Into the Wilds
- Leeya Mehta
- June 3, 2019
DC’s literary life, venues, & dis-n-dat.
“There should be a place where only the things you want to happen, happen.”
– Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are
Have you ever sat at a bar, swirling a bourbon or watching your tea bag steep, and felt like there is no place more perfect than the one you are at because you have a friend beside you who, like you, likes to write and wants to talk about it?
That person gets it.
The moment is delicious. Slogging away alone, this is one of the rewards of being a writer — to occasionally emerge out of your loneliness to be with that exalted creature: the other writer.
Writing dishevels you, and if you don’t want it to conquer you, please find a community. It can be small and pungent, a few crackling chili peppers like you, but everyone needs a fellow traveler or they will go bonkers. If you write in Washington, DC, and its environs (inside or outside the fabled Beltway), this column will add to your list of ways to find a friend to get you into the HOV lane.
And I do recommend finding a friend, someone true.
It was a Sunday, maybe 2013 or thereabouts, when I headed to an open mic at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda. I’d published poems and short fiction and was writing my second novel. The wonderful Sunil Freeman manned the doors and, inside, I met Claudia Brown. Claudia and I became friends instantly.
Claudia wrote nonfiction and participated in the amazing “This is My Brave” show, a performance-based, multi-genre presentation on mental health.
When I needed a buddy, Claudia was there for me. She even rolled up on the banks of the Anacostia River. I had been asked to read poetry as part of the Flooded Lecture Series curated by Mia Feuer. Public art has never been more strangely fantastic. Claudia and I canoed into the “wilds” of the Anacostia as the sun bailed on us.
We steered our way past giant leafed plants in the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. Temporarily on dry land, Claudia stood by me while I read my poem “Black Dog on the Anacostia” by torchlight. (The poem was published by local poet/editors Diana Bolton and Marlena Chertock in District Lit.) Claudia and I were infamously featured in the City Paper, “Poets, I learned in September, aren’t the best paddlers.”
My early visits to the Writer’s Center also introduced me to other local writers, including Dan Vera (his book Speaking Wiri Wiri is a real favorite), Dini Karasik (her essay “A Country Called my Mother” is a must-read), Barbara Klein Moss (The Language of Paradise is her terrific novel), and Stewart Moss (poems in Plume).
A couple moons later, Claudia discovered the amazing Inner Loop. Now, in their sixth year, the Inner Loop founders Rachel Coonce and Courtney Sexton (solid writers in their own right) have grown it into a multi-pronged literary establishment with a podcast, residencies, and more.
Every day, I meet someone who reminds me of myself when I started in this city — someone who has a book they are writing or want to write; maybe they are new to writing or new to DC. Maybe they’re thinking, I’m all alone or I have no time because I have to finish a book. Please be possessive of those hours to finish your book, but my experience has taught me that:
- Books take a long time (I’m on year seven, and I’ve been attending to it more or less every day).
- No one writes a book alone. You are the CEO of your book, but there will be many others to toast who help you stay the course, fund you, believe in you, edit you, read you, and listen to you go on and on and…I could go on and on.
Community has its own value, and it is so much more than networking. It is about feeling you are home, comfortable in your skin. It is feeling grateful that there are other people out there whose work inspires you and who are willing to engage with your work.
For example, I didn’t know what I was missing before I came into contact with the poetry organization Split this Rock, where I’ve met the most amazing activists and heard for the first time poets who are now my very favorites (Ocean Vuong, Danez Smith, and Ross Gay were featured in my column “Figs on a Hill” recently).
But I’m out of room. For now, I present a list of local places where you can submit writings, read aloud, enjoy festivals, or shop for books (or just sit and work). If your favorite spot is missing, please write in and add to the lists.
As you get out there, every now and then, may you find that friend who is willing to show up for you in the wilds of DC. Or, better still, may someone say to you:
“Oh, please don't go — we'll eat you up — we love you so!”
– Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are
Local publications to submit to:
District Lines (annual, Politics and Prose, multi-genre, with art and photography); District Lit (multi-genre, themed); Poet Lore (poetry); Beltway Poetry Quarterly (poetry, event listings, great resource founded by Kim Roberts).
Venues for reading excerpts of your work:
The Inner Loop (multi-genre, multi-location, third Tuesday of the month); the Writer’s Center (multi-genre classes, events, and open mics); Zed’s Café Silver Spring (poetry café organized by Dorritt Carroll); DiVerse Gaithersburg series (organized by Lucinda Marshall); the Library of Congress (love attending events featuring the poet laureate, but there are many opportunities for other writers, too); Bloombars in DC (poetry, spoken word); Epicure Café in Fairfax; Joaquin Miller Cabin poetry series in DC.
Venues for book readings:
The Inner Loop; Kramerbooks; Solid State Books; Politics and Prose (multiple locations); Busboys and Poets (multiple locations and open-mic events); the Writer’s Center; the Folger Shakespeare Library; PEN America; PEN/Faulkner; the Hill Center; Petworth Citizen and Reading Room.
Workspaces, writer’s groups, etc.:
DC Public Libraries has beautiful spaces across the city; the Writer’s Room Tenleytown (many established writers work here); the Writer’s Center’s workspaces; 202Creates; the Writer’s Loft (organizes writing events and was founded by Dini Karasik, who also organizes a retreat in Mexico); another local writer, Shabnam Samuel, organizes the Panchgani Writers Retreat in India; the Wonky Writer’s Group; Split this Rock’s community poetry workshops.
Other literary organizations:
Hurston/Wright Foundation; Split this Rock; Northern VA Writer’s Club; the Center for Poetic Thought.
March: Split This Rock Festival (every two years; next 2020)
April: Annapolis Book Festival
April: Bethesda Lit Festival
April: Kensington Day of the Book Festival
May: Literary Hill Bookfest
May: Gaithersburg Book Festival
May: Washington Writers Conference
August: National Book Festival
October: Fall for the Book Festival
October: F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Festival
November: Baltimore Book Festival