Meet the Book Babes

As a child, reading was magical for me. It allowed me to transcend space and time. To travel to new worlds, worlds that might not even exist within our own. I’d stay up late with a flashlight under a blanket, reading until my eyes grew tired. I’d hang on every word of the story.

Back then, even the simple act of going to the library felt like a holy one. I’d leave with a brand new stack of books, ready to jump into new adventures. My mom was patient as I thumbed through spine after spine, trying to choose the perfect titles. She wouldn’t even try to limit my selections.

Somewhere along the way, I grew up. And although I’ve been a lifelong reader, that magic sort of flickered out at a certain point. I still went to the library. I still read. I enjoyed it, but it didn’t feel like a thrill anymore.

It’s sort of like going to Disney World as an adult. All of a sudden you notice the machines making the characters move. You aren’t in awe of the firework display because you’ve seen it before. You’re tired because it’s humid and lines are long. And you’re more concerned with the suddenly high price of a hot dog. “What do you mean, it’s $15?”  You might get excited for a brief moment seeing Cinderella’s Castle or feeling your stomach drop on Splash Mountain, but the magic is mostly gone.

Last fall, I brought up this phenomenon with three of my best friends: Abby, Emily and Laura.

We all love to read and constantly recommend new books to each other. We swap favorites until the pages start to look worn. It’s something that has always bonded us.

We discussed our beloved childhood books, reminisced about Reading Rainbow, and laughed over the pure thrill of going to a Scholastic Book Fair at school.

This was the day that Book Babes CLT was born.

We officially launched this past February. Book Babes is equal parts book review website and book Instagram (or #bookstagram). Our goal in creating it was to make an approachable place for readers and non-readers alike, to find book recommendations and fall in love with reading again (or possibly for the first time).

One thing we realized: picking out a new book to read can be surprisingly overwhelming. As adults, we have to make choices all day. What are we going to wear? What are we knocking out from our to-do list? What are we having for dinner? Picking out a book no longer feels like a luxury. Its like reading roulette – and if you pick wrong, you waste hours of your time.

Our strategy is simple: we find books we enjoy, and we pass them along to you. Were not the New York Times Book Review. Were honest, at times irreverent, and most of all, we just want you to actually like the next book you pick up. Oh, and we drink a lot of wine.

If you love murder mysteries, Lauras reviews will be your best friend. The more murder, the better. Abby loves to read literary fiction, and shes a sucker for nonfiction that promises to improve your life. Emily reads poetry and fiction with strong female leads, usually the self-deprecating kind. As for me, I still love books with adventure. I review everything from memoir to dystopian fiction.

Our hope is that we become that friend you trust to recommend a good book. Our dream is that we somehow reignite that flicker of reading magic youve been missing.

Were starting with book reviews but weve got a lot more in the works we can’t wait to share.


Abby, Samantha, Emily and Laura are four real-life besties who love to read – and then talk about what they’re reading, usually over a glass (or three) of wine. They created Book Babes because they think reading is magical, and they want it to be magical for you too.  Follow them on Instagram @bookbabesclt or read their reviews at bookbabesclt.com.  

Who you gonna call? Ghostwriters!

“Writers Wanted.”

You don’t see that sign in the windows of any businesses. Plenty of “Help Wanted” and “Cooks Wanted,” but no such pleading for writers. While perhaps not always wanted with our propensity to correct grammar at the drop of a dangling modifier, writers are needed daily by individuals and organizations around the country. Indeed, nearly everyone and every organization has a story to tell and, brilliant and successful as they are in their world, they often do not possess the time, skills, or discipline to write professionally.

Who they gonna call? Ghostwriters!

Everything you read has been written by someone. Yes, obvious, and books, articles, and blogs immediately come to mind. You can’t imagine how many books, articles, and blogs are crafted entirely or in part by ghostwriters (for celebs, sports stars, politicians, business execs, and regular folks for any multitude of reasons). Less obvious are other pieces of writing we encounter every day such as assembly instructions, that IQ test you took online, training modules, compliance courses, website text, speeches, even the directions on your shampoo bottle. “Wash, rinse, repeat,” someone was paid to write that—probably a ghost.

