My Writer’s Center

Desirée Magney

Desirée Magney

On August 1, the Little Patuxent Review (LPR) will be showcasing some of its many talented contributors at The Writer’s Center (TWC) in Bethesda, Maryland. In addition to readings by authors featured in our Summer Issue, LPR editors will discuss the submission and selection process.

writers centerI am particularly excited about this event, not only because I serve on the board of LPR but also because TWC is such an important part of my writing life. I’ve been a member and supporter of TWC for many years, so I am pleased to see LPR expand its presence into Montgomery County via this home of the literary arts.

What transpires day after day in this unimposing, two-story building in Bethesda is remarkable. Workshops are taught in every genre, literary events are held, open mics welcome all writers, writing groups meet, plays are performed, and for the past 25 years it has been the home of Poet Lore, the nation’s oldest poetry journal. But on a personal level, TWC helped form me as a writer and continues to do so.

I’ve always been a reader even though we had scant books in our home growing up. The only bookcase in my parents’ house had three short shelves. It sat under my bedroom window. The matching red bindings of Poe, Shakespeare, and Wilde sat above the green spines of an encyclopedia set someone sold door-to-door. And then, there were the blonde Nancy Drews and the exquisitely illustrated The Fairy Tale Book. I mined them in search of their golden nuggets. As a child, each offered a taste of something different, a world I could escape to behind my bedroom door. I watched spring arrive in the corner of the garden of Oscar Wilde’s The Selfish Giant. I stood in the snow with Vania as the stag in Silvershod, struck his hoof creating gems whose colors tumbled into the night. And I rode with Nancy in her roadster to solve her latest mystery. I became a reader but I wasn’t yet a writer. Yet, even as a child I admired each writer’s ability to draw me in. It wasn’t until well into adulthood, taking classes at TWC, when I felt a writing life was possible for me.

About eight years ago, I signed up for my first workshop, “Creative Writing.” I learned to stop during the course of my day and take in whatever was happening around me with all of my senses. This use of sensory detail is something I try to incorporate to make my personal narratives and poetry come alive. I’ve taken many memoir, poetry, fiction, and travel writing classes. I’ve joined writing groups with fellow students. In a sense, TWC workshops became my personal MFA program. I was given the honor of a “Best in Workshop” reading and published a number of personal narratives in various magazines, and slowly began to feel I was part of the writing community – that I was indeed a writer. My personal essay “The Horn of Freedom”  was published in  The Writer’s Center Winter 2015 publication.

Whenever I walk through the door at TWC, I know I am entering a safe place to share myself and my writing. I’m entering a community of writers who are generous with their time to one another and who are supportive with their praise, critiques, and knowledge.

A perfect day is getting lost in my writing, looking up at the clock, thinking a few minutes have passed, only to discover it has been hours. It took me years to discover this new me and I don’t think it would have happened without the support of TWC and its writing community. So, I will enjoy this August 1st event, watching the confluence of the journal of which I am so proud and the place that is such an integral part of my writing life. Won’t you join me?

Online Editor’s Note: Join Little Patuxent Review editors Laura Shovan, Emily Rich, and Steve Levya, and writers published in LPR as The Writer’s Center celebrates publication of LPR’s Summer issue. The reading will be followed by a reception. 

Readers include Joseph Ross, George Guida, Rachel Eisler, Katy Day, Danuta E. Kosk-Kosicka, Adam Schwartz, and Paul Carlson.

 

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Meet the Neighbors: Litmore

A journal such as ours requires a vibrant literary and artistic environment to thrive—and even survive. In appreciation of the various cultural entities around us, we present “Meet the Neighbors,” a series where we provide you with personal introductions to a diverse assortment.

The Maryland-D.C. area is rich with writing resources. Though I’ve grown up in this area, I didn’t discover 99% of them until recently. Some of this is due to my own short-sight, but the other reason is because many of them are just rising up. One of the most exciting resources to pop up in recent years is Litmore, a Baltimore-based writing center run by Barbara Morisson and Julie Fisher.

