Six Tips for Getting Started Writing: Kathie Collins & Paul Reali on Charlotte Today

Thanks to WCNC’s Charlotte Today, with Colleen Odegaard and Eugene Robinson, for having us on the show. (If you can’t see the video, try it here.)

Writing Prompt: What do they do when…

Occasionally we’ll post the writing prompt from our free weekly Pen to Paper session. Today’s prompt comes from Megan Rich.

To describe characters more richly, consider how their actions and reactions change under different circumstances. For a character you’re writing about, think about the character’s:

  • facial expressions
  • movements/gestures
  • things they say

When they are experiencing:

  • regret
  • nostalgia
  • conflict
  • injustice
  • anger
  • contentment
  • etc.

Use what you’ve discovered to write a scene with this character.

Charlotte Lit and Pedestal Magazine Partner on New Poetry Reading Series

Poetry readings connect us to the oral roots of expressive language, a lineage as old as the human story itself. I imagine that as soon as humans developed the capacity for utterance, they began to use it – rhythmically, musically, eventually reflectively and aesthetically – to voice or attempt to voice the essential nature of being: what it meant, in any given moment, to be alive.

As editor of Pedestal Magazine, I’m excited to launch the Pedestal Magazine Reading Series and to partner with Charlotte Lit. The mission of Charlotte Lit (“to celebrate the literary arts by educating and engaging writers and readers through classes, conversations, and community”) is ideally aligned with Pedestals mission (“to support established and burgeoning writers … to promote artistic diversity and celebrate the voice of the individual”). For more than four years, Charlotte Lit has hosted and sponsored energized readings, workshops, and discussions. In addition, their facility on Central Avenue is a stimulating hub, a locale that naturally fosters enthusiasm, engagement, and curiosity. I’ve always wanted Pedestal Magazine to be a hub of sorts as well, one primarily engaged in the process of publishing, but one also complementarily involved with other related ventures, including workshops, mentoring/outreach opportunities, and a reading series.

Our first gathering will be held at Charlotte Lit on Wednesday, October 16 at 6:30 p.m., and feature current NC Poet Laureate Jaki Shelton Green and Heart of Pamlico Poet Laureate for eastern NC Malaika King Albrecht. Throughout her work, Jaki offers relatable narratives and potent imagery, offering wise insights into human nature and historical patterns. Malaika’s work merges confessional tones with surrealistic imagery, also commenting on the culture at large. Both poets adeptly integrate the emotional and the intellectual, forging a unity of music and meaning. I encourage anyone who is interested in current poetry to familiarize themselves with the work of these vital poets. (Also, Jaki will be teaching a master class at Charlotte Lit on Thursday, October 17, The Poet Witnesses: The Poet as Documentarian, Historian, and Agitator.

Life these days feels precarious, replete with injustices, displacements, and environmental crises, including the extinction or impending extinction of numerous species and the degradation of natural resources in many parts of the world. Furthermore we seem to be witnessing a deterioration of ethical standards and a devaluation of communication skills. It’s easy, given these complex and pressing problems, to question whether poetry has a place in a world such as ours. How can we be concerned with the poetic process during a time that seems so urgently pivotal?

I’d suggest that we need eloquent poetry more than ever. We can be moved by the honesty inherent to skillfully rendered poems. We can be elevated by that particular blend of the personal and universal that well-crafted verse can strike. We can be clear that the discipline, vision, and expansiveness required to bring the creative impulse to fruition is indeed highly relevant; the very practice, perhaps, that is egregiously missing or at least depreciated in our current world. We need to be and remain inspired, to celebrate our perennial inquiry into what it means to feel, think, live, and face the inevitability of death. Please join us on October 16 for what will be, I’m certain, an evening to remember.

John Amen is the author of several collections of poetry, including “strange theater” (New York Quarterly Books, 2015), a finalist for the 2016 Brockman-Campbell Award. He is co-author, with Daniel Y. Harris, of “The New Arcana.” His latest collection, “Illusion of an Overwhelm,” work from which was chosen as a finalist for the Dana Award, was released by New York Quarterly Books in 2017. His poetry, fiction, reviews, and essays have appeared in journals nationally and internationally, and his poetry has been translated into Spanish, French, Hungarian, Korean, and Hebrew. He is a Staff Reviewer for the longstanding music publication No Depression.

“Just What I Needed” – Remembering Ric Ocasek

I discovered music when I was 16.

Mike Lochner came into the boys locker room at Bishop Gibbons High School before cross country practice, bearing a giant silver boom box. He set it down on a bench, and reached for the Play button. Then he stopped.

“You have to hear this,” he said.

