Sam Slaughter on Orlando: Not just Mice Ears and Tourists
I’ll admit it. Sometimes going to a theme park in a dorky visor and fanny pack can be nice. But Sam Slaughter offers a different side to Orlando (affectionally nicknamed “Litlando”) – a place overflowing with artsiness and originality. So much so that it can drown a mouse.
I’m going to go ahead and get this out of the way now. Orlando is not just money-hungry radioactive mice and theme parks. When I got down here three years ago, I didn’t know Orlando was nicknamed the City Beautiful or that there was a lively and thriving arts scene. All I knew was mice and tourists. Thankfully, Orlando is so, so much more.
Much like Orlando itself, the literary and arts scene sprawls across Central Florida, growing slowly as more and more artists and other creative minds find their way to a place more known for bat shit crazy criminals and again, mice.
From writers to publishers to literary magazines to readings, Orlando has a little bit of everything and one of the hallmarks of the Orlando scene is that they all work together well, fostering and build the scene.
To start, plenty of writers call the Central Florida area home and have for decades. A little outside of Orlando, you can visit Zora Neale Hurston’s house in Eatonville. Back in the city, The Jack Kerouac House was home to the writer while he wrote Dharma Bums and now houses four writers per year as part of their residency project. Since then, other writers have called the city and its environs home for varying lengths of time. Billy Collins and Philip F. Deaver are residents, and other authors such as Vanessa Blakeslee, David James Poissant, Stacy Barton, Usman T. Malik, Lindsay Hunter, and Laura van den Berg have or now call Orlando home.
There’s plenty for those writers to do, as reading series such as Functionally Literate, There Will Be Words (and it’s sibling series There Will Be Verse), Literocalypse, the S.A.F.E! Words! Poetry! Slam!, and Live Lewd Girls all happen on a consistent basis at wonderful venues around Orlando such as the Avalon Gallery and the Shakespeare Center. These events almost always bring out a lively crowd and it is as much a chance to catch up with the other writers in the community and share news as it is a place to hear different types of work. If you can’t make it out to the events, there are two podcasts that will sate your literary appetite: The Drunken Odyssey with John King podcast and Functionally Literate’s radio show podcast.
The schools in the area, too, contribute to the lively Litlando scene. The University of Central Florida is home to The Florida Review as well as an MFA program. In February every year, nearby Rollins College hosts Winter with the Writers a festival that’s seen writers like Charles Simic and Karen Russell take the stage. Up the road in Deland is Stetson University, who is about to launch a low-res MFA program of their own. Following I4 even further—to the ocean this time—you’ll find the Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna Beach (also known as the “Shark Attack Capital of the World”), where a wide variety of writers—including the like of Rick Moody and Mark Doty—have taught workshops and given readings. Going an hour and change in the other direction and you’ll hit the University of Tampa and their MFA program as well as the Tampa Review. For those looking to work on their writing outside the academic sphere, there are organizations like Writer’s Atelier that organize a wide variety of writing workshops.
We’re not done with Orlando yet, though, as two independent publishers, Burrow Press (and their journal Burrow Press Review) and Beating Windward Press, call the city home. To get the presses’ books, you’ll want to visit BookMarkit at the East End Market. The store not only hosts local authors for events, but also has a great selection of books from those same local authors as well.
There’s a reason Orlando is nicknamed Litlando. It’s a great place for millennial artists and creatives, and it’s only getting better. The last thing you’ll think about after spending the night at an Orlando literary event, is mice.