State of the Arts
Pub crawls tend to be riotous affairs. Poetry readings, not so much. What happens when you combine them?
Some attendees of this fall’s Burlington Book Festival will find out, courtesy of a new business called Renegade Writers’ Collective. They’ll board the ArtsRiot bus for a “literary pub crawl” with stops at five venues and writing prompts along the way, ending with a performance by PoJazz.
It’s just one of many activities RWC owners Jessica Hendry Nelson and Angela Palm have planned for the area’s “literary citizens” this fall. RWC has many facets: It’s a writing center with headquarters at Burlington’s recently opened Karma Bird House. It’s an editing service. It will run reading series, an annual writers’ retreat — coming up this September in Lincoln — and seminars with writing professionals, including Vermont poet laureate Sydney Lea. Everything kicks off this Saturday with a reading at Burlington’s JDK Gallery, featuring Canadian short-story writer Andrew F. Sullivan and Maine folk duo the High Spirits.
Nelson, 29, and Palm, 31, moved to Vermont in 2011 from New York and Indiana, respectively. They met at the Burlington Writers Workshop, where they discovered they were both “looking for a larger community” of writers, Palm says. Palm has an editing background and is working on an anthology of writers’ reflections on vintage Vermont library slips. Nelson teaches writing at Johnson State College and has a memoir in essays forthcoming in February from Counterpoint Press.
Many writers, the two women say, seek in vain for instruction that’s more formal than workshop feedback but doesn’t entail the commitment and cost of an MFA program. That’s what they hope to offer with their short seminars — and perhaps, starting in January, longer classes. Their model is Boston’s Grub Street, which offers writers an array of workshops, manuscript assistance and readings. The aim is to have “something for everyone, no matter what sort of writing or what level you’re at,” Palm says.
The 14 fall seminars cover a range of writing issues and genres, with instructors ranging from Lea to young-adult author Rachel Carter to Janice Obuchowski, a member of the New England Review’s editorial board. How did the Renegades snag the laureate? Palm says she got to know Lea as a contributor to her anthology: “He was super-excited and eager to get something going with us.”
So what’s “renegade” about RWC? Nelson says it started as the name she and Palm gave their own small writing group — and stuck. “It suggests fresh, multidisciplinary, a little bit edgy, and not staid and boring,” she says, adding with a laugh, “It’s not your grandpa’s writing center.”
Indeed. RWC is partnering with ArtsRiot to hold readings at the latter’s soon-to-open Pine Street gallery-café. Nelson and Palm plan to shake up the classic podium model with a competitive “reader face-off” and events featuring visual art, music and food (“meatball cook-offs,” Nelson suggests with a grin). They’ll take the reins of ArtsRiot’s storytelling night and give it a “camp-fire tales” spin with themed refreshments. And one of the readings they plan for fall is devoted to science fiction, highlighting writers such as Geek Mountain State’s Andrew Liptak, who blogs about SF and more for Kirkus Reviews.
Writing tends to be a solitary activity, but public reading “builds up writers from a craft perspective and builds up an audience,” Palm says. She and Nelson hope to do the same with their other offerings. All in a day’s work for a couple of renegades.
Renegade Reading Series. Saturday, July 27, 6 to 10 p.m. at JDK Gallery in Burlington. $5 suggested donation.
Renegade Writers’ Collective First Annual Writers’ Retreat. Friday through Sunday, September 27 to 29, at Zeno Mountain Farm in Lincoln. $200. Space is limited; more info and registration form at renegadewritersvt.com .