Renegade Writer’s Collective: Literature’s Positive Power

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Renegade Writer’s Collective: Literature’s Positive Power

Intern Valerie Moyer with Collective founders Angela Palm and Jessica Nelson

Intern Valerie Moyer with Collective founders Angela Palm and Jessica Nelson

Travis LeClair

Intern Valerie Moyer with Collective founders Angela Palm and Jessica Nelson

Travis LeClair

Travis LeClair

Intern Valerie Moyer with Collective founders Angela Palm and Jessica Nelson

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The Renegade Writers’ Collective burst onto the Burlington arts scene in summer 2013 with a mission to enrich the Vermont community via readings, personal coaching and espousing the positive power and diversity of literature.

Jessica Nelson and Angela Palm brought their energy and vision together to form the Collective. Both are proven writers, and both are using their talents in various ways to provide expertise to others, while also continuing in their own literary journey.

Nelson is an adjunct instructor in Johnson State College’s Writing and Literature department and non-fiction editor/managing editor of Green Mountains Review. She is the author of a recently published memoir, “If Only You People Could Follow Directions.” Her work also appears in a variety of literary journals, and has garnered numerous awards, including first place in “Alligator Juniper’s” national non-fiction contest, and notable mention in “Best American Essays 2012” anthology.

Palm’s work has been published in many literary journals as well. She works as a non-fiction editor for the Fiddleback literary journal. Palm is working as editor of a book project written by a collection of Vermont writers, in which each piece of the anthology draws inspiration from used library cards. The Renegade Writers’ website describes the project as “Part celebration of vintage library ephemera and part literary eclecticism.” The work is due out in summer 2014.

Both women are busy enough outside of the Writers’ Collective, but this did not stop the two friends. They realized that Burlington, and the state as a whole, was in need of, and ready for, some renegades.

Palm said the Collective was born of a desire to connect with the rich community of readers and writers that exist in Vermont. “We wanted to be able to attend and participate in a reading series, so we thought we’d put together a reading series, and then one thing led to another, and within a couple of weeks we were putting together a whole business model,” said Palm. “It just seemed like the right thing to do, the right time, the right place…and it couldn’t be a better fit for what we wanted.”

Palm and Nelson found their fit in a space on 47 Maple St., in Burlington, a charming brick building that is home to the popular Maglianero café, an art gallery down below, and a handful of spaces rented by a variety of professionals within the two stories above.

Nelson and Palm act as prose editors at the Collective. Working alongside them is the well-published Karin Gottshall, who works as a poetry editor and coach at the Collective, while also teaching poetry at Middlebury College, and UVM senior and English major Valerie Moyer, who interns for the RWC.

The Collective offers a variety of services including classes, memberships, an active reading series, editing and manuscript reading for novels and poetry collections and occasional writing retreats.

The creators of the Collective praised Moyer for her hard work. “Val kind of helps us with everything,” said Nelson. “Reading things for us, doing research, helping us put together programs, staffing events.”

Coaching writers is what has been most exciting and rewarding for Nelson and Palm throughout the first half-year of business. “I think what has been exciting to us most is the coaching work we’ve been doing . . . we meet with writers one-on-one and I think that’s been really gratifying personally and just a really dynamic part of what we offer,” said Nelson.

Nelson has encountered a diverse group of writers over the past couple of months, writers of diverse needs. “We have a lot of clients who have very different needs, and some of them really want editing and feedback for works in progress, and some of them want more mentoring and teaching,” she said.

Palm has already worked with a variety of writers. She believes artists can benefit by being involved with coaches and peers, no matter where they are in their project. “A lot of people are in that stage, where they come to us and say, ‘I’ve got all these ideas, I want to put together a book, I’ve written a little bit, but it’s been awhile,’” Palm said, “and I think it’s good for people to have a place to go where they know they are going to be doing that sort of work, and have deadlines.”

Nelson believes all writers should have accountability and be involved in the community while they create.

