Pat Conroy. Mary Alice Monroe. Sue Monk Kidd. Many aspiring authors fantasize that theirs is the next big name in books, but reality has a tragic plot twist in store. A recent survey of authors says that 80 percent make $1,000 or less a year.
South Carolina's Poet Laureate Marjory Wentworth says writing for a living is a long-term game. "Getting published is like running a marathon. You don't just wake up one day and do it, you have to train. Writers have to train for publishing; they need to learn their craft."
In addition to serving as poet laureate for 10 years (of the lifetime post), Wentworth teaches English at the Art Institute and writing classes at Roper Hospital. She serves on the board of the S.C. Poets Society and is the author of four poetry collections and a children's book. She's also co-written an autobiography and co-edited a collection of literature inspired by the artwork of Jonathan Green.
The Lowcountry Initiative for the Literary Arts (LILA) was created in 2004 by Wentworth and College of Charleston English professor Carol Ann Davis. "We were serving on a board, and I quickly realized she was a kindred spirit," she says. "Both of us are invested in Charleston needing a writer community and getting that writer community into the greater community."
This year, LILA introduces Write Charleston (WC), a series of workshops and readings connecting seasoned, published writers with aspiring and unpublished ones. Through these events and growing its membership, LILA aims to raise the funds necessary to achieve two major goals. One, hire an executive director, and two, create Charleston's first-ever brick-and-mortar Writers' Center.
LILA's first decade has been a flurry of activity. It hosted many of its early events, like Poetry Out Loud at the College of Charleston. It also forged a relationship with the Charleston County Public Library to launch events like Capital Bookfest and create The Big Read program, providing free paperback copies of Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God to all library patrons, with the goal of encouraging reading and discussion of one classic American novel countywide. From the beginning, LILA has been affiliated with the Poetry Society of South Carolina and the former Poetry Initiative at the University of South Carolina.
LILA also made it a priority to bring poetry into local schools. Member Jonathan Sanchez worked with Burke High School students to create collections of poetry and stories. The students' work was published in seven journals over a six-year period. Unfortunately, changes in school leadership and a lack of grant funding brought Burke's program to an abrupt end. However, Sanchez relaunched the Poets in the Schools program at Haut Gap Middle. This time, its primary sponsor was his business, Blue Bicycle Books. This spring, Haut Gap will produce its second volume of creative writing. Wentworth says LILA would like to see poetry programs expanded to more area schools in the coming years.
In launching Write Charleston, Wentworth says she struggled to find a meeting place. She asked musician Mark Bryan and artist Jonathan Green if there was a religious center ideal for holding writers workshops nearby. Coincidentally, both suggested Circular Congregational Church. As she reflected on it, the more Circular made perfect sense. Wentworth was delighted that the new reverend there, Jeremy Rutledge, was receptive to the idea.
"Both Rutledge and his predecessor are excellent writers," she says. "The arts are part of Circular's mission. It's astounding what their calendar looks like. So it's been a great fit. It's great to meet with them and see what their community wants to do with LILA."
We all know how this story ends. But it's only the beginning for a storied city and writer hub getting an official home for the literary arts.
A big slate of events
All WC events will be held at the Circular Congregational Church of Charleston's Lance Hall on the third Saturday of each month. Readings are performed in the church on the fourth Thursday, followed by a book signing and reception. A quick review of the schedule shows that LILA's workshop instructors and readers have extensive resumes in their writing niches. Workshop prices vary, and students must pre-register on the LILA website. Members receive a discount. Readings are free, but donations are recommended.
WC kicks things off Thurs. Jan. 30 with Mary Alice Monroe and Signe Pike reading from their latest books, Second Star to the Right and Faery Tale: One Woman's Search for Enchantment in a Modern World, respectively.
In February, Stephanie Hunt will lead a workshop on creative nonfiction writing for magazines. "We'll look at what makes a compelling story, like writing solid leads and generating narrative flow," says Hunt. "There will be some short writing exercises, and we'll touch on the mechanics of pitching editors."
Hunt is a frequent contributor to Christian Science Monitor, Chicago Tribune, Poets & Writers, Literary Mama, Charleston, and Skirt! magazines. February's reading will be performed by Aida Rogers, editor of the book State of the Heart: South Carolina Writers on the Places They Love. She will be joined by contributors William Baldwin, Ken Burger, Stephen Hoffius, Horace Mungin, and Wentworth.
In March, Marcus Amaker will lead a poetry and spoken word class. He says, "Students in my class will write a poem, then perform it. It will be an exercise in the art of spoken word." Amaker is the author of five poetry collections, most recently, The Spoken Word: Selected Poems, 2003-2013. A man of many talents, he is also a graphic designer, webmaster, and videographer. March's reading features four poets with new books: Richard Garcia, Susan Meyers, Barbara Hagerty, and Wentworth.
In April, the plot thickens. There are workshops scheduled on the first, second, and fourth Saturdays. The first explores writing as a creative and spiritual journey with Mary Ann Henry, the second explores memoir writing with Elliott Dobson, and the last covers complicated poetry with Susan Laughter Meyers.
At this time, no April reading is scheduled, but the Poetry Society of South Carolina will host its Spring Forum at Lance Hall on April 11. The first-ever Publishing Smart Conference (PubSmartCon) is scheduled for April 16-18 at the Francis Marion Hotel. Among PubSmartCon's many sponsors are local firms Where Writers Win, Pressque, and CreateSpace. Where Writers Win and Pressque are led and staffed by LILA members.
In May, there are three workshops scheduled: a screenwriting class with Peter Wentworth, a manuscript editing workshop with Signe Pike and Ellen Davis, and a scholarly publishing workshop with Alexander Moore. May's reading will be performed by John Warley, from his book, A Southern Girl.
Visit lilaconnects.com for more information on these events.