of your apartment.
But what’s urgent, in particular, about coming to Florida to write? (After all, if it’s merely the warm sun you seek, you might just as well book a hotel in Tulum). Consider how many titles by Florida-based writers have leapt to prominence in recent years, from the wild and strange realms of Jeff Vandermeer’s Area X trilogy, to Lauren Groff’s Florida, to the gritty, dream-like zones of the urban subtropic in Dantiel W. Moniz’s Milk Blood Heat and T. Kira Madden’s Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls. Such authors join a long list of prize-winning literary forebears, including Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Zora Neale Hurston, and Harry Crews.
Since colonial times, Florida has brimmed with opposition, not just politically but environmentally—only today the divide between its ecological wonders and the encroaching man-made sprawl grows evermore stark. Compelling stories arise out of opposition; perhaps this very conflict seeps into the writing of those who seek to capture that experience. Between January 2020 and April 2021, over half a million people have moved to Florida—and that’s just the data available from those who have changed driver’s licenses. At the same time, the head of the Everglades Foundation has stated that Floridians face “the last decade to restore the Everglades.” As the influx of new residents shows no sign of abating, water remains just one area where the tensions are poised to become more fraught. How might creative writers respond—what kind of confrontations and repercussions might you imagine, as humans and ecosystems collide?
Here’s a list of Florida residencies to get you started, with opportunities for professional writers from emerging to mid-career:
Jack Kerouac Writers-in-Residence Project of Orlando, Inc.
This residency takes place in the bungalow where Jack Kerouac penned the Dharma Bums, and was living when his iconic novel On the Road was published to wide acclaim. Each year, four emerging writers are selected and each given a three-month-stay in the house, free of charge, and a $1000 grocery stipend. The bungalow is located in a charming neighborhood of Orlando called College Park, and in the wintertime, central Florida offers an abundance of arts and culture activities going on. Applications are accepted January 1, 2022 to March 20, 2022.
Atlantic Center for the Arts
Several times a year, the Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna Beach offers three-week Residency Programs in different disciplines under renowned Master Artists—including recently, US Poet Laureate, Joy Harjo. The Master Artist in each discipline decides the basic structure and requirements for the session and chooses the eight Associate Artists who are invited. Residencies are process-based, and participants may work on individual or group projects, including interdisciplinary collaborations, in a collegial environment. It’ll be too brisk to jump in the Atlantic—unless perhaps you’re Canadian—but beach strolls in crisp weather, free of crowds, are unparalleled (and sure to make Northern friends jealous). The Center itself is located on a 69-acre ecological preserve, near the incredible Canaveral National Seashore, arguably one of the most magnificent beaches in the country. Application deadlines vary.
LitSpace, St. Petersburg
This residency takes place on the heels of winter, but with climate change, who knows anymore? If you’re in the Midwest, you may want to plan on escaping that inevitable spring blizzard by applying for this two-week residency in St. Pete, near Tampa. The fellowship recipient will receive accommodations for two weeks at the Craftsman House on Central Avenue in St. Petersburg, lead a brief Master class or workshop, give one public reading, and write a blog post about their experience. St. Petersburg itself is a hip, artsy area with lots of cafes, galleries, and night spots, and funky, longtime Florida wonders to explore such as the Dalí Museum and Sunken Gardens. As with the Kerouac Project, LitSpace is keen to support writers early in their career. The residency is two weeks long, from March 28 to April 10, 2022, and the application deadline is February 1st.
Writer’s Room at the Betsy
What could be more fitting for a writer-turned-snowbird than a residency in South Beach? How about a hotel with a book collection in every room, a curated library, and a writer’s desk that once belonged to a three-time Pulitzer Prize finalist? The Writer’s Room at The Betsy Hotel serves as a working studio space for professional writers and artists to create work and share with the community. The residency was founded in honor of acclaimed poet and Pulitzer finalist, Hyam Plutzik, who was the father of The Betsy Hotel owner, Jonathan Plutzik. Writers stay in the room free of charge, usually Sunday through Wednesday (sometimes longer), in exchange for writing a guest blog post, presenting their work to the community, and donating a copy of a recent book to one of the hotel’s libraries. If the cold snaps stay away, you can relax and write on the beach.
Everglades National Park Artist in Residence in Everglades (AIRIE) Program
For what may be the wildest writing residency in Florida, the Artists in Residence in Everglades (AIRIE) program invites professional writers to live and write in the Everglades for up to one month in a furnished apartment near the Anhinga Trail, Royal Palm area, and Park Headquarters, a short drive from Homestead. Residents are responsible for their own food, must give a public presentation about their work, and donate a piece created during their stay to the park for their collection, and/or one-time rights for the publication of a literary work. Residents are chosen based on merit and how a candidate’s work can advance the mission of Everglades National Park and the National Park Service. Head’s up to prospective snowbirds—the applicant pool is competitive, and winter being the cooler, drier season is the most highly sought after. You may want to try for November, March, or April to immerse yourself in alligator-watching and python-spotting. Since Florida Governor Rick DeSantis recently stood on the edge of the Everglades with a snakeskin football, calling for people to hunt and kill as many of the invading pythons as possible in what’s now been dubbed the “Python Bowl,” you can rest assured you’ll have no shortage of material. Applications are accepted annually from April 1 to June 1.
Artist in Residence Program at The Deering Estate
Can you imagine yourself exploring and writing on 450 gorgeous acres overlooking Biscayne Bay? This lesser-known but competitive studio residency program is open to artists across disciplines, literary writers included, and poses a unique opportunity for those who’d like to experience an inspiring, extended immersion in the Miami-Dade area. The award includes a studio space on the historic 1920s estate of Charles Deering, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places; the extensive natural preserve and two-house museum is one of South Florida’s major cultural sites. Studios are air-conditioned with private bathrooms, and residencies are awarded for a period of one month up to one year. The program states that “non-local, traveling, out-of-state, and international artists are welcome to apply,” however, applicants should note that the award is for day use of studio space only, and does not include local accommodations, transport, and funding. Applications are open annually in the fall.
The Hermitage Artist Retreat
Perhaps you know you’ve made it when you’re invited for a stay at The Hermitage, a historic beachfront homestead (i.e., idyllic beach cottage) on Manasota Key. Fun fact of its history: in the 1930s, the property operated as the Sea Island Sanctuary; a brochure boasted “the isolation of our location permits the practice of nudism 24 hours a day, if desired.” Today, the restored cottage is about tranquil retreat, and nothing getting between writer and pen. There is no application process, and selection of mid-career and established writers is by nomination only—this is one of those residencies you ought to put down on your wish list. As for the nudism, if one is so fortunate to be awarded a residency fellowship, perhaps that’s left up to you.