Julia Tagliere is a Maryland author and the founder of the MoCo Underground Reading Series. MoCo Underground showcases writers ages 16 and up sharing their original fiction, nonfiction, or poetry at a quarterly series of free public readings held at the Sandy Spring Museum in Sandy Spring, Maryland. Each event features six to eight readers, reading for five to eight minutes each. MoCo Underground is open to both published and not-yet-published writers and especially encourages student writers to submit. For more information and details on how to submit, please visit https://justscribbling.com/mocounderground/. That’s also where you can find more about Julia and her writing.
What is the genesis story of the MoCo Underground Reading Series? What made you decide to start it?
I’ve been fortunate to read for other DMV-based series—The Inner Loop Reading Series and Readings on the Pike, among others—and those have been phenomenal experiences. They’ve provided me with the opportunity not only to share my work, but also to revel in the work of other writers, to connect with them, to enlarge and enrich my literary circle; I’m deeply grateful for their existence. However, the drive from my neck of the woods in Montgomery County can be tough, frankly; some nights, I was spending more time on the road than at the readings themselves. I began talking with more writers from my area, and they were saying the same thing: they wanted the opportunities, but the distance was a legitimate concern for them. Then at AWP this spring, I attended a panel on starting a community reading series, and that inspired me enough to roll up my sleeves and get to work. “See a need, fill a need.”
What is the significance of the name?
“MoCo” obviously refers to the series’ location in Montgomery County. As for “Underground,” that’s long been used as shorthand for cultural, musical, or artistic endeavors that aren’t necessarily mainstream, are harder to pin down, and that connotation definitely appealed to me. But there’s also the undeniable history of Sandy Spring, home to our venue, the Sandy Spring Museum. This community was a major waypoint on the Underground Railroad, so I felt a deep need to be thoughtful about my use of the word. I started doing some research and came across a photo of a professional storyteller for one of Montgomery County Parks’ Underground Railroad Experience’s night hikes. In it, the storyteller was holding up a lantern along the trail; that image stuck with me for days. I started thinking about how, at every step of my own writing path, generous, bighearted writers have lit the way for me. You see, if you hold your lantern low, you only light the path for yourself, but if you hold your lantern high, you light the way for others, too, and that’s really become my guiding spirit for this endeavor. I hope that as the series takes off, readers and guests alike feel I’m making good on that vision.
You just held the inaugural event on June 20, with readings from five Maryland writers. How did it feel to bring those voices together? What do you envision for the future of the series?
It was wonderful! I’m so grateful they shared their work with us, every one of them. We had a little bit of everything that night, from student reader Maryam Higazi’s touching essay to PEN Open Book Award nominee Tyrese Coleman’s excerpts from her stunning book How to Sit. Each reading was so unique, so honest and beautiful. If I’m able to showcase that sort of literary depth, diversity, beauty, and power at each event, that’s my vision fulfilled, right there.
The series encourages younger writers in particular to submit work—each event will feature two students from Montgomery County-area high schools. Why do you think it’s so important to focus on younger writers?
Well, my goal is to feature two students. This time around I was thrilled to feature both a current Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) student and a recent Montgomery Community College graduate. I’ve been trying to work with MCPS to get the word out to students, but that’s presenting more challenges than I’d anticipated (hopefully, this interview will help!).
Look, we’re in an era where something like 24% of American adults haven’t read a single book in the last year; we’re also witnessing concerted attacks on journalism. Virtually every writer I know writes around at least a part-time job, if not a full-time one. This is not an easy path to follow. For this next generation, just setting out takes courage—it does for all writers, of course—but, especially for younger writers, it also takes support and a sense of community. The work we do as writers matters, not just for its inherent value, but also for making sure we keep that lantern burning for the next generation. It’s my fondest hope that giving these young writers the chance not only to share their work but also to “rub elbows” with more established writers, to ask them questions and learn about what this writer’s life is like, to help create early on that sense of community and connection for them, will encourage them to keep writing, will fortify that spirit that made them first set pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). The veteran writers benefit, too, I think, from seeing the passion and optimism in these younger writers; it was really something to witness.
You’re a writer yourself. Can you tell me about what you’re working on?
I’m currently seeking representation for my next novel, The Day the Music Didn’t Die, a tragicomic literary romp with elements of magic, ghost stories, romance, and pop culture. But around my novels, I’m always working on other things: short stories, essays, book reviews, a little poetry here and there. I’m actually taking a poetry workshop at The Writer’s Center over the next few weeks, and I’m really excited about that. My latest short story, “Casting Stones,” is coming out in Gargoyle Magazine this month, and I’m deeply honored it will be included this September in Us Against Alzheimer’s: Stories of Family, Love, and Faith, a groundbreaking multicultural anthology being published in collaboration with the UsAgainstAlzheimer’s organization. It’s a cause near and dear to my heart. Anyone interested in learning more about what I’m up to can visit my website, justscribbling.com.
The next reading is on September 26 in Sandy Spring, Maryland. Why should authors participate in this event? And how can they submit their work?
What a writer gets out of participating depends on where they are on the path. For published authors with books to sell, it’s another opportunity to promote their work and hopefully sell a few copies at the reading. For those with work less widely available in bookstores—only available online, for example—it’s a chance to expand their audience, which is always a good thing. For student writers, maybe it’s encouragement, validation that what they’re doing is important, and the chance to meet more established writers. For the audience, it’s a window into other worlds, other perspectives, a chance to come as close to walking in someone else’s shoes as we ever will; that’s what writing is, after all. For all of us, I hope it’s a time to connect, to expand and strengthen our literary circle in ways that will last well beyond the night’s readings.
Writers ages 16 and up can find more information about our series at https://justscribbling.com/mocounderground/. They can submit their work by sending a writing sample (no more than 2,000 words, please) to firstname.lastname@example.org; please include “Submission” in the subject line of your email, and if you are a student or recent graduate, please note that, too. #holdyourlighthigh
Many thanks to Julia for sitting down with us to answer some questions!