Ghostwriting has a long—and yes, storied—tradition likely with its infancy in the very dawn of writing. Think of those nameless scribes crafting text for royalty when few could read or write. Some even theorize that certain cave drawings were ghosted. Having grown into its own profession, ghostwriting is as robust today as ever. With hundreds of thousands of books published annually and individuals and organizations seeking to get their message and information out, in addition to all the other bits of writing that flow through our daily lives, the demand for ghosts is scary.

Ghosts can engage in any or every phase of the writing lifecycle including advising, conceptualization, structure and organization, research, writing, editing, proofreading, and formatting; and projects can vary in length from days to a year or more. Often ghostwriters will specialize in certain disciplines or genres. The ghost’s name may be on the final product, but probably won’t. We do this for the love of writing, and to sustain ourselves as we pursue our own literary passion.

The reality is that most writers do not support themselves with their own publications. Unless you’re independently wealthy, have a trust fund or patron, or are fortunate enough to live off your spouse without guilt (for some, the hardest part about being a writer), you must support yourself by other means. Through history, writers have worked about every job imaginable to keep the creditors at bay. If you love the challenge of writing as I do, I can’t think of anything that strikes as close to home for a living as ghostwriting.

Ghostwriting is serious business and we are hired as one would engage any other professional. Some of us work full-time and some work part-time. In 20 years as a ghostwriter, I have written nearly everything conceivable, worked with countless individuals and organizations (including projects that lasted for years and continue today), had my brush with the famous and infamous, had clients share more than I ever needed to know, and had my life threatened once! Seriously, who threatens to kill the writer? Sure, lawyers, accountants, even the piano player—that makes sense. But shoot the writer?

I’ve loved every minute of it—met people beyond my world, gained knowledge I may not have been exposed to, all the while honing my writing skills and paying bills along the way. I choose writing because I’m not much good at anything else and I’ve been told I’m better on paper than in person which I’ve ghosted into the compliment I’m certain it was intended to be.


Interested in learning more about life as a ghost? Join Axel for his upcoming class, “Author for Hire: The Joys and Challenges of Ghostwriting” on Tuesday, April 23, from 6 to 9 pm.


Axel Dahlberg has been a professional ghostwriter for nearly 20 years. He has helped countless individuals and some of the largest organizations in the nation conceptualize, structure, write, edit, and format their texts; working in subjects, genres, and industries he hadn’t dreamed about. Axel holds an MFA degree in creative writing from Arizona State University (where he taught writing) and a BA in English from the U of MN. He is the author of the acclaimed non-fiction book, Forever Hellos, Hard Goodbyes, endorsed by Make-A-Wish, the National Institutes of Health, the Society of Pediatric Nurses.

Carolyn Forché and the “Poetry of Witness”

By Alexia Paul and Lisa Rubenson

As part of CPCC’s 2019 Sensoria Festival (April 5-12), the public will have two opportunities to hear acclaimed poet and memoirist Carolyn Forché discuss her work and her recent memoir, What You Have Heard is True. Forché is Sensoria’s 2019 Irene Blair Honeycutt Distinguished Lecturer. Both events are free and will take place on CPCC’s main campus, Tuesday, April 9 at 8 pm in Tate Hall and Wednesday, April 10 at 10:30 am in Halton Theatre.

We’re grateful to Ms. Forché for taking time to answer these questions shared by Charlotte Lit members and Sensoria volunteers, Alexia Paul and Lisa Rubenson.

Q: Why did you choose the written word as your path to storytelling over other means of self-expression?

A: I have always written poetry and stories, since I was nine years old, so there was never a question about my mode of expression.

Q: What role does poetry play in today’s social discourse?

A: Poetry has been called “the natural prayer of the human soul.” It is the oldest of the arts, related to ritual and song, and so it remains a powerful force in the human community, although stronger in some cultures than in others. In today’s social discourse in the United States, poetry is almost invisible, but it is culturally vibrant and ascendant, particularly in those communities who have been silenced or subject to repression. In times of crisis, poets are called upon to speak, even in the United States. This has been especially true in the first two decades of this century.

Q: Please tell us about the first time you discovered the power of words to change people’s understanding of the world around them.

A: My first experience of this would have been in childhood, reading and listening to stories and poems at home and at school, and the discovery of the power of words would have happened again and again. But as I grew up, I perceived that not everyone felt this way. Not everyone understood the power of language. But I have seen its power at work throughout my life. It is not only experience that changes human understanding. It is the articulation of that experience.

Q: Does empathy drive you? Hold you back? Is empathy rooted more in hope or despair?

