Local Poet Blake More helped Poets & Writers (www.pw.org) come up with these Technical Assistance Tips for Rural Writers:
Planning a successful literary event can be doubly challenging when the population of your entire county is smaller than that of most suburban neighborhoods.
We asked several rural writers, including Blake More of Point Arena, CA; Monika Rose of San Andreas, CA; and Ken Waldman, a traveling poet who has worked in Upstate New York and is based in Anchorage, AK, and Southwest Louisiana, how they do it. (City-dwellers can learn from their tips too!)
Partner with the local historical society to build events around your town’s unique character. Rose is currently working on an event that will include writing workshops and “guest appearances” by Mark Twain, Black Bart, and others who made Calaveras County famous.
Local museums, high schools, and businesses make great partners too. Do you live in wine country? Dairy country? Donations of locally made treats will give your event a regional flavor. Waldman suggests linking readings to something larger–a festival, series, or annual celebration. This will make the effort more sustainable than a one-off event. (And don’t forget that the R/W program can match writers’ fees.)
Get involved with the county arts council. “I can’t stress this one enough,” says Rose. She recommends volunteering, using arts council offices for meetings, and taking an active role in community planning processes.
Target an intergenerational audience to ensure a bigger turnout. Rose says, “We’re seeing a huge drop in participation by young people who are struggling just to find work, get into college….” Free writing workshops allow young people to engage with their communities even when money is tight, she says.
Stay connected online and off. Facebook, regional and literary listserves, publications like Poetry Flash, and message boards like P&W’s Speakeasy will help you spread the word about your event and find out about others. Cultivate relationships with local journalists.
Volunteer to curate a “local writers” shelf at your library.
Arrange regular meet-ups with fellow writers in public venues such as libraries or cafes, and be open to newcomers. Other curious writers and artists will soon join you.
Attend readings in other areas to scout writers you’d like to feature in your series.
When you invite a writer from out of town, book as far in advance as possible (More tries to plan a year ahead) so they can arrange travel.
But if an out-of-town reader cancels at the last minute, have a local alternate on standby.
Finally, remember that “rural communities are not created equally,” says Waldman. “Just because a county or specific community is defined as ‘rural,’ that doesn’t mean there isn’t a high concentration of artists, or a thriving arts and literary scene. Then again, it might also mean the community is several hours away from anything remotely like that. All rural places have their own special character, which leads to specific challenges and specific opportunities.”