?????????????????????I first heard about Litmore through Barbara, as we were both attending the Maryland Writers Association conference. I didn’t know her very well at the time, but asked her if Litmore was looking for instructors and she encouraged me to apply. This was right when Litmore was starting out, and I felt honored  to be part of this venture. Having taught at the University of Maryland, I was excited to diversify my teaching experience and get to lead workshops that focused on the content I was most excited about.

Since then, Litmore has diversified its workshop list, taken on open mike series, and has moved into the heart of Baltimore, sharing space with a beautiful art studio. And let me clarify that this hasn’t been over a span of five, ten years. It’s been not even a year! Barbara does a wonderful job with Litmore—she has a heart for the written word and the writing community. Beyond Litmore, she’s an active member of the Maryland Writer’s Association, and has several successful books of her own.

Many things make Litmore stick out from the other writing centers in the area. First off is its atmosphere. The first Litmore location was a house just north of Baltimore, and I loved the idea of that: inhabiting a house with writing. It was quiet and peaceful, and it’s no wonder Litmore hosted weekly write-ins there. If I lived closer to Baltimore, I would’ve come to those write-ins, hands down! Even the new location in the middle of the city maintains this welcome spirit. This isn’t just because of the coffee and tea set out for guests, the flyers for local literary magazines and events, or even the new poetry library. It’s the events Barbara and Julie host.

Besides workshops, Litmore hosts writing retreats, “writing hours” (which are an opportunity to write as well as network with fellow Baltimore writers), open mikes and reading series, book clubs, book releases, and more. These events revolve not just around the craft but also in developing a community of writers. While I’ve been to other writer’s centers where I’m not sure where I should be or who to talk to, Litmore makes me feel at home. Click here to see the upcoming events at Litmore.

Litmore2

Photo by: John Kevin III

Litmore’s welcoming community is reinforced through their workshops. These workshops are intimate, practical, unpretentious, and reasonably priced. Workshops cover topics including: marketing, publishing, memoirs, workshops for children, and even workshops where editors give feedback on novel excerpts. While many writing centers focus almost exclusively on craft, Litmore hosts a successful balance of focus on both craft and professional development. Their prices are quite low, making them accessible to everyone. They also give discounts for Litmore members.

We need more places like Litmore: safe houses for writing and writers alike. If you haven’t been, take a look at their site and see if any upcoming workshops strike your fancy. You won’t be disappointed.

Online Editor’s Note: Litmore plays host this coming Sat., Feb. 21, to “Get Started on Your Marketing Plan” from 1-4 pm (tickets required) and “Writers’ Alchemy Release” at 6 pm (Cost: $15, which includes a free book). Sun., Feb. 22 you can see LPR Contributor Fred Foote’s multi-media performance based upon his award-winning book, “Medic Against Bomb: A Doctor’s Poetry Against War.”

A Safe Space for Students: The Jiménez-Porter Writers’ House

As a sophomore at the University of Maryland, I joined the Jiménez-Porter Writers’ House, a living-learning program that puts students interested in creative writing in one dormitory and conducts workshops and classes in the same building. The people I met there, staff and students alike, not only dramatically improved my writing but catalyzed a mental revolution in how I thought about language and art, all while fostering close friendships (in New York I still live with two of my friends that I met through Writers’ House).