A: Empathy is a gift, and it is one that can be nurtured and expanded. It is absolutely essential for writers to cultivate the empathetic imagination. This is the portal into the larger world of human experience beyond the self. I don’t think empathy is rooted either in hope or despair. Empathy gives us the capacity to touch others, to move beyond the bounds of ourselves. I would say that the capacity for empathy is the foundation of everything else in our spiritual, artistic, and social lives. There is no art without it. If hope is based on clear awareness, then empathy provides it.

Q: Tell us about your writing practice. When do you know it’s time to shift from experiencing/observing/asking and start writing? Or is there a dividing line at all?

A: I keep notebooks, small notebooks that capture my scribbles, that preserve moments I would otherwise forget. When I write, I must be alone if possible, and for a stretch of time uninterrupted. That is all that writing requires: time, solitude, paper, and pen. The poem begins always with a blank page, in a state of not really knowing anything. One discovers the poem as one writes. For prose, especially prose about a certain subject, place, or time, we must sometimes do research, or otherwise prepare ourselves, but there comes a point when such preparation must be set aside. The writer is again one with the paper.

Q: How was the experience of writing a memoir different from writing poems?  Is it a different muscle?

A: For me, the experience was very different. I am a slow writer, and I write many versions of something before I find the right one. That is true of both poetry and prose. But one must hold the whole work in the mind at once. That is a more difficult task with poems, which tend to be shorter, than with long-form prose. One must stay inside the work, live in the world, and this requires a greater commitment of time: days, weeks, months, and years of time. I wrote my prose memoir over a period of fifteen years. In the first phase, I narrowed my subject down to one particular part of my life. In the second, I wrote many hundreds of pages. In the final phase, I found the shape and structure. And I discovered the story that was trying to be told.


After beginning her career at The William Morris Agency, Alexia Paul honed her writing and editorial skills at the Joy Harris Literary Agency in New York, where she sold books to publishers such as Random House and Little Brown. Since the launch of Alexia Paul Editorial here in Charlotte in 2005, she has helped over one hundred clients create or perfect their work. Alexia lives in Plaza Midwood with her husband and two children. Learn more: alexiapaul.com.

Lisa Rubenson is a writer, editor, arts appreciator and Charlotte Lit member. Read more of her work here.

CPCC’s Sensoria Festival 2019 – April 5-12

Editor’s Note: Please join Charlotte Lit and CPCC on Monday April 8 to celebrate Judy Goldman, Sensoria’s 2019 winner of the Irene Blair Honeycutt Lifetime Achievement Award in Literary Arts. A reception in Tate Lobby at 6 pm is followed at 7 pm by the Award Presentation and a reading by and conversation with Goldman. Charlotte Lit is honored to partner with CPCC to present this award.


The writer’s role as truth-teller

By Alexia Paul and Lisa Rubenson

A thriving literary community demands diverse voices. So its a point of pride in Charlotte that Sensoria – CPCCs annual literary arts festival attracts a wide spectrum of writers.

Last year, U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith left Sensoria-goers beautifully awed. Her searing take on our countrys forever us-and-them struggle hit close to home for a city seeking healing in the wake of civic unrest and protests over racial injustice. The year before, Sensoria welcomed George Saunders, who received the 2017 Man Booker Prize for his novel, Lincoln in the Bardo.

Sensoria now continues its 26-year tradition of showcasing a range of literary talent. Poet-turned-memoirist Carolyn Forché has spent her career chronicling the painful intersection of the individual and the larger forces of war, violence, and protest in Latin America. Her term, poetry of witnessreflects a life spent giving voice to those unable to share their own in times of turmoil and persecution.

Poet and essayist Hanif Abdurraqib is himself a poet of witness, using his kinetic wit to tap into the often devastating reality of growing up black in America. Music is a through line in his work, welcoming us in to his worldview and giving us a beat by which we can stay connected to his story.

Carolyn Forché

Carolyn Forché’s haunting new memoir begins in 1978 when Leonel, a mere acquaintance, requests that she travel to El Salvador to bear witness to a civil war in which 75,000 civilians would die at the hands of a repressive regime. At the time, Forché was a 27-year-old American poet. Doubtful of her purpose on this mission, she continually asks, why me? Why not a journalist or historian? Does her role as a poet augment or diminish her credibility?

