We created Charlotte Lit because we believe literature is one of the most important means for understanding ourselves, our relationships, and our world, and we wanted to find ways of sharing literary experiences of all kinds with the Charlotte community. This January, we launch the Beautiful Truth program, one of our biggest and most important initiatives.
The program is based on the simple idea that writing and sharing our stories can heal us. That may sound lofty, but what I know is that writing is the best tool any of us have for talking about the things that matter most—in life, in relationships, in community. Healing comes when we’re able to share our experiences, hearts, and truths with one another. Healing comes when we listen. And when we’re heard.
Beautiful Truth is Charlotte Lit’s response to the racial strife and income disparity that have intensified in Charlotte over the last few years. It’s a simple program that brings people from all over the city together into small groups for workshops aimed at developing skills for writing and sharing with one another short personal narratives about our personal lives and life in this community.
These public workshops, held in January, will be followed in February with a weekend of readings and community conversations with renowned poet and speaker Terrance Hayes, and in March by a community-wide open-mic reading event. We hope you’ll join us for all three phases of the program, and encourage others to come, too. Event details are outlined below, but first some background on the impetus for Beautiful Truth.
Imagining a Beautiful Truth
More than forty years ago, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system began what was considered a model for successful racial integration. That model lasted until 2001 when the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Charlotte’s race-based student assignment plan. Though school desegregation hadn’t solved Charlotte’s woes––social stratification and poverty being complex issues with multiple causes––it had done something critically important: it put an entire generation of students into learning communities in which black and white students, teachers, and parents related to one another and, to some degree, developed a common narrative about their experience as Charlotteans. Fifteen years later, with our neighborhoods still and our schools again segregated, almost every week brings a new headline that begins, “Charlotte is a tale of two cities.”
Of course, like any large city, Charlotte has many more than two tales to tell. We are individuals with unique experiences and different ways of seeing our hometown. For many, Charlotte is a shining New South city, a banking town with state-of-the-art stadiums and shopping malls––a wonderful place to live, work, and raise a family. But, if we speak the truth, beauty isn’t a reality for everyone.
As national coverage of protests following the killing by police of Keith Scott made clear, too many Charlotteans experience a community in which marginalization, poverty, and criminal profiling are the norm. Too many of us experience the challenge of surviving in a place where chances of moving out of poverty hover at four percent, dead last among America’s fifty largest cities. These stories are true and need to be heard, but they need not become stories rewritten weekly with fresh examples. We can write a new future for ourselves—and for our community.
Telling Our Stories
The good news is that this kind of writing doesn’t require any expertise. All that’s necessary are some basic writing skills and the willingness to sit down with pencil and paper and listen—first to yourself and then to your neighbors.
Personally, I don’t know what I truly think or feel about any event, concept, or idea until I’ve written about it. Writing clarifies. It forces me to dig a little deeper into my topic, to be more honest with myself. And doing so, allows me to make connections I couldn’t otherwise make. Even better, when I read my writing to others, I sense that they “hear” me better than they might in ordinary conversation. Likewise, I hear better when I’m listening to someone read their writing. Our written stories simply have more weight.
We can share so much with each other about the deepest truths of our experiences by taking a couple of minutes to reflect and string a few sentences into a paragraph. And those of us who live together in Charlotte have a lot to share. I sure hope you’ll participate in some part, or all of, Beautiful Truth. We need your story; it’s an essential part of the Charlotte story.
Beautiful Truth Events
Community Writing Workshops
Charlotte Lit faculty and volunteers will teach 12 free 2-hour workshops: “Writing & Sharing Your Personal Stories,” each held at a Charlotte Mecklenburg Library branch. Our volunteer writers will lead you through a series of activities that will help you to discover, write, and speak stories of your life in Charlotte, from curriculum created by author Patrice Gopo.
2-4 pm; Saturday, Jan. 5 — Scaleybark; Beatties Ford
2-4 pm; Sunday, Jan. 6 — University City; South County
2-4 pm; Saturday, Jan. 12 — Matthews; Plaza Midwood
2-4 pm; Sunday, Jan. 13 — Main
2-4 pm; Saturday, Jan. 19 — Davidson
2-4 pm; Sunday, Jan. 20 — Independence
2-4 pm; Saturday, Jan. 26 — Morrison; Mint Hill
2-4 pm; Sunday, Jan. 27 — Main
Seating is limited; pre-registration is requested for these events. Please register in person at the library branch, or by phone (numbers are available here: https://www.cmlibrary.org/branches).
Weekend with Poet and Speaker Terrance Hayes
Charlotte Lit is thrilled to welcome Terrance Hayes to our city. Hayes is the author of American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassins, a finalist for the 2018 National Book Award in Poetry; To Float In The Space Between: Drawings and Essays in Conversation with Etheridge Knight; How to Be Drawn; Lighthead, which won the 2010 National Book Award for poetry; Muscular Music, which won the Kate Tufts Discovery Award; Hip Logic, winner of the 2001 National Poetry Series, and Wind in a Box. Hayes is artist-in-residence at New York University, and is a MacArthur “Genius” Award Recipient.
7-8:30 pm, Friday, Feb. 1: Reading and talk on using personal narratives to share our stories. Midwood International and Cultural Center Auditorium. This event includes the release of the next 4X4CLT Poetry+Art Posters, featuring poetry by Terrance Hayes. Tickets available here.
10 am-Noon, Saturday, Feb. 2: Writing workshop led by Terrance Hayes for writers and educators in the Charlotte Lit studio. Limited to 24 participants. Registration is here.
2-4 pm, Saturday, Feb. 2: Community conversation about sharing stories for social change, facilitated by Terrance Hayes in The Light Factory. Free, but limited to 40 participants. To request an invitation, email us. (Due to demand, not all requests can be accommodated.)
Community Open-Mic Reading Event
7-9 pm, Friday, March 15 at Midwood International and Cultural Center.
Beautiful Truth participants from all over Charlotte will read short narratives written and shared during library workshops. Free, registration required.
We are so grateful for the support of our Charlotte Lit community in making these events happen: Author Patrice Gopo for writing a beautiful curriculum for use during the community writing workshops; Cathia Friou for organizing our wonderful team of volunteer workshop facilitators; 20 volunteer workshop facilitators; and our friends at the Charlotte Mecklenburg library for making space, handling registrations, and enthusiastically hosting workshops at branches throughout Charlotte.
We’re also grateful to all of our donors. Charlotte Lit’s Beautiful Truth initiative is made possible in part with generous grants from NC Arts, The Plain Language Group, and Brooke and Justin Lehmann. We’re still seeking additional donors. Can your organization help? If so, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.