Friday, March 17, 2017

Literary community: Regular local events form literary hub


Campus Pollyeye’s stuffed breadsticks—Bowling Green, Ohio’s, second-best thing

Today’s post is the second of a three-part series. You can see the first part, on how reading factors into literary citizenship, here.

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I really didn’t know at the time I resided in Bowling Green, Ohio, that I was living in a writer’s paradise.

It’s a town of 30,000, and the second-best thing about it is the stuffed breadsticks at Campus Pollyeye’s, but the first best thing is the literary community fostered by the Creative Writing Program at Bowling Green State University—and touching the entire region and beyond.

One of the best things the program does is host a Thursday night reading series. Every Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. when school is in session, students in the MFA and BFA programs go to a reading together. Often the readers are visiting writers who were invited in by the program. Sometimes the readers are faculty. And sometimes the readers are graduate students (every one of them gives a reading in each of the two years of the program) or undergraduate majors (who get a chance to read once before they graduate). Returning alumni are frequently featured as well.

Undergraduate creative writing majors and minors are required to attend the reading series as a for-credit class, which ensures a nice crowd. (And they seem to like it—they’re majoring in the field, after all.) Graduate students go to support one another, and they quickly adopt it s a key part of their culture. And, most beautifully, townspeople and writers from the region also attend, mainly because the weekly event is the cornerstone of a broad community of writers.

The BGSU Creative Writing Program is a university entity, obviously, but I also know of many similar cornerstone programs that are not sponsored by universities, and they are equally magical. Plenty of regular reading series are set in coffeehouses, bars, galleries, and libraries, as well as other kinds of institutions (a very incomplete list appears at the end of this post). University affiliation is not at all necessary for fostering a literary community, but the regular rhythms of an academic calendar or a set-aside day and time (Thursdays, first Mondays, etc.) help communities to cement. In my experience, there are a lot of lone-wolf writers, but these are vastly outnumbered by writers who love an occasion to get together over words. 

I moved away from Bowling Green nearly five years ago, and I now live in a city without a regularly gathering literary community. My new city has a very strong visual arts community, with a monthly Art Walk serving the role I’m describing, but for visual artists instead of writers. (I should note that this monthly celebration of the arts is a very welcoming venue, and it often includes performances, including readings, as part of the mix.) I find that I miss having a place to be once a week, though, to enjoy the community of writers. When I had this, I didn’t know how lucky I was.

That’s not to say that my town is without opportunities for writing fun. There is a writers guild, a university reading series hosting occasional visiting writers, a vibrant slam scene, and intimate writing groups here and there. A writer looking to commune with fellow scribblers doesn’t have to wait long or look far to find something exciting happening, and the people involved with all of these organizations are very welcoming.

A literary community is especially enjoyable for me when I can participate face to face. A weekly or monthly reading series makes that very easy to do—and it also helps to build audiences for new writing. I encourage all writers and literary enthusiasts to check to see if there is a regular reading series near them, and if so, to try showing up once. Writers tend to be a welcoming bunch, and those who try out a local reading series will almost certainly want to go again.

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I asked for recommendations from friends of their favorite reading series, and here’s a partial (randomly ordered) list, including towns both big and small. Some info here is unverified:

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