As we read, we are witnesses to her witnessing this historic atrocity unfold. The book is almost painfully intimate and demands we not look away, just as Forché chose to not look away. What You Have Heard is True asks the questions: what is the responsibility of storytellers to record and reflect the world around us? What role do poetry and prose have in pursuing and achieving social justice? As she weighs the decision to go to El Salvador, Forché accepts the weight of responsibility: I knew that if I didnt accept his invitation, I could never live as if I would have been willing to do something, should an opportunity have presented itself. I could never say to myself: If only Id had the chance.

What You Have Heard is True is a testament to the power of the written word to remember even the most horrific circumstances. In a 2017 interview, Forché said:

 [Leonel] believed that poetry would affect the world. And it would affect the world not only in our time but in the times to come, because in Latin America, and in many other countries, and in our own country, I would argue, poetry does survive the age. Were still reading Walt Whitmans poems about nursing soldiers wounded in the Civil War. Were still reading. [Source]

Were still reading. Were still writing. And, it matters. – AP

Hanif Abdurraqib 

Photo by Andrew Cenci

As poet and essayist Hanif Abdurraqib tells us on the cover of his new book, Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to A Tribe Called Questhe has written a love letter to a group, a sound, and an era.The memoir is part homage to the rap group whose music foregrounded the authors experience growing up black in the 1990s in Columbus, Ohio, part autobiography, and part primer on the black communitys contribution to music-making through time.

Abdurraqib seamlessly intertwines the rise, fall and reimagining of A Tribe Called Quest with his own coming-of-age story. His writing moves in and out of the personal and universal, the cultural and historical, amplifying the impact of artists in a community and a shared cultural experience on the journey of a people.

Large lessons emerge from Go Ahead in the Rain. For one, we needn’t have grown up listening to hip-hop or rap to understand their importance and feel their legacy reverberate across a generation. Abdurraqib shows us that music can anchor us in time, place and visceral emotion, before setting us free to imbue it with our own meaning.

And, we dont have to have experienced anothers pain in order to bear witness to it. One way we do this is through art, by allowing ourselves to be moved to the edge of our senses by the lyricism of an image or feeling, turned to prose. Meditating on the idea of mercy as a momentary suspension of fear, Abdurraqib writes:

All of this is about mercy. Im talking about what it is to be from a place that promises to love you while holding a gun to your neck. Im talking about what it feels like to have the gun lowered, briefly, by the hands of some unseen grace. Sometimes, it is a protest that stretches long into a night, or sometimes, it is a reading where a room hears familiar words and cries along with you as you read them out loud. But sometimes, it is a perfect album that arrives just in time to build a small community around you. To briefly hold a hand over your eyes and make a new and welcoming darkness of the world outside, even when it is on fire. (p. 186)

More than a love letter to a group, sound and era, Go Ahead in the Rainis also a love letter sent straight to the heart of every reader. LR


Carolyn Forché has two appearances at CPCC’s main campus on Tuesday April 9 and Wednesday April 10. Hanif Abdurraqib speaks at CPCC’s main campus on Thursday April 11 and again later that evening at Goodyear Arts. See the Sensoria website for full details about the weeklong lineup of events. Note: in some cases, an event might be associated with more than one time and location.


After beginning her career at The William Morris Agency, Alexia honed her writing and editorial skills at the Joy Harris Literary Agency in New York, where she sold books to publishers such as Random House and Little Brown. Since the launch of Alexia Paul Editorial here in Charlotte in 2005, she has helped over one hundred clients create or perfect their work. Alexia lives in Plaza Midwood with her husband and two children. Learn more: alexiapaul.com.

Lisa Rubenson is a writer, editor, arts appreciator and Charlotte Lit member. Read more of her work here.

Center City Literary Festival Offers Time and Space to Contemplate Artful Language

We’re busy. Monumentally busy. Our technology-fueled world, with its manic glut of information, steals our sleep, seizes us by the scruff. We spend hours trapped in cars and cubicles and comment sections, our eyes lost in screens, our ears tuned to beeps and clicks, our thumbs typing tiny screeds.

That is precisely why, though it seems counterintuitive, I offer you one more thing to do: the 2019 Center City Literary Festival.

After two decades of attending and planning literary events, I am more than ever convinced of their power, of how they let us express our shared humanity—our joys, our sorrows—and show us how writing and art can sustain us, especially in times of change and upheaval.

