Letter from the Jenna Kalinsky, Founder, One Lit Place:
Where it all started
When I first started my writing career, was I ever was spoiled. Living in New York City, I was up to my ears in literary life, overrun with the best and brightest in the field, tripping over them in the street. Another lecture from Toni Morrison? Phillip Roth is reading again? Seriously, does the guy have nothing else to do?
But after a few years, I left the country to strike out anew. I went to Germany where I didn’t know the language, knew no one, and I counted Brussels sprouts stalks on my way to work.
When I’d started out as a writer, it had been inside of a group of peers who were supportive, verbal, stimulating as hell, and, importantly, there. Now separated from that vital tether, I wrote and wrote and wrote as if the act alone would keep me afloat, but it felt as though I were calling down a hole.
I bought expensive New Yorkers, reading every line two or three times. I carried my copies of Poets and Writers everywhere. My emails were long and passionate, or some might say desperate.
Then a few years later, I moved again. Then again, and then again. There were brief times inside of this nomadry- conferences, residencies, book-type events- when I was plunged back into what I’d been missing. I could smell it on the others who also lived on the fringes, who’d moved away or who had had families: we couldn’t talk fast enough. Or enough about enough. It was exhilarating and exhausting and sweet and sad because soon these wonderful events were over and we were back to not feeling that wonderful hydrating drip of connection that made us feel so alive.
The Seeds of A New Kind of Community
Settled in Canada, I began teaching at a university and its associated adult studies program and saw it happening there too: people writing but writing without the greater centre, the centre that I very much believed could hold if you held on hard enough. The courses were one-offs: an “Intro to Fiction I” oddly didn’t have a “II.” A lone class called “Screenwriting.” There was no lobby, no room or coffee area where the students could hang out before or after class. I had to wonder: what was a person to do if she took one of these classes and found her voice? Harmony cannot come of one.
It felt odd to just do my job and go home. I wanted to be a conduit to something bigger, to be someone who could create a “Part II” because that’s what I wanted for myself. I pitched the idea of a program restructuring and companion literary community to the director: a cohesive infrastructure of courses supported by literary events open to students and the public. Bless her, she was game, got me some funding and I went for it. It was great. It felt important just in the act donating life and time and care to writing so others would know it mattered.
But after a year, after all the organizing, hiring, poetry readings, new course structures and certificate design, the director moved on, and the new administration didn’t see enough boost in revenue to keep it going.
Virtual Is Integral to Connection
That was ten years ago. Since then, I’ve been teaching virtual classes, semester-long courses in which people from all over the world gather to learn in an online classroom. I have to say virtual classes are fantastic for many reasons, but particularly for the continuity. Unlike a face-to-face class that is active and dynamic only for the two or three hours a week when everyone is in the room, an online classroom invites participation all day every day, making it active and dynamic throughout the week.
As a result, for the duration of that course, the eight or ten weeks, the students come to view writing- and the community that is the natural by-product- as a fundamental aspect of who they are and not simply a thing they do. They typically come to deepen their appreciation for writing due in large part of having written inside of a supportive community as part of their lifestyle as opposed to in a room two hours a week.
For these writers, their ability to be heard and to listen becomes inextricable with the writing itself. Indeed, it is clear: if a book or poem benefits from an organizing principle, so too does a writer.
But even these courses end, and while many of the students keep in touch privately, for the most part the lovely community and sense of engagement and belonging and vital interaction ends, and that is that.
One Lit Place Happens…
I’ve decided I do not wish to continue letting that be that. As a writing coach and editor, I firmly believe that cohesiveness and consistency in all areas of a narrative foster the most powerful literary experience, and I maintain that such ideas are true in life as well.
I am opening the doors to this community because it’s a place I want for myself. I’m around books and writers all day; it’s what I do, who I am, and what I love. I want to give all of us the opportunity to connect and exchange ideas with peers who care about the same things. Whose voices weave together to create something new.
One Lit Place is our place, our inspiration, and our writers’ collective where we actively share our thoughts and our selves, and where we can find resources that help us as we write. We may write alone, but when we collect, together we make a very necessary music.
~ Jenna Kalinsky