The Sandhill Writers Retreat

Saturday, May 14, 2016
9:00am - 5:30pm
Saint Leo University
Saint Leo, Florida

The Fourth Annual Sandhill Writers Retreat will renew the writer in you.

The full-day retreat will take place on the beautiful, serene University Campus, located in rural Saint Leo, Florida, approximately 35 miles north of Tampa. The retreat will feature twelve hands-on writing classes in fiction, nonfiction, journalism, poetry, comics and writing for veterans. A faculty of nationally-acclaimed writers/poets includes Pulitzer Prize winner Lane DeGregory of Tampa Bay Times; novelist Rita Ciresi (Bring Back My Body to Me); poets Peter Schmitt (Renewing the Vows) and Erica Bernheim (The Mimic Sea); and comics writer Claire Stephens. These four renowned writers will be joined by Saint Leo writing faculty members Dr. Patrick Crerand, Gianna Russo and Iraq war veteran writer Brooke King to guide attendees through lessons in craft and imaginative exercises that lead to new works The retreat will also include a faculty reading and book signing, a reception, and an optional lunch-time open reading for participants. Participants are encouraged to bring their own lunch or order a box lunch for an additional charge.

A very limited number of private one-on-one manuscript consultations are available on a first come, first served basis.  There is an additional fee for the 15-minute consultation of up to 10 pages of fiction, nonfiction or poetry.

Who Should Attend

You are invited!  The Sandhill Writers Retreat is open to writers of all levels who wish to hone the craft and renew the joy of writing.  Teachers, students, the military and the general public are all invited to attend.

2016 Faculty:

FICTION: RITA CIRESI (University of South Florida, Tampa)

Rita Ciresi is author of the novels Bring Back My Body to Me, Pink Slip, Blue Italian, and Remind Me Again Why I Married You and the story collections Sometimes I Dream in Italian and Mother Rocket. She is director of creative writing at the University of South Florida and a mentor for the Bay Path University online MFA in nonfiction writing. Visit her website at

JOURNALISM: LANE DEGREGORY (Tampa Bay Times, Saint Petersburg)

Lane DeGregory is a Pulitzer Prize-winning Tampa Bay Times feature writer who prefers writing about people in the shadows. She went to work with a 100-year-old man who still swept out a seafood warehouse, hung out beneath a bridge with a colony of sex offenders, followed a feral child who was adopted.

Lane graduated from the University of Virginia, where she was editor-in-chief of the Cavalier Daily student newspaper. Later, she earned a master's degree in rhetoric and communication studies from the University of Virginia. For 10 years, she wrote news and feature stories for the Virginian-Pilot, based in Norfolk, Va.

Lane is a fellow in the Society of Professional Journalists and a freelance writer for Our State Magazine. Her newspaper stories have appeared in the Best Newspaper Writing editions of 2000, 2004, 2006 and 2008 and in the new anthology Newswomen: 25 Years of Front Page Journalism. She has taught journalism at the University of South Florida - St. Petersburg, been a speaker at the Nieman Narrative Conference at Harvard University and at the international Conference on Narrative Journalism in Amsterdam. She has won dozens of national awards, including the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for feature writing.

POETRY: PETER SCHMITT (The University of Miami, Miami)

Peter Schmitt is the author of five books of poems, including three full-length collections: Renewing the Vows (David Robert Books); Hazard Duty and Country Airport (Copper Beech).  Two chapbooks, To Disappear, and Incident in an Apartment Complex: A Suite of Voices, are with Pudding House.  He has received The Julia Peterkin Award  (Converse College);  The Lavan Award (Academy of American Poets); The “Discovery”/The Nation Prize; grants from The Florida Arts Council (twice); and an Ingram Merrill Fellowship.  His poems have appeared in many leading journals, including The Hudson Review, The Nation, The Paris Review, Poetry, and The Southern Review, are widely anthologized and have been featured on NPR’s Writers Almanac.  A native Miamian, he has taught creative writing and literature at The University of Miami since 1986.

POETRY: ERICA BERNHEIM (Florida Southern College, Lakeland)

Erica Bernheim holds degrees from Miami University, The University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is currently Associate Professor of English at Florida Southern College, where she directs the creative writing program. Her first full-length collection, The Mimic Sea, was published by 42 Miles Press (Indiana University South Bend) in 2012. She is also the author of a chapbook, Between the Room and the City (H_NGM_N B__KS, 2007). Her work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Denver Quarterly, DIAGRAM, Backlash, and The Iowa Review.

COMICS & POETRY: CLAIRE STEPHENS (University of South Florida, Tampa)

Claire Stephens is a Visiting Instructor in the English Department at the University of South Florida, where she has taught professional and expository writing, comics, fiction, and composition and also serves as Assistant to the Coordinator of Creative Writing.

She is currently writing and drawing Split City Blues, a graphic novel that was the 2013 recipient of the University of South Florida Outstanding Thesis or Dissertation Award. Lady in Ink, her chapbook comic about women and tattoos, was published in 2014 by Sweet Publications. Her work has been included in two textbooks and published in Prick of the Spindle and A Bad Penny Review. You can find her on twitter @rclairestephens and on her site

SLU Writing Faculty:


Patrick Crerand teaches writing and literature at Saint Leo where he is a co-founder of the on-line literary magazine Lightning Key Review.  His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, The Collagist, New Orleans Review, the Tampa Bay Times, and other magazines.  He lives in Dade City with his lovely wife and three kids.