But they also force us to slow down, to redirect our attention to the contemplative space of artful language. Even more than reading, listening to a poem or story engages the mind and body; we listen with our ears, eyes, and hearts. Such attention allows our poor inundated senses to recharge, electrified by words and voice. Further, like theater, we immerse into this space as an audience—individual and collective.

Heck, at the very least, we get to sit down. Rest. Drink a (free!) beverage and nosh a (free!) snack. Gaze slack-jawed at the luminescent Charlotte skyline from inside UNC Charlotte Center City building, that translucent green, off-kilter stack in the heart of the city.

The free public festival runs in two parts. During the day, we feature children’s storytelling such as dancers and puppetry along with fun kids’ activities such as creation stations (coloring, crafting, and character-building) and scavenger hunts.

In the evening, we welcome award-winning authors for a reception, readings, book signings, and socializing. We are committed to inviting a diverse lineup of renowned and emerging writers, including those from UNCC and the Charlotte area. In the past two years, we have hosted Nikky Finney, Jill McCorkle, Eduardo C. Corral, Gary Jackson, Dustin M. Hoffman, Paula Martinac, and Siobhán Campbell.

The 2019 festival on Saturday, March 30 2019, will bring you Tony Earley, acclaimed writer of five books and North Carolina native; Hannah Dela Cruz Abrams, poet and prose writer and winner of a Whiting Award; Patrice Gopo, a Charlotte-area creative nonfiction writer and 2018 NC Arts Council fellow; and Allison Hutchcraft, a poet and creative writing instructor at UNCC.

Please, come and take a load off for a couple of hours. Revel in language. Remind yourself of the best of who we are.


2019 Center City Literary Festival

Saturday, March 30, 2018

UNC Charlotte Center City campus
320 E. 9th Street, Charlotte 28202

(Adjacent to First Ward Park and a quick stroll from the 7th Street Market and light rail station)


Bryn Chancellor’s first novel Sycamore (Harper, 2017) has been hailed as a “hypnotic debut” (O: The Oprah Magazine) and “a transporting vision of community, connection and forgiveness” (Publishers Weekly). Her story collection When Are You Coming Home? won the Prairie Schooner Book Prize, and her fiction has appeared in numerous literary journals. Honors include the Poets & Writers Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award. A graduate of Vanderbilt University’s MFA program, she is an assistant professor at UNC Charlotte.

4X4CLT in 2019: Love, Animals, Larks and Lola!

We couldn’t have asked for a better start to this year’s 4X4CLT poetry and art poster series, with February’s release featuring poems from Terrance Hayes and art from Susan Brenner and J. Stacy Utley. We’re excited to announce the rest of the 2019 4X4CLT lineup coming in May, September, and December. Read on to learn how you can help bring this series to your part of town and earn your own personal set of 4X4CLT posters.

May 2019 4X4CLT: Nickole Brown & Jessica Jacobs — as part of their Love and Animals Tour
Friday and Saturday May 17 & 18

Asheville poets and former Authors’ Lab coaches Nickole Brown and Jessica Jacobs are back for a return engagement as 4X4CLT poets. Their poems were featured in the first year of the series and we’re grateful to share their work with our expanded audience.

Nickole Brown is the author of Sister(2007), with a new edition by Sibling Rivalry Press in 2018. She is the editor of the Marie Alexander Poetry Series and teaches at the Sewanee School of Letters MFA program, the Great Smokies Writing Program at UNCA, and the Hindman Settlement School. Her chapbook, To Those Who Were Our First Gods,won the 2018 Chapbook Prize. She lives with her wife, poet Jessica Jacobs, in Asheville.

Jessica Jacobs is the author of three books of poetry. Her second full-length collection, Take Me with You, Wherever You’re Going, has just been released from Four Way Books. She is on the faculty of the Brandeis Collegiate Institute and serves as Associate Editor of the Beloit Poetry Journal. Jessica lives in Asheville with her wife, the poet Nickole Brown.

May 4X4CLT Release Party at Free Range Brewing: Nickole and Jessica will be with us for a reading at Free Range Brewing in NoDa on Friday May 17 from 7 to 9 pm. Free and open to the public.

