Take a Book..Leave a Book

A month ago I went on a carriage ride through Charleston with a friend, and this particular ride took us on a route I rarely travel in the city.  It wasn’t my favorite route – that’s down by the Battery – but it was pretty, and I saw some things I’d never seen before.

The best find really had nothing to do with Charleston and the history here, and everything to do with books.  Tucked down on Logan Street between Queen and Broad, mounted on a post in the front yard of one of the charming homes, was a box with a glass door.  And through the glass you could see books.  From the bottom of the house hung a sign:  “Little Free Library.  Take a book…  Leave a book… Or both.”

Little Free Library on Logan Street

I’d heard about Little Free Libraries, but didn’t know there was one in Charleston.  I really had no idea what an amazing organization it is until I did a little research.  Little Free Library is a nonprofit organization that promotes these little “libraries” that house free books for members of local communities.  The idea was conceived by a man as a tribute to his mother, a school teacher and book lover.  He designed a library that looked like a schoolhouse, filled it with books, and mounted it in his front lawn.  Little Free Library was born with that one schoolhouse box. Their website estimates there are now between 5000 and 6000 out there in 36 countries.  They’ve also formed a partnership with Books for Africa to provide Little Free Libraries with containers of books.

You can build your own, or buy one from the organization (though those seem pretty expensive), or even have one custom designed.  Then you register it, and the coordinates are put on a map on the website.  It’s only $35 to register, and you get the sign, a bumper sticker, some bookplates, and occasionally free books from publishers. Best of all, though, you get to share books, and have others share books with you.  Don’t all readers love that?

Check out their website, and see if there is a Little Free Library in your community.  If there is, leave a note to the steward of that library thanking him or her for contributing to the promotion of literature.  Leave some of your favorite books, or if you are a writer, share a few of your own.  And if there’s not a Little Free Library in your community, consider being a steward yourself.  I am.

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Key West Literary Seminar 2013

Key West Literary Seminar 2013 Stage
Key West Literary Seminar 2013 Stage

by Sharon Harrigan

Sharon Harrigan, a friend and fellow WriterHouse member, was the Joyce Horton Johnson Fiction Award recipient at KWLS this year, and I asked her to share her thoughts on the experience.  Thanks, Sharon, and congrats again on a much deserved award.

If the view out your window is anything like mine right now—snow on slippery sidewalks—let me offer you this mid-winter writer’s daydream: Flip flops and floppy hats on beach cruiser bikes to stir up inspiration. The sun so bright on the ocean you can swim in it every day of the year, like Tennessee Williams did. The descendants of Hemingway’s cats lounging at his house under flowering shrubs, just the sight of their softness somehow making your prose more muscular. Cafe con leche and guava pastries before writing workshop with Hilma Wolitzer at Judy Blume’s house. Panels and presentations by literary superstars like Colm Toibin, Brad Gooch, and Billy Collins, followed by dinners with the speakers and your fellow workshop writers at the lighthouse, near the southernmost tip of North America. Finally, after a corkscrew climb down the winding steps, a pink taxi or pedi-cab waits to deposit you in the jacuzzi at your bed and breakfast (aptly called, of course, Authors’ House).

It’s not a day dream. It’s called the Key West Literary Seminar. I was able to attend for the first time, last month, and the experience still helps me write more brightly, whatever gray days may arrive, outside my window or in my head.

The seminar takes place every January, and there are three ways you can attend—as a winner of one of the three prizes, as a scholarship participant, and as a general attendee. I was lucky enough to be the Joyce Horton Johnson Award recipient this year. For more information, see the seminar’s web site: http://www.kwls.org/

Spread the word about KWLS. I wouldn’t have known about it at all if it weren’t for my fellow WriterHouse members who won the award in previous years (hooray for Kristen-Paige Madonia, George Kamide, and CHRISTY STRICK!).  It must be something WriterHouse puts in the water, or maybe good things just happen when you’re part of a fabulously smart and encouraging literary community. Thank you, Christy, for all your tips on Key West and everything else.

Sharon Harrigan has published over three dozen short stories, essays, and reviews in such journals as Narrative, The Rumpus, and The Nervous Breakdown.

You’ve Found a Residency You Want – Now What?

VCCA - photo courtesy of Joelle Wallach
VCCA – photo courtesy of Joelle Wallach, composer and VCCA resident

It’s that time of year – I’m itching to go somewhere and hide out and write.  So I’m looking at deadlines for residencies, and getting my submissions polished.  It’s not too stressful for me – I’ve done this before.  But I remember when I first started looking into colonies and felt so clueless. I had so many questions.  What is a statement of purpose?  How is that different from an artist’s statement?  Is it better to send a short story or novel excerpt?  Who should write my letters of recommendation?  While I don’t have all the answers, and each residency committee varies somewhat, here are things most of them will ask you to submit.

  1. A brief bio and/or CV.  Try to keep your bio to one page, if possible, and include only pertinent information.  Same goes for the CV – keep it brief (no more than 2 pages) and pertinent.  If you don’t have lots of publications, it’s OK.  They want to see that you are committed to your craft.  When I first started applying, since I didn’t have many credits, I sent in a CV that stressed my role at WriterHouse, my education, etc.
  2. Artist statement.  Usually no more than one page, this is a way for the jurors to get to know you as an artist.  They want to know about you and your work, what makes you a good candidate, and why a residency would benefit you.  Tailor this to the residency you are applying for.  Are they looking for diversity?  Emerging writers?  Craft your artist statement to show how you fit their ideal candidate.
  3. Statement of Purpose.  This one usually throws people, because you’re applying for a residency that might be a year away.  How do you know what you’ll be working on?  Don’t stress.  Your statement of purpose is not a contract.  The point of this is more to show you have a purpose in mind than to tie you down.  They want to know that you are thinking in terms of work getting done.
  4. Letters of Recommendation.  Most writers I know hate this one.  Who to ask?  Will I be bothering them by asking?  Will my old advisor even remember me?  You need to get over this.  You are not asking for money, you are not asking for a job.  You are asking for a letter.  Most people don’t mind writing a letter of recommendation. It’s mainly to let the committee know that you’re a good fit for a residency.  That you take your writing seriously.  Not to testify to the quality of your work.  So really, anyone who knows your work ethic and your ability to function in a quiet environment can write you a letter of recommendation.
  5. Work Sample.  This is the most important part of the application, so choose your best and most polished work.  This is where you should spend the most time. As to whether to send short fiction or a novel excerpt, consider what your statement of purpose says.  If you say you’re going to be working on revising a novel while there, you probably don’t want to send in 10 poems.  And do pay attention to the maximum word or page count.  Really, if they say they only want 20 pages, they mean it.  Don’t eliminate yourself before they even read the work.

Good luck.  Hope to see you at some fabulous residency soon.