Brooke King served in the United States Army, deploying to Iraq in 2006 as a wheel vehicle mechanic, machine gunner, and recovery specialist.  As a wife to a fellow veteran and mother to twin boys who were conceived in Iraq, Brooke began writing her unique experience down as a way to cope with PTSD, but found that her writing ability along with her combat experience gave her a distinct voice within the war genre. Since obtaining her B.A. from Saint Leo University, Brooke has refocused her writing, bringing perspective and insight into the involvement of female soldiers in combat and war.  Her work has been published in O Dark Thirty, War Literature and the Arts, Prairie Schooner, Press 53's fiction war anthology Home of the Brave: Somewhere in the Sand, University of Nebraska Press and Potomac's Red, White, and True Anthology. Her chapbook, Love in the Shape of a War Zone, was released in October 2013 by Green Rabbit Press. Currently, Brooke is working on her memoir.


Steve Kistulentz is the director of the graduate program in creative writing at Saint Leo University. He is the author of two books of poems,Little Black Daydream(University of Akron Press) andThe Luckless Age(Red Hen Press), winner of the Benjamin Saltman Award. He holds an M.A. from the Johns Hopkins University, an MFA in fiction from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and a doctorate from the Florida State University, where he was the Edward and Marie Kingsbury Fellow for Excellence in Thought. His short fiction has appeared inNarrative, the Mississippi Review, Crab Orchard Review, Quarter After Eightand elsewhere. 


Gianna Russo (Retreat Director) is Instructor of English and Creative Writing at Saint Leo University.  She is the author of a full-length poetry collection, Moonflower, winner of the Florida Book Award Bronze Medal, the Florida Publishers Association Silver Award and an Eric Hofer First Horizons Honorable Mention.  A Pushcart Prize nominee, she has also had publications in Tampa Review, Ekphrasis, Crab Orchard Review, Florida Review, Florida Humanities Council Forum, Karamu, The Bloomsbury Review, The Sun, Poet Lore, The MacGuffin, and Calyx, among others.  Ms. Russo is editor-in-chief of Sandhill Review and founding editor of YellowJacket Press, currently the only publisher of poetry chapbook manuscripts in Florida.

Registration Information

Retreat registration includes access to all activities. Both a box lunch and a one-on one-manuscript conference may be purchased for an additional charge. Attendees are welcome to bring their own lunch. 

All participants must be pre-registered to attend. Early registration will close on at midnight April 30, 2016. Late registration from May 1-13, 2016, incurs an additional late fee of $15 per registrant.


General public $100
Teachers, student, seniors $80
SLU faculty, staff, students
Veterans and active duty military
One-on-one manuscript consultation
Box lunch


*Five student internships, for which there is an application process, waive the registration fee. To apply for an internship, contact the director.

Questions should be directed to Retreat Director and Saint Leo creative writing faculty member, Gianna Russo, at (352) 588-8282 or


Click Here for Registration Page


Hotel accommodations are available at:

Retreat Administrators

Gianna Russo, Director

Angel Jimenez, Assistant Director, is a Saint Leo faculty member.

John David Harding, Staff, is a Saint Leo faculty member.

The Sandhill Writers retreat is supported in part by the School of Arts and Sciences, the Department of Language Studies and the Arts, and the Cannon Memorial Library.

Questions should be directed to Retreat Director and Saint Leo creative writing faculty member, Gianna Russo, at (352) 588-8282 or

Retreat Schedule

Saturday May 14, 2016

8:30-9:00 Check in Sign up for Open Reading
9:00 Fiction: Introducing Characters,
Rita Ciresi
Poetry: Where Lyric Meets Narrative I, Peter Schmitt
Writing for Veterans: Finding a Voice from Conflict, Brooke King
Poetry one-on-one with Erica Bernheim
10:15 Break Sign up for Open Reading    
10:30 Poetry: Making Poems, Erica Bernheim Journalism I, Lane Degregory
How to Give a Dynamic Reading, Gianna Russo
Poetry one-on-one with Peter Schmitt
11:45 Lunch and Participants' OPEN MIC      
1:00 Fiction: Flash Fiction, Rita Ciresi
Poetry: Poems You Have Made, Erica Bernheim
Comics and Poetry, Claire Stephens
Journalism one-on-one with Lane Degregory
2:15 Break
Book Sales
2:30 Poetry: Where Lyric Meets Narrative, Peter Schmitt
Journalism II,
Lane Degregory
Fiction: Dialogue, Patrick Crerand (St. Ed's RM 116)

Poetry: Writing Poetry with Unflinching Honesty, Steve Kistulentz

Fiction one-on-one with Rita Ciresi

3:45 Break
Book Sales
4:00 Faculty Reading (TECO Auditorium)
5:00 Farewell Reception and Book Signing
5:30 Conclude