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Literary Cleveland Rallies Northeast Ohio Writing Community

Poet & playwright Mary Weems teaching a class at Cleveland INKubator 2016 at Cleveland Public Library [photo: Catherine Young, Cleveland Public Library]

Northeast Ohio writers get the opportunity to share their work and ideas with other local writers at the upcoming Cleveland INKubator festival.  It's a chance for aspiring writers to network with others already published, and is a sounding board for storytelling.  This weeklong, free workshop is the brainchild of a local writer, inspired by a history of writers working together in the region.

In 2014, Lee Chilcote was working as a journalist, but wanted to do something more community based.

"I was also frankly frustrated as a writer.  I wanted more of a community to plug into and I wanted back some of the things that we had frankly lost with the Poets' and Writers' League and the Lit," Chilcote said.

In 1991, the Poets' and Writers' League of Greater Cleveland formed to support and encourage regional writers with workshops, a quarterly magazine and award ceremonies.  But two decades later in 2011, the organization (which was known as The Lit at the time) disbanded due to financial struggles following the 2008 economic downturn.

So in 2015, Chilcote formed "Literary Cleveland" to fill that void.

"I saw an opportunity to help create those programs especially as Cleveland has really been on the rise and has been experiencing so much rejuvenation to give a boost to the writing community as well," Chilcote said.

He organized the first Cleveland INKubator at the Cleveland Public Library and 300 people showed up.  Chilcote realized he was onto something.

"The interest was just phenomenal and really took us a little frankly by surprise.  We had folks coming out of the woodwork that had been involved with the Poets' and Writers' League and 'The Lit.'  And then we had newer folks, people who're in college, high-school students, people in their 20's and 30's, etc, who were writing in their houses and looking for a community to plug into in a way to grow and learn," Chilcote said.

As a founding member Darlene Montanaro helped Chilcote get Literary Cleveland up and running, and brought her experience leading the previous group - Poets' and Writers' League - which helped connect with longtime local writers.

"There was nothing that [Lee Chilcote] was going to do or wanted to do that I didn't feel was really the right way to go.  I love looking through the mailing list and seeing so many people who've stayed on and who are still writing and to me that's very exciting," Montanaro said.

Another founding member who helped Chilcote get started was best-selling novelist Thrity Umrigar, who relishes living in Northeast Ohio.

"We have a thriving, extremely talented bunch of writers who happen to live in Northeast Ohio.  What distinguishes us from other communities is the fact that we are each others greatest boosters and supporters.  And I cannot tell you how lovely it feels to be part of a community that's supportive, that's not competitive but supportive," Umrigar said.

One way Literary Cleveland is different from its predecessor - the Poets' and Writers' League - is the way it utilizes social media to connect with the community.  Another distinction is that it puts an emphasis on emerging writers.

"Our sweet spot is really developing writers, but that we serve everybody from folks who do not consider themselves to be writers at all but have a story to tell, so we're inviting them into the writing and the storytelling process, all the way up to professional writers who are seeking professional development," Chilcote said.

Umrigar is one of those professionals.

"Literary Cleveland routinely offers workshops to aspiring writers.  It features writers like me to come before them and do readings and talks which is a wonderful way of getting to know not just established writers but the next generation of Cleveland writers," Umrigar said.

Chilcote hopes to welcome even more aspiring local writers to put pen to paper at the third annual Cleveland Inkubator which is free and open to the public.

The Cleveland Inkubator presented by Literary Cleveland kicks off Monday with a series of free performances, readings and writing events at various locations, ending with a free day-long literary conference at the downtown Cleveland Public Library on Saturday, July 29th. 


Listen to the entire interview with Lee Chilcote and Darlene Montanaro:




Dave DeOreo is coordinating producer for Ideastream Public Media’s arts and culture team.