The button clicked, and a crisp synth beat came out. There were about a dozen of us, and we stood silent, waiting to understand why we had to hear this.

let the good times roll / let them knock you around
let the good times roll / let them make you a clown
let them leave you up in the air / let them brush your rock and roll hair
let the good times roll / let the good times roll / let the good…times…roll…

And then we got it. We’d never heard anything like it. It was the first time I heard something and thought: I have to own this. “The Cars” debut was my first album. Within a year I also owned Pink Floyd’s “The Wall,” Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” and “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” The Cars’ follow-up record, “Candy-O,” and a few more.

The man responsible, Ric Okasek, died last week.

If you’re old enough to remember 1978 and were listening to music when “The Cars” hit the streets, you might have felt something like what I did. “The Cars” changed the way I listened to music. Hook, melody, lyric – I knew that before but didn’t quite understand it. In that album it gelled. Joy, sorrow, I’m going to live forever, I might die tonight. I wrote their lyrics on my school desk. I can’t really sing, but I had to sing these. And a few years later, in 1984, I heard the song “Drive” (from the great album “Heartbeat City”) and realized that I finally understood heartbreak.

Should you decide to take a trip back to The Cars, make a detour for some of Ocasek’s best work, his solo records. Start with “Beatitude,” and give it more than one listen.

Commemorate 9/11 at Wednesdays@Lit Staged Reading

America Bound CoverThe events of September 11, 2001 changed our nation––and the world––forever. This year, in commemoration of the day, Charlotte Lit will host the first-ever dramatic reading of David Radavich’s “America Bound: An Epic for Our Time,” a poetry collection that explores the physical and emotional impacts of our nation’s history since World War II.

Radavich’s book is set in the eponymous town of Troy, USA, and features 24 monologues by a diverse group of everyday Americans who try to build meaningful lives in the midst of a world that seems constantly at war. Over the course of three generations, these Troy citizens get along, sometimes by changing and sometimes by staying the same, as the nation undergoes one dramatic transformation after another, from the post-World War II boom through the Iraq War and beyond. Multiple voices offer intimate, sometimes searing perspectives on American culture over the past sixty years.

– – – – –

David Radavich is a socially committed author and scholar. His latest narrative collection is “America Abroad: An Epic of Discovery” (2019), companion volume to “America Bound: An Epic for Our Time” (2007). Other recent poetry collections are Middle-East Mezze (2011) and The Countries We Live In (2014). His plays have been performed across the U.S., including six off-Off-Broadway, and in Europe.  He has served as president of the Thomas Wolfe Society, Charlotte Writers’ Club, and North Carolina Poetry Society and currently oversees the Gilbert-Chappell Distinguished Poet Series.

This performance is part of our monthly Wednesdays@Lit series. Admission is free and open to the public. Light refreshments available.

6:30 pm, Wednesday, September 11
Charlotte Lit
Midwood International & Cultural Center
1817 Central Avenue, Studio Two (Room 208)

September 4X4CLT Featured Poet: Jennifer Chang

Charlotte Lit’s programming year kicks off with the release of the September edition of 4X4CLT poetry + art poster series on Friday September 6. We’re celebrating at The Light Factory from 6:30 to 8:30 pm. This series features poems from Jennifer Chang paired with paintings from Tom Thoune and photography from Cordelia Williams. At this event, which is free and open to the public, Chang will read her poetry and Williams will speak about her art.

Jennifer Chang, the featured poet for September 4X4CLT, is the author of two books of poetry, The History of Anonymity and Some Say the Lark. Lovers of poetry may have seen her work in The New Yorker, The New York Times, American Poetry Review, and other national publications. She co-chairs the advisory board of Kundiman, an organization that works to nurture Asian American literature. She teaches at George Washington University and the low-residency MFA writing program at Bennington College.

I can’t say for sure which of her poems I first encountered, but two that fully captured my attention might be called a pastoral and an anti-pastoral. The first, actually titled “Pastoral,” comes from Chang’s debut, The History of Anonymity. The collection is full of fairytale and describes a place where nature is beguiling and unknowable. In “Pastoral,” the speaker observes a field she perceives to be full of mysterious activity that she does her best to describe: “Something in the field is / working away. Root-noise. / Twig-noise. Plant / of weak chlorophyll, no / name for it.” But whatever is “working away” feints from focus and sure definition: “Has it roar and bloom? / Has it road and follow?” Yes, there is a field, fences, and meadow flowers, but this pastoral is no shepherd’s idyll. What it is and what it’s doing, exactly, remains in question.