Writers’ House also afforded opportunities to explore other aspects of writing by providing support for programs like a regular open-mic night (the previously mentioned TerPoets) and a literary journal, and taking on the roles of performer or editor also expanded my view of the literary word. The woman who continually protects and develops this magical space is Johnna Schmidt, who recently led her students to the 2014 Split This Rock Poetry Festival. Johnna talks about this experience:

Priya is in my office, explaining that she regrets not being more involved in the Jimenez-Porter Writers’ House. She wishes she had more time, she’s been overcommitted. And it’s true that I have had almost no contact with her. I tell her (a) the door is open, and (b) she owes me nothing. When I look up her record after our meeting I see she is a BIO SCI: PHNB major and I don’t even know what that means, other than that she must have a skill set much more lucrative than mine. This is how it is with college students these days. Having gone through K-12 with the emphasis so firmly set on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math for those of you who have somehow been spared the acronym), many of them reach college starving for artistic or literary engagement but remain too busy putting together their resumes to be able to carve out the room in their schedules for something so unnecessary as art. After all, it won’t lead to a real career, right? And their parents, who are probably sacrificing quite a bit to foot the bill for college, are firm on this point:  You better major in the sciences, business, or technology.

And here am I, teaching poetry and fiction writing at University of Maryland, insisting that such a pursuit is worth your time. I suggest to Priya that she might want to attend the field trip to Split This Rock. I’m only being practical; I have purchased 20 student passes to Split This Rock and am trying to make sure they get used.

A few weeks later Priya is on the Shuttle-UM bus to the metro, surrounded by 19 other students. She is reading Natalie Diaz’ book of poems When My Brother Was an Aztec. We are on the way to meet Natalie and I’ve offered my copy around. I love watching the students read and write. Their attentive bodies. They way everything stops and they become so focused. It’s almost like they enter a different world. I suppose they do.

Natalie Diaz reading at Split This Rock Poetry Festival. (Photo courtesy of Split This Rock.)

Natalie Diaz reading at Split This Rock Poetry Festival. (Photo courtesy of Split This Rock.)

Downtown, in the conference room at the Institute of Policy Studies, Natalie Diaz is suggesting that we need to explode our language. She suggests we crack things open. She confesses that she has tried to write sestinas several times but hasn’t figured out how to break the form yet. She says if we use the word “apple” we need to be aware not only of the etymology of the word but also the mythology, the aphorisms, common usages, and associations. “Apple” is carrying all of that and more to the reader. She finally suggests that we only really know things when they are broken. How many times have we heard some version of “I didn’t know how much I used my right index finger until I broke it.” Even with family members who die or become very ill, we understand their place in the family better when they are absent. It strikes me now that we seem incapable of fully understanding the interconnectedness of things while they are fully functioning.

All of us are listening intently. Priya  keeps asking questions, even after our time with Natalie is supposed to be over. It’s turning into a tete-a-tete between Priya and Natalie. I’m sorry I have to cut them off and let everyone go. Natalie offers that anyone who has additional questions for her can email her.

(Photo courtesy of Split This Rock.)

(Photo courtesy of Split This Rock.)

Waiting for me at my office on Monday is a thank you note from Priya for giving her the opportunity to attend Split This Rock over the weekend. She’s had several conversations with writers she admires over the weekend, and she uses the words “incredible” and “awesome.”  But my favorite phrase is this one: “this festival was one of my first exposures to spoken word/slam poetry, and I’ve completely fallen in love with it.”  She also asks for Natalie’s email address.

Is there any better pursuit for a college student than to fall in love?  Reason tells us yes, there are better pursuits, skills to learn, career enhancements, work to be done. But, dear reader, who I am assuming to be middle-aged like myself, do you remember your body, back before it was broken, when you were 18, 19, 20 years old?  The body will not be denied ecstasy. Do you remember the urgency of youth, how we pursued things so impatiently, how passionately we loved and believed? I have no doubt that Priya has experienced a turning point. That she’s coming away from the festival with more interesting thoughts than ever and perhaps a new set of antennae with which to gauge the changing environment.

Perhaps it has always been this way, the vitality of the arts spilling into our lives and making converts of us one by one, when we all had more practical uses planned for our time. Art the inevitable interruption; in the face of something really great we drop our Excel spreadsheets. All the parents and administrators in world pushing on the younger generation can’t stop them from falling in love.