May 4X4CLT Master Class at Charlotte Lit: They will team teach the master class “Writing Through Conflict” at Charlotte Lit on Saturday May 18 from 10 am to 1 pm. In this workshop, after a discussion of ways to approach those moments or events that sometimes feel too difficult to fully think about let alone put on the page, a multi-part writing prompt will help you build a foundation of facts before feelings, from which you will then be guided to consider multiple perspectives—enabling you to write through conflict with both nuance and power, as well as empathy and compassion for yourself and others. Register


September 2019 4X4CLT: Jennifer Chang
Friday and Saturday September 6 & 7

Poet Jennifer Chang is the author of two books of poetry, The History of Anonymity Some Say the Lark. She teaches at George Washington University and co-chairs the advisory board of Kundiman, a non-profit that supports Asian-American literature.


December 2019 4X4CLT: Lola Haskins
Friday and Saturday December 6 & 7

Lola Haskins is the author of many collections of poetry, including Asylum, to be released in June 2019 by Pitt. She’s also published a variety of other writings including her excellent book of advice for poets, Not Feathers Yet, and essays about the natural world regarding her home state of Florida. Haskins has collaborated widely with musicians, dancers, and visual artists.


Love 4X4CLT? Want to serve as an ambassador?

4X4CLT is growing! Thanks to the hospitality of many local businesses, our poetry and art poster series is now on display at upwards of 90 locations across the greater Charlotte area. These hosts invite their patrons to have chance encounters with poetry and art. We’re grateful for their support.

The task of spreading the 4X4CLT love across town has become more than one or two people can handle. We’re looking for a few volunteers to adopt a part of town and make deliveries to these friendly locations. The number of locations varies in each part of town, but is usually between four and ten. 4X4CLT posters are released quarterly and the deliveries are made within the two weeks of the release party. Areas of greatest need are Steele Creek, Beatties Ford Road corridor, and Davidson. We’d like to expand our reach in the University area and Pineville/Matthews if anyone has contacts with local businesses in these areas. As a thank you, ambassadors will receive their own personal set of posters each quarter. Interested in helping out? Contact Lisa Zerkle at lisaz@charlottelit.org for more details on adoptable neighborhoods.

Poetry, Wellness, and “The Slowdown”

Because I am a writer, my attention can become very centered on craft. I also teach. One afternoon, my creative writing students at Queens University pointed out that I’d failed to remark on the fact that all the poetry examples for the day were about death—I’d been too intent on exploring how the figurative language functioned. They surely had a point. As Lucille Clifton said, “Poetry is a matter of life, not just a matter of language.”

Poems ask us to stop and think. We reread a poem to unpack the compressed power of its metaphor, diction, and arrangement. Appreciating this fully warrants focus—something a healthy mind requires. After a period of intense focus, I know I feel better. Time seems to both stop and to impossibly extend itself. By objective measure, more time has actually passed than it seems. I look up and wonder: Was that really two hours?

What makes me feel less well? The pull of my attention onto too many interrupting and competing tasks, considerations both important and frivolous, near and far, swirling together and visually vying for my attention to screens. These days I sometimes find myself working on multiple undertakings simultaneously, and less successfully, without fully realizing that I’m jumping from one to another. (How did this happen to my brain?)

Poetry is the perfect antidote for today’s particular malady. According to the National Endowment for the Arts, poetry readership is on the rise. Now that I’m looking, the connection between poetry and health seems to be everywhere. William Sieghart recently ran a poetry pharmacy for which he prescribed particular verses for readers’ problems (this is now a book). The Paris Review has a similar project, a blog column Poetry Rx.  And like literary fiction, poetry is sure to improve empathy. Poet Linda Gregerson has reflected on how it can help repair the damage evident in our current civic discourse.

In her latest project, Tracy K. Smith, the nation’s poet laureate and April 2018’s 4X4CLT featured poet, centers on the personal, daily value that poetry provides. If you aren’t already, become a fan of her podcast The Slowdown, produced in partnership with the Library of Congress and the Poetry Foundation. Every weekday, she offers an episode detailing how a poem matters to her personally, what it makes her feel and remember, or how she reacts to its music.

Then she reads the poem in her practiced, calm voice. This tends to be my favorite part of the experience. Five minutes is all you need. “Life is fast, intense and sometimes bewildering,” explains Smith in the introduction to the series. “But poetry offers a way of slowing things down, looking at them closely, mining each moment for all that it houses.” She argues for the necessity of “living more deeply with reality” through poetry. She models for listeners how a poem engages her. Poems express what is relatable yet has felt beyond expression. Poems can be a call to action, connecting us to family and to society. They can also just be a pleasure to say out loud, and whatever they might mean can be beside the point.