“Writers need accountability, I mean all of us,” she said. “One thing I hear from every client, every single one I think, is that ‘Writing is the one thing I love to do the most, and the one thing I hate to do the most,’ and I think that’s true for most writers . . . we love it and hate it. It’s the one thing that gives us the most pleasure, and also the one thing that we avoid at all costs. So I think signing up for coaching is to say, ‘Look, I know I have to get this piece in to my coach by Sunday’ . . . and there is that immediate gratification too, because when they get that piece in Monday, they’re going to be here on Wednesday, and they’re going to get good, solid feedback. That’s going to keep the momentum going.”

It seems that fear is one of the main obstacles that aspiring writers, and established writers, and all artists, for that matter, have to face.

Palm revealed that she has encountered this during her time as a writing coach. “Probably 50 percent of my clients have really struggled with getting to the first meeting, where I’m going to be reading their work, because they’re afraid of what I’m going to think, and it’s not about that,” said Palm. “It’s really just helping each writer be the best writer they can be and honoring the aesthetic and helping them write the best stories they can write in the best and most interesting ways. I think when people start to realize that it can be fun, they are more open to engaging that way, but there’s definitely an initial fear.”

Palm believes that artists being vocal about their work is deeply connected to potential success, and more importantly, immediate happiness and satisfaction: “I think one thing is to speak up and talk about what you are doing, and I think you’ll find that you’ll be engaged in a conversation really quickly with other people who are doing the same thing and not talking about it. Push yourself to read the best work that you can read, and write the best work that you can write.”

Nelson knows that without speaking up and joining a literary community, she would not be where she is today. “The more I became embroiled in a community, the more it became difficult to quit,” she said. “There is very little fame and glory and money in it, so it can feel futile if you’re just sitting in your own, and not engaging. The more friends you make who are writers, and the more engaged you are, the harder it becomes to sort of bow out… it becomes addictive in and of itself, that energy and that conversation, and you don’t want to give that up. It’s a two-part process, not just the writing, but the whole world that comes with it. So join a writers’ group, find a good mentor, get a coach, put yourself out there and go to conferences.”

Nelson notes at least two goals for the Collective in the upcoming year. It will strive to continue supporting local writers through coaching, while providing exciting literary events to the community. “We are focusing more on the coaching end of our business, to continue to engage the community in literary-infused events, to keep the dialogue going, to provide venues for writers to meet and talk with other writers and showcase their work,” Nelson said.

The Collective hosted just such an event at local venue ArtsRiot on Jan. 30. JSC Assistant Professor of Writing and Literature Elizabeth Powell, who is also the editor of Green Mountains Review, was one of the poets sharing their work that night before an audience of over 75 listeners and readers.

Powell read a few poems during the evening: “For The Water Balloon Throwers,” “The Short History of Sexting” (which she wrote at the challenge of her daughter), and her two-part poem, “”

Powell remembers the night as being fun and evidence that Vermont is home to a variety of amazing writers. “I think what sticks with me is the diversity of voices in Vermont and New England, of accomplished voices,” Powell said. “I took away a feeling of warmth knowing that there was so many different voices and knowing that we were all there together creating one voice.”

RWC will begin a monthly open-mic in the café/art gallery that sits below them on 47 Maple St., starting Mar. 12. The coaches are excited, and hope those whom they coach and mentor will read to the public during these events.

Nelson acknowledged that while public events can be unpredictable, initial response has been encouraging.

“Some of this is unpredictable,” she said. “We’ve had an event or two flop, where there weren’t too many people; some of it’s just weather-related, or date-related, but our last few events have just been packed, so it’s been great.”

Palm believes that venues like ArtsRiot are key in creating an atmosphere where the community can enjoy literary art in a more realistic and approachable fashion.

“We try to provide really excellent programing, and around that, being in a place like ArtsRiot really lends itself to a more fun atmosphere,” she said. “You can socialize, you can go look at art on the walls, you can get a drink, and I think that really makes it more like a going-out-experience, rather than just going to sit in some room and listen to some poetry for awhile. The idea is to make listening to writing and attending readings something that’s a cultural experience, and not insular, which is the whole thing we’re trying to move away from, and bring everybody together in a way that’s fun and not stuffy.”

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