“Dorothy Wordsworth,” from Chang’s 2017 collection Some Say the Lark, keeps the trappings of a traditional ode to springtime but splices it with a rage-induced rant. Of daffodils, the speaker says: “I’m tired of their crowds, yellow rantings / about the spastic sun that shines and shines / and shines. How are they any different / from me? I, too, have a big messy head / on a fragile stalk. I spin with the wind. / I flower and don’t apologize.” The spring season is now “the dark plot / of future growing things” where the usual tropes are upended. The poem dispatches the flowers’ “boring beauty” and ex-boyfriends with equal disdain. Of this collection of poems, Natasha Trethewey says “Some Say the Lark is a piercing meditation, rooted in loss and longing, and manifest in dazzling leaps of the imagination—the familiar world rendered strange.” Chang’s poems tend toward the lyrical with swerves and dashes of narrative.

On Saturday September 7 from 9:30 am to noon, Chang teaches a master class at Charlotte Lit, “On Fragments.” Participants will look at how “brokenness, irresolution, brevity, and rupture are integral to meaning” and how fragments operate as poetic form. We hope you’ll join us in welcoming Jennifer Chang to Charlotte and look for her gorgeous, lyrical poems on the 4X4CLT posters all over Charlotte in the next few months.

Lisa Zerkle is an award-winning poet and the curator of Charlotte Lit’s 4X4CLT.

It’s School O’Clock—Time to Commit to Your Craft

Yellow buses are making rounds through residential streets and stores are stocked with blank notebooks waiting for their first words and fresh boxes of pencils. Here at Lit, we’ve been busy gathering together classes, workshops, and events with your favorite writers to help you commit to your craft, no matter your genre. You can find full class listings now in our new online catalog and coming soon in the gorgeous print version. In the meantime, here are a few highlights.

4X4CLT Poster Release Party and Master Class

Our first event of the new season is the next release of our 4X4CLT poetry + art posters. The September edition features poems by Jennifer Chang, whose Some Say the Lark won the Poetry Society of America’s 2018 William Carlos Williams Award. Her poems are paired with art by Tom Thoune and photography by Cordelia Williams. Please join us for the free release celebration at The Light Factory on Friday September 6 from 6:30 to 8:30 pm. Chang teaches a master class — “On Fragments” — Saturday September 7 beginning at 9:30 am at Charlotte Lit, and registration is open now.


Next up is the first of our free monthly Wednesdays@Lit gatherings. On September 11 at 6:30 pm, David Radavich brings together a group of friends for a staged reading of his collection America Bound: An Epic for Our Time. We’ll gather in Charlotte Lit’s beautiful new Studio Two, home to plants, books, and lots of comfortable seating. For the October 16 Wednesdays@Lit we’re pleased to welcome NC Poet Laureate Jaki Shelton Green, in partnership with Pedestal Magazine. (She teaches a master class the following day.)

New Classes—and a Fall Mountain Retreat

Are you interested in starting or deepening your journal practice? Writing a children’s book? Exploring the path to publishing? We’ve got classes just for you. Looking ahead, you’ll find more special events in October, including a mountain retreat with Mississippi Poet Laureate Beth Ann Fennelly.

Get Immersed

If you already have a dedicated writing practice and you’re ready for the next level, consider our MFA-style group workshopping in poetry with Dannye Romine Powell and our six-week immersions: novel immersion with Paula Martinac, and memoir immersion with Gilda Morina Syverson.

Our mission is to celebrate the literary arts by educating and engaging writers and readers through classes, conversations, and community. We hope you’ll peruse our new season and see what engages you. Sharpen your pencils!

North Carolina Writers Conference Focuses on Community

Anyone strolling the sidewalks of South Main Street in Lexington, NC, the last Saturday in July must have felt a certain rhythm of community calling from inside the Edward C. Smith Civic Center, where more than 100 writers had gathered that day and the previous evening for the annual North Carolina Writers Conference.

What began in 1950 as a pilgrimage to Manteo to attend The Lost Colony and support writer Paul Green has become an annual event open to all who love the written and recited words of kindred spirits. That spirit was beating like a drum circle this year as Barbara Presnell and her leadership team of Terri Kirby Erickson and June Guralnick served up a program to honor not only the state’s literary traditions but also the innovative movement toward change.

The Conference opened Friday night with a tribute to Richard Walser, a Lexington-born (1908-1988) educator and North Carolina’s foremost chronicler of the state’s literary heritage. The homage to Walser included a showing of the film Their Native Earthmoderated by Jim Clark.

