Charlotte Lit: Forming a Community Around Literature

Pictured: Ada Limon speaking at the poetry reading in The Gambrell Center

Recently, Charlotte Lit partnered with Queens University of Charlotte to hold a poetry reading in the Gambrell Center on campus. Events like this give easier access to college students and allow poetry to be appreciated by a wider audience.

We all benefit from a sense of community, a group where we feel supported and encouraged. That’s why Paul Reali and Kathie Collins created Charlotte Lit in 2015. 

 “They felt that Charlotte had a lack of resources for the writing community,” says Sarah Vanderwood, development director for Charlotte Lit. 

 So, Paul and Kathie, both writers themselves, founded a nonprofit to host events for writers and readers in the Charlotte area. 

The pandemic makes hosting events more difficult. But Charlotte Lit has adapted, as Sarah VanderWood explains. “There are some things we felt really needed to be in person, and we’re having to postpone them. But a lot of our classes can be done remotely, so we shifted most of them to Zoom.  

There’s no replacement for in-person socialization, but we’ve done the best we can with bringing people online.” 

Some of those postponed events are now finally able to happen in person, with proper precautions. And attendees are impressed with the new safety measures. One attendee, a Queens student named Ellie Fritsch, says, “I think they did a really great job with the COVID policy, requiring proof of vaccination and masks. I felt very safe the entire time.”  

Charlotte Lit is also adapting to overcome another barrier: the cost of entry, which could be especially helpful for college students and other young people. While some events are free to attend, others can be expensive.  

Membership decreases the cost of attendance, but it requires a recurring fee that many young people may try to avoid. In response to this issue, Charlotte Lit has created ways to avoid expensive attendance costs.  

They offer a membership rate at a much lower cost for students, and scholarship funding to help people participate in more expensive programs. In addition, they’ve been hosting more events in and around college campuses.  

Their Ada Limon poetry reading, for instance, happened on Queens campus in September this year. 

 “I love doing events on campus,” Ellie Fritsch says, “We don’t have to drive, we don’t have to pay for parking, and it makes it easier for us to invite non-English majors to literary events.” 

Gaining the support of young people is crucial to Charlotte Lit’s goal of creating a supportive literary community, especially as they grow their organization.  

Sarah VanderWood states, “Our ideal situation would be to become a big center for this region. We want to offer more classes, more scholarship funding… we want to bring in more authors and poets… we want to offer more services for writers.” 

 Even now, Charlotte Lit is growing, creating its publication called the Writers/South Press. Submissions are open now until December 1st, and the publication goes out next May. 

As Charlotte Lit grows, its mission remains the same: to provide a sense of community. It’s something vital to the process of creation for any art form, including writing. Ellie Fritsch says, 

 “Being a writer is hard… and having someone else to work through your ideas with and remind you that everyone goes through the same struggles is really helpful.” 

Sarah VanderWood reflects this sentiment, saying that Charlotte Lit is “taking a solo activity and turning it into something more community-based.” But, beyond that, she adds, a community around literature provides an outlet for happiness and acceptance when we might otherwise feel alone. 

 “Literature, in some ways, is a way of… bringing joy into your life when you might not be able to find it elsewhere.” 

Upcoming Events can be found at https://www.charlottelit.org/ 

Pen To Paper is a recurring Tuesday meeting for writers to work on prompts as a group and get the opportunity to share their work. Attendance is free, and the environment is casual and supportive. Meetings are from 9:30-10:30 through Zoom. Signup is available on their website. 

On October 20th, author Beth Gilstrap will give a reading from her new collection, Deadheading, and Other Stories, and lead a discussion on southern gothic fiction. This event is free to attend as part of the Wednesdays@Lit program for in-person events. It will take place from 6:00-7:30 at the Midwood International and Cultural Center

On December 3rd, author and legal scholar Reginald Dwayne Betts will give a reading at the Midwood International and Cultural Center. His work covers the effects of mass incarceration, the failings of the criminal justice system, and the intersection between literature and progressive advocacy. This event is part of Charlotte Lit’s poetry and art showcase series, 4X4CLT. Pre-registration is required, and tickets for the reading are $10. 

The Midwood International and Cultural Center, where Charlotte Lit’s office and studio are currently located. Reading and workshops are held there regularly. 

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Published by students of Queens University of Charlotte, 1900 Selwyn Avenue, Charlotte, N.C. 28274.