My feelings mirror Priya’s. Not only do I feel incredibly grateful for the program that Johnna has shaped, but Split This Rock in particular is an incredibly charged and thrilling way to experience language. It was at the 2012 Split This Rock Poetry Festival that I was first blown away by the DC Youth Slam Team and first learned about June Jordan. At Split This Rock I stood on the steps of the Supreme Court and delivered one line of poetry in a cento of protest. I went home feeling like language and reality were more closely bound together than ever, and that we were all engaged in building that language, that reality. If you haven’t been to the poetry festival yet, be sure to go in future years. Thanks also to Sarah Browning and her staff.

Meet the Neighbors: The Ivy Bookshop

A journal such as ours requires a vibrant literary and artistic environment to thrive—and even survive. In appreciation of the various cultural entities around us, we present “Meet the Neighbors,” a series where we provide you with personal introductions to a diverse assortment.

Rebecca Oppenheimer

Rebecca Oppenheimer

Little compares to a well-tended bookshop. Whether traveling alone or with friends, it seems that in every city I explore, I explore my way into a bookshop. Today Rebecca Oppenheimer offers you a peek into The Ivy Bookshop in Baltimore. Rebecca maintains The Ivy Bookshop’s blog, keeping visitors up to date about news in and beyond the literary world of the shop. Here’s what she had to say about the place:

Founded in 2001 as a more intimate alternative to the big chain stores, The Ivy Bookshop has grown from a beloved neighborhood fixture to a major presence across the Baltimore metropolis and beyond.

Our mission as Baltimore’s literary independent bookstore is to serve as a bridge between writers and readers – on a large scale by hosting and participating in author events and other literary happenings, and on a smaller scale every day by offering our customers the best literature of all types and genres.

The Ivy Bookshop’s storefront located at 6080 Falls Rd., Baltimore, MD.

We host over 100 in-store author events a year. Our recent events have included readings by Man Booker Prize winner James Kelman, Momastery blogger Glennon Doyle Melton, Edgar Award winner Paul French and national security expert David Sanger. Earlier this year, we launched two popular event series: Crimes and Misdemeanors, which focuses on the best in mystery, suspense and true crime, and Front Table, which spotlights authors of outstanding literary fiction and memoir. We also host many writers who hail from closer to home – from debut authors just building an audience to national figures like Laura Lippman, Jessica Anya Blau and Marion Winik. We’ve held panels and discussions on topics ranging from Jane Austen to the Preakness.

The Ivy is also a presence in the greater Baltimore literary community. Through partnerships with the Baltimore Speakers Series, the Enoch Pratt Free Library, the Sheridan Libraries of Johns Hopkins University and other pivotal institutions, we are connecting all the time with new readers. We look forward to our annual appearance at the Baltimore Book Festival, where we get to introduce ourselves to a huge pool of book lovers.

So yes – we enjoy getting out and about! But an equally vital part of who we are is what goes on our shelves. The Ivy is a store run by book people for book people. Every member of our staff – both front and back office – loves to read and feels strongly about getting the best books possible onto The Ivy’s shelves. Will you find the latest bestsellers here? Absolutely! But you can also venture off the beaten path by delving a little deeper into our inventory.

Each of our sections includes classics and current popular titles – but also books you might not have heard of before seeing them on our shelves. We have titles from university presses, small presses and boutique imprints of larger publishing houses. These books are here not because they have a massive marketing budget behind them, but because we’re intrigued by them and think you will be, too.

We are delighted to count Little Patuxent Review among our partners. LPR shares The Ivy’s commitment to a thriving local literary scene, and to providing space for extraordinary voices, both established and new.

Rebecca mentioned the plethora of events that The Ivy hosts, and it’s absolutely true. Their calendar is flush with happenings  through November! What she didn’t mention is that another way The Ivy Bookshop is working hard to connect readers and literature is their book club registry, which also well-worth checking out.

Of course, Rebecca’s words and your imagination can only take you so far. What you really must do now is navigate your way to 6080 Falls Road and begin to map out the yet uncharted regions of The Ivy Bookshop.