Saturday morning Barbara Presnell welcomed participants by thanking everyone for their help (no one said no, she claims, which speaks to the spirit of North Carolina’s writing kinship). After honoring those authors and poets recently deceased and enticing us to make a visit to the old timey hardware store and candy shop on Main Street, Barbara had the room buzzing with energy. First, two lively and thought-provoking panels.

“Growing into Words: How Our Writing Changes as We Age” with writers Pat Riviere-Seel, Larry Earley, Joe Mills and David Radavich, plus Lynden Harris, a community collaborator who encourages those without a voice—immigrants, death row prisoners—to tell their stories. And what advice did the panelists leave us as we age? Trust the process, serve humanity in our writing, support new writers, take the work more seriously than we take ourselves.

“Writing for Change” (some would call them political poems) with Antionette Kerr, nonprofit leader and media correspondent, as moderator; Diya Abdo, a Jordan native, Guilford professor, and director of Every Campus a Refugee; Joseph Bathanti, Appalachian State professor and writer in residence, recent NC Poet Laureate, and writing liaison to prisoners and Viet Nam veterans; and myself, a writing facilitator with folks without homes and rabble-rouser for racial and environmental justice. All these writers are using their craft to amplify the stories of the marginalized in our midst, or in the words of Tracy K. Smith, to use writing as a means “to unsettle something, to trouble the reader.”

Entertainment at lunch was a brilliant recognition of the Charlotte Writers’ Club and the Charlotte Writers’ Club North, researched and written by talented poet Dede Wilson and presented by David Radavich.

After lunch, there would be no time to sleep off the turkey sandwiches and chocolate desserts. Who could sleep anyway through the next segment of the day’s program: a documentary film by screenwriter and filmmaker Palmer Holton, produced for ESPN Films and entitled When the King Held Court. Picture Elvis Presley’s obsession with racket ball (who knew?) told by those who could report it first hand, interspersed with graphic novel animation and music selected by Amy Winehouse’s drummer. That drum beat was moving us into the future for sure.

The next presentation, “Outside the Box,” was an electric hour with four spoken-word performance poets who had us on the edges of our seats while they recited without falter their creations. Kudos to Jo DeLosSantos, Dasan Ahanu, Ashley Lumpkin, Josephus III and Shane Manier for turning the conference into one that could now be described as 69 years young rather than old.

Dannye Romine Powell Honored

Beginning in 1977 the NC Writers Conference’s final act has been a banquet honoring a writer of high esteem like Reynolds Price, Fred Chappell, John Ehle, Shelby Stephenson, James Applewhite, Tony Abbott, Ruth Moose, Robert Morgan, Kathryn Stripling Byer and others.

This year’s honoree was Charlotte’s own Dannye Romine Powell, author of four books of award-winning poetry, book editor of the Charlotte Observer from 1975-1992, returning in 2013 to the book page after twenty years as the Observer ’s local front columnist. In her book, Parting the Curtains: Interviews with Southern Writers, she explores the creative process with those she had the privilege of interviewing: James Dickey, Eudora Welty, Walker Percy, Lee Smith, and William Styron, among others.

The banquet decor had Dannye written all over it: freshly-ironed white linens on round tables with grass green runners, Mason jars filled with black-eyed Susans, descendants of those originating in poet Susan Laughter Meyers’ garden in Summerville. Four fellow-writers, Kim Church, Bob Anthony, Angela Davis Gardner and Joseph Bathanti serenaded Dannye with accolades: Generous in her book reviews. Passionate for books and their authors. Kind, warm, supportive to fellow writers. Fierce in her poetry, and musical. Funny as hell. Too many to repeat them all here. Bathanti tells it like this: When he was a new graduate and wannabe writer, he barged into Dannye’s office one day to suggest he might help her write reviews. Instead of showing him the door, she showed him a treasure trove of books and hired him on the spot to be one of her readers. That selfless spirit and belief in talent yet untapped is a gift Dannye brings to all North Carolina writers (and wannabes ) who are lucky to have been graced by her presence.

Barbara Conrad is the author of three poetry collections: The Gravity of Color, Wild Plums, and her most recent, There Is a Field (2018). She is also editor of Waiting for Soup, an anthology from her writing group at a center for homeless neighbors. Her poems have appeared in Tar River Poetry, Atlanta Review, Nine Mile, NC Literary Review, Broad River and several anthologies, such as Kakalak and Southern Poetry Anthology. Her poetry ranges from ironic takes on life to hard truths about social injustice.

What I’m Reading This Summer

Editor’s Note: This is the latest installment of summer reading picks from Charlotte Lit staff. Here, Charlotte Lit col-founder Paul Reali shares what he’ll be reading this summer.

