How have you kept busy during the COVID-19 shutdown? Many have turned to Netflix and streaming services for entertainment, others have focused on long-neglected household projects or learning new skills via e-learning platforms.

If your goal was to finally tackle that “great American novel” you’ve always been meaning to write and, four months into the pandemic, you’re still stuck on the first paragraph, Miami Book Fair wants to help you get started. 

According to director Marci Cancio-Bello, the program was founded to provide an opportunity for students at all ages and stages of life to pursue creative writing with accomplished writers, whether or not they had the resources possible through a regular degree program. 

“Every year, we strive to bring together authors who are also excellent teachers of the craft, and 2020 was no different,” said Cancio-Bello. “With COVID-19 shuttering everything, we found that many participants still wanted to take the workshops even if we moved online, and all the faculty were on board. People seem to have a bit more time, the need for distraction, and a desire to connect a shared love of reading and writing.” 

Beginning July 27, the fair’s annual summer Writer’s Institute will offer aspiring novelists and poets the opportunity to learn from critically-acclaimed international award winners, including two prominent LGBT writers, presidential inaugural poet Richard Blanco and 2020 Lambda Literary Award-winner Bryan Washington. 

Selected by President Barack Obama as the fifth inaugural poet in U.S. history, Richard Blanco is the youngest and the first Latino, immigrant and gay person to serve in such a role. Born in Madrid to Cuban-exile parents and raised in Miami, Blanco has explored the negotiation of cultural identity in his four collections of poetry. He is the recipient of the Agnes Starrett Poetry Prize from the University of Pittsburgh Press, Beyond Margins Award from the PEN American Center, Paterson Poetry Prize and Thom Gunn Award. 

Blanco’s five-day workshop, “The Conscious/Subconscious,” a series of interactive lectures and exercises, will help participants explore the subconscious territory of memory, inspiration, process and imagination that inspire and influence the creative process.  

Rice University lecturer Bryan Washington has written for the New Yorker, New York Times, New York Times Magazine, BBC, Vulture and Bon Appétit. He is the author of “Lot,” the recipient of an O. Henry Award, an Ernest J. Gaines Award, and a National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 Winner. His first novel, “Memorial,” will be released in the fall. 

Washington’s workshop, “Subverting Timelines,” will guide participants through intersecting structures, parallel timelines, elliptical narratives and stories that forego chronology altogether, pushing the limits of structure, and the traditional ways forms dictate content. 

Other workshops include “The Art and Craft of Memoir” with novelist Boris Fishman and “After, Before and Outside an M.F.A.” with novelist and essayist R.O. Kwon. Shorter topical workshops will also be offered, along with individual manuscript consultation sessions with literary agent Dana Murphy from the Book Group. 

Cancio-Bello noted the online format will expand the reach of the program, allowing students from around the world to participate without incurring the expenses for travel to Miami and accommodations. She anticipates the most diverse, international cohorts in the institute’s history. 

Miami Book Fair offers the Writer’s Institute, Monday - Friday, July 27 – 31. Individual workshops and five-day courses cost from $50 – $400. For more information and to register, go to