Lucy Alibar can’t remember how she discovered the Sewanee Young Writers’ Conference as a teenager. What she does remember is the indelible impact the program made on her.
“It was the first time I was treated like an actual writer; not just as a teenage girl who liked to write,” says Alibar, who returned to Sewanee to inspire others at this year’s workshops, held June 28 to July 11.
“What it really gave me was that habit of writing. It was not good for a long time, and I worked at it for a long time, but [the program] taught me to let go of the expectation that either it would come out good or it was worth abandoning and I should wait for something better to come into my head. It gave it to me as a craft, not just a moment of inspiration.”
Enjoying the sunlight on the front porch of Shenanigans in Sewanee, Alibar has a self-effacing charm that belies her success and speaks highly of the rural, hardworking upbringing in North Florida that permeates so much of her work.
Her stage play Juicy and Delicious was the result of using writing to cope when her father became very sick a few years ago, and manifests the magic of her childhood growing up in the South. It was converted into a screenplay with the help of Benh Zeitlin for the haunting film Beasts of the Southern Wild, which was nominated for four Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Writing/Adapted Screenplay. The film, which revolves around the relationship between a young girl and her father and how they survive when their ramshackle bayou home is flooded, was shown on the big screen at the Sewanee Union Theatre on July 6. Sponsored by the School of Letters, the screening was free and open to the community.
As a guest reader for the Sewanee School of Letters, Alibar also offered a spirited reading from her work-in-progress collection of short stories, Throw Me On the Burnpile and Light Me Up.
“Lucy Alibar was a promising teenager when we met her at the Young Writers’ Conference in 1999,” says John Grammer, director of the Sewanee School of Letters. “Today the promise is being fulfilled: she’s already a star of the literary world with a lot more success obviously ahead of her. Her return to Sewanee was a joy for those of us who knew her when, and it made for one of the best literary events we’ve seen.”
In gratitude for her own experience at the Young Writers’ Conference, Alibar is donating the honorarium she received for her visit to be used toward a need-based scholarship for next year’s program.
Parting advice from Alibar for up-and-coming writers: “Write that humiliating first draft.”
“It’s the best thing you can do for yourself … because your story is going to be in there,” she says. “Once you have your first draft you’re halfway home; you can do anything from there.”
Alibar currently lives in New York City and works for Scribner Books and Universal Studios Entertainment. Her latest project is an adapted screenplay of The Secret Garden with director Guillermo del Toro.
- Liz Ellis