As the daughter of a poet and a writer herself, Shanna McNair understands the needs of writers. She built the Writer’s Hotel to meet those needs.

It’s not a hotel in the traditional sense, and McNair is not changing sheets or towels. Instead, the Writer’s Hotel is a literary gathering each June in New York City, where emerging and veteran writers come together for an intense week of workshops, lectures and events to talk about their craft, pitch their manuscripts and read their work from the stages of Manhattan bars and bookstores. Before arriving in New York, they’ve all had their work read and critiqued by at least two editors.

Shanna McNair

“I know a lot of writers and I know a lot of editors. I am lucky to have that as part of my life, so I share that,” she said.

McNair grew up in a literary home. Her father is the former Maine poet laureate Wesley McNair, who taught writing for many years at the University of Maine at Farmington and where he remains professor emeritus. Her father’s writer friends were frequent guests in the family home, and Shanna McNair benefited from what she calls “the lucky opportunity” of being a poet’s daughter. She has edited the independent literary review the New Guard for all of its 10 years, and this will be her sixth time hosting the Writer’s Hotel.

It costs $3,000 to attend, and registration has grown from 32 the first year to 85 last year. McNair expects about 100 people will register by this year’s deadline of March 22.

“I am a good leader and also somebody who can be the glue between my fellow writers who are established writers and emerging writers, which is why I think the New Guard has worked out so well. I started the conference because I wanted to do something on a larger scale,” she said.


She calls the conference a “mini-MFA” because it’s a hybrid low-residency writing program and short-term conference. And while it happens in New York, it’s very much a Maine effort that makes it happen. McNair does the preparation work from her home in Topsham, and many of the teachers are from Maine. Maine writers teaching in New York this year are Lewis Robinson, Elizabeth Hand, Elyssa East and Scott Wolven, in addition to McNair. Past teachers with Maine ties include Richard Blanco, Roxana Robinson and Bill Roorbach.

This year, former U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera will be among those teaching.

Maine writer Stephanie Cotsirilos attended last year and is heading back in June. She has written most of her life – scripts, songs, legal briefs – and has turned lately to fiction and essays. The conference has helped her realize her goals, she said. Her short fiction twice has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and her story “Little Buzzcut,” triggered by family separations at the U.S.-Mexico border, was selected as a finalist in Mississippi Review’s 2019 Prize in Fiction.

Cotsirilos believes the conference reflects well on all of Maine. “Shanna represents an extension not only of one of Maine’s literary families, but also the outsized impact Maine can exert elsewhere,” she said.

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