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'Slow Words Movement' Thriving at Charlotte Lit
Picture by Kimberly Lawson
October 25, 2016
Most contemporary writers are pretty humble folks. We understand it’s asking a lot of people to read our words, especially when they can instead scroll their social media feeds for an escape, or binge-watch The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones for a thrill. Last year, one author told me during an interview for a story previewing his upcoming novel reading: “I’m going to stand up and read from a book I wrote for 10 minutes. It sounds really preposterous when you try to explain it to people.”
Historically, people turned to literature for their cultural fix. But nowadays, appointment-free television and social media—the digital salon, for some—are most people's main sources for that kind of engagement. But Charlotte Center for Literary Arts, also known as Charlotte Lit, aims to reverse declining reading trends and reactivate a love for literature by supporting writers and engaging readers.
Launched one year ago and located inside the Midwood International & Cultural Center on Central Avenue, Charlotte Lit’s 800-square-foot space feels like somewhere you can kick off your shoes, nuzzle into a puffy pillow and dive into a good book. Natural light pours through the wide windows, and the hardwood floors complement the denim-colored couches in the living room-like area. Of course, a nearby bookcase is packed with reading material.
But it’s also evident that the difficult work of writing can be done here. Two expansive wooden tables offer plenty of space to spread out story outlines or character profiles, and there’s plenty of pens, pencils, markers and highlighters on an elegantly worn sideboard. The whiteboards give the room that classroom feel, and seating is abundant—perfect for a writing workshop or a book discussion.
And, of course, there’s a coffeemaker. Writers need coffee.
Kathie Collins is one of the co-founders of Charlotte Lit; much of the design of the space is thanks to her. “Though I loved the serenity of my home office, I hated the isolation of writing alone and had a hunch that other writers did too,” she says. “I wanted to create a hybrid home/office/old-style library feel in which writers could both produce and share their work.”
Charlotte Lit evolved from a writing co-operative Collins started in 2015 called August Moon. The only person who joined was Paul Reali, and last October, they partnered up to launch Charlotte Lit. The center is now supported by members (in September, the count was upwards of 120) who believe in its mission of elevating the literary arts in Charlotte.
One of the benefits for members is getting access to the studio if they need a place to work. On Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, Charlotte Lit hosts an Open Write-In, where people can gather with other writers and work on their individual projects. It’s an opportunity to get out of their home offices or the coffee shops, Reali says. “At the end of each of those sessions, we have conversations. We talk about what we’re writing, our lives, and that helps to build community for our members.”
Another way Charlotte Lit aims to help people engage with literature is through low-cost or free events. For writers, there are workshops, like Oct. 26’s “Scary, Scary, Scary: Tips & Tricks to Courageous Writing.”
The center also offers in-depth reading discussions. Part of Charlotte Lit’s mission is “to promote community wide conversations that are literature-based, but that move the dialogue on important topics in Charlotte forward,” Collins explains.
In September, Charlotte writer Kathryn Schwille hosted a workshop called “Read Like a Writer: Flannery O’Connor,” in which the group discussed the short story “The Displaced Person.”
“It was a fabulous readers workshop, touching on themes that have a lot to do with today,” Collins says.O’Connor’s story, published in 1955, features a white widow who has a problem with one of her employees, an immigrant, because he intends to let his white cousin marry her black employee to flee a detention camp. Among other things, the piece explores racism, the idea of the “Other,” warfare and social order.
The event, coincidentally, took place the same week protests erupted in Charlotte in response to the police-shooting death of Keith Lamont Scott.
“These are topics that are important to be discussing,” Collins says. “There are a lot of ways to approach civil discourse. It was good to be together [that night] and talk about those things.”
In addition to hosting thought-provoking conversations, Charlotte Lit aims to fill a gap in the arts scene in Charlotte. “In our community, we see that the other arts—visual arts, performing arts, including theater and music—they’re well-represented and well-covered in the media,” Reali says. “In a lot of cases, they’re also well-attended and in some cases well-funded.
“But,” he continues, “there’s very little attention paid to literary arts, even though there are many, many readers and writers and literary events in this community.”
Collins adds, “We call it the stepchild of the arts here in Charlotte.”
Not only is Charlotte Lit a physical gathering place for literary enthusiasts, but it also is a metaphorical center, in that it publishes a calendar featuring any and all lit-related events upcoming in the city.
“Literature is the primary way we understand ourselves, each other and the world we live in,” Reali says. “That’s what literature does, and so we want to reclaim its place and encourage people to read who don’t read; encourage people to talk to each other who don’t get to talk to each other. Those people who want to write and can’t get started, we want to help them get started or finish their books. For people who do write and want to master their craft, we want to be able to help them to do that, too.”
Charlotte isn’t the only city seeing a re-emergence of a literary arts center. Reali says Greeneville, South Carolina, and Winston-Salem are other cities trying to build up their literary arts communities.
“Maybe this is a bit of a response in some ways to the overabundance of fast information in social media and media in general,” Collins says. “Social media is fast content, and we are endorsing the slower transmission of literature because it’s deeper.”
Reali adds: “So if there was a slow food movement, maybe we have the slow words movement.”