In The Slowdown, you’ll find another Charlotte Lit connection, June 2018’s 4X4CLT featured poet, Tyree Daye, Episode 60, Tamed. You’ll find Queens University MFA faculty member Ada Limón, Episode 27, The Raincoat. You’ll find older poetry too, such as Emily Dickinson, 64: I like to see it lap the Miles. What resonates most deeply for you will be for reasons of your own. For example, for me, Episode 48, Elegy for Smoking by Patrick Phillips resonates not because I was ever a smoker, I wasn’t. But in the 1990s, I boldly asserted my right to what I called a smokeless smoke break. I would follow the addicts (including my boss, someone I miss) out to the patio and take a work-break too. Who would have argued with who I was back then, both earnest and mouthy, asserting my right to stare at the trees for the length of time a cigarette would require? Smith has her own way of connecting to the poem. Connecting is absolutely the point.


A few spaces remain for Julie Funderburk’s workshop “A Poem That Sings” on Saturday March 16 from 10 am to 1 pm. Register here.


Julie Funderburk is author of the poetry collection The Door That Always Opens from LSU Press and a limited-edition chapbook from Unicorn Press. She is the recipient of fellowships from the North Carolina Arts Council and the Sewanee WritersConference, and a scholarship from the Bread Loaf WritersConference. Her work appears in Best New Poets, Cave Wall, The Cincinnati Review, Haydens Ferry Review, and Ploughshares. She is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Queens University in Charlotte, where she directs The Arts at Queens.


Featured links: 

William Sieghart’s poetry pharmacy

The Paris Review’s poetry Rx

Linda Gregerson on civic discourse

An invitation from Charlotte Mecklenburg Library’s Community Read

By Marline L. Casseus, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library

This year’s Community Read with Charlotte Mecklenburg Library is bigger, bolder and better than ever before. There are important topics to discuss, many partners hosting events and discussions, and plenty of ways for readers of all ages to get involved. Best of all, the Library is bringing award-winning and New York Times best-selling author, Angie Thomas to Charlotte for a sold-out event at CPCC on March 19.

Everyone in the community is invited to participate in Community Read 2019 by reading the books, talking about them, and attending library and partner programs. Together with its sponsors, partners and local community, the Library strives to open books and open minds.

This year’s main Community Read title is The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. The novel deals with sometimes controversial issues that are important nationally and locally in the Charlotte community. Community Read will launch conversations in Library and partner locations that will help the community heal, strengthen ongoing relationships, and ultimately help make a stronger community. This year’s complete selection of companion titles with related themes are:

  • For adults and teens: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  • For middle grades: Wishtree by Katherine Applegate
  • For young children: Love by Matt de la Peña

Community Read is presented by Charlotte Mecklenburg Library in collaboration with more than 30 community partners, including Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, Community Building Initiative and many more.

This year’s goal is to engage 10% of the Charlotte community – 100,000 people – with Community Read through the Library and with partner organizations.

How can I get involved?

Community Read is for everyone. Everyone is encouraged to read one or more of the Community Read books. While The Hate U Give is intended for teens and adults, companion titles Wishtree and Love are suitable for younger readers. The Library hopes families will read them together and participate in programs designed for children. Everyone in the community is also invited to participate in at least one program or discussion. The current listings of Library-led and partner-led programs for all ages are linked to the main web page. Everyone is also invited to get involved through social media (#CommunityRead2019) to celebrate a love of reading together by posting and sharing relevant contents.

Where can I get a copy?

All three titles are available at Library locations in print and digital formats. Also, the Library expanded its digital license to permit simultaneous downloads of audiobooks and e-books during the month of March.

Additionally, generous investments from presenting sponsor Bank of America and from the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library Foundation and Foundation For The Carolinas have allowed for the purchase of more than 2,000 copies of the book for distribution at Library and partner locations, while supplies last.


Editor’s Note: Jaime Pollard-Smith and Elizabeth West, CPCC English instructors (and Charlotte Lit workshop leaders) have expanded their “Levine Reads” book discussion to include all CPCC campuses in collaboration with the library’s Community Read of The Hate You Give. More info is here.

We’re throwing a(nother) party!

