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Monday, July 11, 2011

Writers Need Community

I just returned from the first Turner Cassity Literary Festival in Douglasville, Georgia. The event honored Cassity, a curmudgeon of a southern poet, playwright, and short-story writer and a former librarian in Africa and then at Emory University in Atlanta. He passed away in 2009, but a cousin of his attended the event and told a few tales about the eccentric man who won many awards and earned a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Three of the five presenters at the festival were known best for their poetry. The only other female presenter and I were both better known for our prose, although it comes as no surprise that we both wrote poetry too.

One of the speakers quoted someone else, and I wish I could remember who he quoted who said, “If you write poetry when you’re eighteen, you’re an eighteen-year-old. If you still write poetry when you’re forty, you’re a poet.” The quotation came up during a Q & A session with the speakers, when someone asked of us how we started writing and what sustains us. We all agreed that the things that sustain us are festivals, conferences, seminars, workshops, meetings, critique circles, and generally being around other writers, as we were all doing that weekend. I had been writing for a living as a journalist and business communicator for many years before I attended my first writers conference in 1983. There I found inspiration and encouragement to learn more about the creative side writing and ways to make even my articles and business communications stronger, better, and more creative. I probably never would have become a book doctor/book editor had I not attended writers conferences and joined a critique circle back in the early 1980s.

What could be better than schmoozing with other writers? When writers ask me how they can get inspiration and motivation, I emphasize the importance of joining a critique circle, attending meetings with writers, joining and participating in organizations for writers, and attending literary festivals and conferences.

Writer, sustain thyself! Drink from the river of knowledge that flows from fellow writers. It may take a village to raise a child, but it takes a community to raise a writer.