Each time I pick up my iPad with the Kindle app, or pick through the stack on my nightstand, my different selves do battle. Which Paul is doing the reading tonight?

This summer, my selves will be battling over these titles. This is not be a traditional summer reading list, because nothing here has anything to do with summer, most are not new, and there are no beach reads here (well, maybe one). Summer for me is the time to trim my stack, not add to it.

For the Writer: The Anatomy of Story, by John Truby. One of the bibles of writing. Authors Lab coach Kim Wright uses the author as a verb, as in: “Did you Truby the manuscript?”

For the Reader (and Writer) of Mysteries: When Will There Be Good News, by Kate Atkinson, the third Jackson Brodie mystery. Atkinson writes mysteries that read like literature.

For the Reader of Literature: Ghost Wall, by Sarah Moss. I’m one day into this and I think it wins the daily battle until I get to the end. Charlotte Lit co-founder Kathie Collins called this the book she’d wished she’d written.

For the Reader of Local Writers: Clio Rising, by Paula Martinac. Charlotte Lit teacher and Authors Lab coach has written another winner with distinct voices and memorable characters. I defy you to ever forget Livvie Bliss or Clio Hartt.

For the Editor: I’ll be reading my own mystery novel in progress, which is going through one (I swear just one) last (absolutely last) final (absolutely dead final) revision to get that word count down to 80K.

For the Parent of Teenagers: Untangled: Guiding Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood, by Lisa Damour Ph.D. The subtitle says it all. A fascinating and sometimes frightening read.

For the Runner: Run Less, Run Faster, by Bill Pierce, Scott Murr, and Ray Ross. The perfect book for running like a 40-year old on 50-something legs.

For the Fun-Lover: Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. A 30-year old one-off collaboration by two fantastic writers, and that has had an active fandom ever since. Read this beforeyou watch the new Amazon mini-series and you’ll appreciate it all the more.

Summer Reading Picks by Lisa Zerkle

Editor’s Note: This is the latest installment of summer reading picks from Charlotte Lit staff. Here, Lisa Zerkle, curator of the 4X4CLT poetry and art poster series, shares her choices for top books.

Just finished

The Wall, by John LancesterThis near-future dystopia plays out in a country that could be Great Britain where young people are conscripted into two-year deployments as guards along a vast border wall. They’re tasked with preventing incursions by Others, desperate refugees who have left their home countries for a slim chance of getting past the Wall. Fast-paced and disturbingly plausible.

I’m a huge fan of short story collections for their brevity and variety. I heartily recommend these two remarkable, recently released short story collections, both of which are worth reading for their skilled construction alone.

Sing to It, by Amy Hempel is written in a Lydia Davis-style compression. “I leave a lot out when I tell the truth. The same when I write a story,” Hempel has said of her stories. I imagine her sliding words out of her drafts Jenga-style to see if the center still holds. The first two “stories” of ‘Sing to It” are so brief and rich they could double as prose poems. I found her risk-taking style thrilling and entertaining.

Your Duck is My Duck, by Deborah Eisenberg. A recent New York Times review called this collection “cannily constructed, and so instantly absorbing that it feels like an abduction.” Her skill at spoofing a celebrity adjacent tell all in the second story, “Taj Mahal,” is a wonder.

Reading now

The Book of Delights, by Ross Gay began as a practice in the daily appreciation of delight. Beginning on his birthday, Gay pledged to write a brief essay about some experience of delight. I love Gay’s poetry and couldn’t pass up this new book of essays. They are delightful, but not puffery alone. He takes on difficult topics but addresses them with his signature faith in humanity.

Evicted, by Matthew Desmond. A heart-wrenching and clear-eyed look at the affordable housing crisis. True stories of tenants and landlords stuck in challenging circumstances, many of which are caused by thorny, systemic problems. It’s an unflinching, difficult portrayal of families for whom an unexpected $100 expense can mean homelessness. I’d put this one in the hands of every banker bro in Charlotte if I could.

The History of Anonymity and Some Say the Lark, two collections of poetry by Jennifer Chang, who is Charlotte Lit’s featured poet for the September 4X4CLT. Chang is a lyrical poet who draws on themes of family and the natural world.

Up next

Normal People, Sally Rooney. The second foray from the “it” novelist of the millennial generation

A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles. I thought I was the only one who’d not read this novel that came out in 2016, but the public library currently has 91 hold requests on its 40 copies.

The Overstory, by Richard Powers. Everyone I know who read this book, a 2019 Pulitzer Prize winner, loved it. Ann Patchett calls “the best novel ever written about trees.” I’ve dragged my feet so long on this one it’s now available in paperback (sustainably sourced, of course).