If you know Charlotte Lit at all, you probably know we like to throw a party.

Every year at this time, we do something interesting, party-wise. Four years ago we made our debut with a 100-person event at The Light Factory featuring poet Linda Pastan. A year later, in February 2017, we celebrated our first birthday and the 100th of Carson McCullers in the very house where she lived while writing The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. (It’s now Copper Restaurant.) Last year, we went to play in the garden—Wing Haven Gardens, that is—where we paid tribute to trees (and gave all participants a seedling to plant), and were entertained by Bryn Chancellor, author of Sycamore, and Martin Settle, reading from his collection Maple Samaras.

This year on March 3, Charlotte Lit celebrates its third birthday at Mint Museum Randolph, with special guest Judy Goldman. Tickets are $50 and include hors d’oeuvres from La-Tea-Dah’s, dessert from Sunflour Baking Company, wine and beer and other beverages, and a signed hardcover copy of Judy’s new memoir, Together: A Memoir of a Marriage and a Medical Mishap. (Charlotte Lit Supporting Members receive one free ticket, and McCullers Society Members receive two). Register here!

Staying in the Flow: Advice for Memoir Writers and Others

Gilda Morina Syverson will lead a workshop on memoir, “Traveling Home, Again:  Memoir’s Enlightening Path” at Charlotte Lit on Thursday, February 21st, from 6 to 9 p.m. Register


Only two years. That’s what I told myself when I first began to teach memoir writing at Queens University. I would do it for two years. My plan was to spend more time on my writing. But something happened. I not only fell in love with the process of writing my stories, but I fell in love with everyone else’s stories, too.

That was over 19 years ago. I am still in awe of what people discover when writing about themselves, their families, relatives, in some cases distant ancestors. We can write compelling stories by capturing flashes of memories, obsessions, dreams—night or day, an inspiring line from a poem or article and more. Then we take the thought or line, let it lead us as we write and write and write.

What I’ve told my students over the years is to capture the memory that comes to mind after giving them a prompt or reading them a poem. Do not think about editing, grammar, punctuation marks, and so on. Just write what flows! We’ll deal with crafting later.

I learned this process over thirty years ago when Natalie Goldberg wrote in her books about keeping that hand moving. NO THINKING ALLOWED. Not out loud! Although there is something valuable to learn about “Why not out loud?”

When a person says to me that he or she wants to write and starts telling me their story, I carefully, sometimes not so carefully, stop him or her and say, “Don’t tell me. Write it down.”

I’ve seen frustration on faces. Yes, they have a story to tell. But my intention is to get these people to their office, bedroom, back porch, or wherever they feel comfortable and put down that tale in written words. I imagine them saying to themselves, “I’ll show her. I’m telling that story anyway,” and then pen it in a journal, on a piece of paper, or type it into a Word document.

Ah-ha! A start! It’s where all writers—beginner or advanced—return to again and again.

Even though memoir (and poetry) are my loves, keeping that hand moving is a starter for all genres. When I sit down to write something new, brand new, I let it spill out—a morning dream, a cousin who has revealed a family secret, relatives from Italy who appeared on my grandmother’s doorstep. I let the story lead me where it wants to go. While writing, if Uncle Joe or Aunt Jane appear on your shoulder (metaphorically, of course) and have something to say, do not swat those voices away.

When it is time for crafting, editing is a creative process all its own. Since I am drawn to the editing process as much as the initial discovery, when I go back into the story, that’s when I play with the language, add specific and descriptive details, dialogue if need be, cut, paste, develop scenes.

The structure and spine of the story will slowly evolve. I let it lead me remembering what Anne Lamott said years ago when visiting Charlotte, that she edits each chapter seven, eight, nine times. It is in this process, where I get honest with myself or bring my writing to one of my critique groups; I can count on them to be open with me.

After all these years, I am still in awe of the stories that have grown out of people’s lives, their families, the places they have come from. I hope to hear a bit of your story one day—written down, of course!


Gilda Morina Syverson is an award-winning author for the memoir, My Father’s Daughter: From Rome to Sicily, and two poetry collections, Facing the Dragon and In This Dream Everything Remains Inside. She is at work on her second memoir. Gilda has been teaching and coaching memoir writing for over 19 years and is also on the faculty for Charlotte Lit’s Authors Lab. She has recently been featured on Charlotte Readers Podcast.