Guest Blog Post | Angela Palm: "Writers and Writing Centers: Building a Literary Community"

October 8, 2013
PictureOutdoor Meeting Space at the Renegade Writers' Collective of Burlington, VT
Writing centers unaffiliated with academia are popping up all over the country. Many of these centers model themselves after the long-standing successes of Boston’s Grub Street, The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, Philadelphia’s Kelly Writers House, and The Center for Fiction in New York City. Typically, writing centers offer quality craft classes taught by established writers and seasoned professors, a writing series featuring a mix of readings given by well-known and emerging writers, and a variety of manuscript services, enrichment opportunities such as writing retreats, access to reference libraries, and more. Recently at the 2013 AWP conference in Boston and at the Bread Loaf Writing Conference 2013 in Ripton, Vermont, special panels were presented to people either involved in the management of a writing center or interested in starting a writing center in their city. Both presentations were so well attended that people were forced to listen from the hallway.

No longer are serious writers simply turning to their writing workshop groups to polish their latest prose or poetry. (And smartly so. Many of us can attest to the frequency with which these groups tend to fall apart and the often low quality or dichotomous feedback received.) The trend toward the local writing center suggests that writers are interested in engaging with one another in formally established forums equipped with all the resources they need to become better writers and engage with a lively literary community.

The Renegade Writers’ Collective of Burlington, Vermont, which I founded in June 2013 along with writer Jessica Hendry Nelson, is one such writing center. As newcomers to Burlington in 2011, we found ourselves wanting to take writing classes on the flash essay, on the braided essay, on blending genre, and on developing longer works of fiction, but we were at a loss for options. The nearest place to take such a class was Boston, a three-hour drive from Burlington. We couldn’t even find a regular reading series at which to read our work or listen to work by others in what we knew to be a city dense with writers of staggering accomplishment. So we built a writing center that does both of those things with the ultimate goal of building literary citizenship among Vermonters and beyond.

A writing center does not grow over night—just ask anyone who works at Grub Street or The Loft. While RWC’s literary events—readings, a fantastic literary pub crawl, and a writing retreat—have been enormously popular from the get-go, classes are slower to fill. As a brand new writing center, one of the challenges we face is convincing writers that they should take classes, especially when they may already be a part of a small writing group that is free. We know many writers who have never been published and want to be published, but only go as far as attending informal community workshops to improve their craft. To these individuals, we highlight the following benefits of taking classes at a writing center:

1.    A guaranteed spot in an appropriately-sized class led by a highly qualified writer/instructor with a proven publication, teaching, and/or editing history. This means you can trust the feedback you receive, and it eliminates the guesswork which often accompanies feedback from informal writing groups. Writers work closely with the instructor, honing their craft in a supportive, rigorous, and dedicated environment. 

2.        Classes that are exactly the type you'll find in an MFA program, with the same level of instruction (or better!). The bonus: Classes are affordable, open to anyone, and convenient to the average adult’s schedule with programming on nights and weekends. Classes at a writing center are the answer for people who don’t have two or three years and $40,000 to dedicate to an MFA program, but they’re also ideal for those who want to pursue postgraduate study. 

3.      A built-in platform for emerging writers
. Have a book coming out? A new publication you’d like to read in front of an audience comprised of more than your Grandma and your best friends? A writing center provides an audience for you and wants to showcase new and local talent. It’s also a great place to meet new people who share your interests, attend free panels on publishing, test out writing material on a new audience via a workshop, and receive invaluable feedback in a supportive environment.

4.    Writing classes pay local instructors to provide local service, adding to the professional opportunities for educators and established writers and growing a locally-owned small business in a single stroke. In an era in which it is increasingly difficult to find consistent work as a writing instructor or as a writer in general, writing centers provide another way to make writing a “career.” It also helps public and community aspects of the literary arts keep up with other artistic disciplines by continually celebrating and strengthening its artistic “market share.”

5.        Learning cannot stop. The minute you think you know it all, you’ve stopped being a writer. Creative writing blossoms when the writer is stimulated and exposed to new people, ideas, and ways of looking at words.

If you’re a writer and your community has a writing center, I encourage you to try a class, attend a reading or panel, and engage with the literary community that awaits you.

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Angela Palm is a co-founder of the Renegade Writers’ Collective, a writing center in Burlington, Vermont. Her work appears in Midwestern Gothic, Sundog Lit, Prick of the Spindle, ARDOR Literary Magazine, Little Fiction, and elsewhere. She is a nonfiction editor for The Fiddleback, a literary journal, and attended the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference 2013. Palm is working on her first novel.

More information about the Renegade Writers' Collective is available online at:
www.renegadewritersvt.com 

or via email at:
renegadewritersvt@gmail.com

You can connect with Angela on Twitter at either @AngPalm or @RenegadeWriting

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