Dateline: Williamsport, Pennsylvania, a.k.a. “Billtown.” Writer April Line has embarked on a mission to raise the profile of literature with Billtown Blue Lit. I recently caught up with April to talk about her progress with getting a reading series off the ground–and her dream of starting a writers’ retreat, scholarship fund, and online literary journal under the Billtown Blue Lit banner.
What is the project?
The project is Billtown Blue Lit. We are an organization whose primary mission is to increase visibility and publicity for Literature. In so doing, we will also promote local business, and foster writers.
What inspired this project?
My chronic desire to make my life look like it did when I was in college, where I read literary fiction all the time, got to go hear good writers read, and wrote. Now that I’m a grown up, I also want to write about books, to give a bigger voice, and more venues to good fiction.
I was looking around this great town I’m lucky to have landed in, and all of its visual art, music, theater, and community activism, and I thought, “I want to contribute!” I’m a writer and editor, and I have some contacts in the literary world, so the idea for a reading series was pretty organic.
Are there others like it that you can compare it to?
There are all kinds of things that are sort of like this. I’ve borrowed bits of other organizations I know about, like Tin House’s writers’ retreat, and Attic Institute, and Light House Writers Workshop. And SCSU, my alma mater, hosts a reading series. I’ll emulate that for the events. These organizations aspire to foster writers. The biggest difference between these and Billtown Blue Lit is that Blue Lit wants to work toward a bigger readership for the fostered writers.
How does your location play into the project?
I talk a little bit about how awesome Williamsport is over at the Start Some Good Project. This town is unlike any other place I’ve lived in that it has the small town, blue-collar sensibility with which I grew up, but it also has this incredible and diverse cultural presence. We still have a locally owned book shop. We have no fewer than three visual-arts centered businesses downtown. We have The Pajama Factory. We have all kinds of musical oraganizations, like the Williamsport Symphony Orchestra, the Williamsport Civic Chorus, the Uptown Music Collective. We have two theaters: The Community Theater League, and The Community Arts Center. Grey Gallery has started a spoken word/open mic night for poetry, and I want to bring great fiction writers.
Because of the general excellence of Williamsport (and North Central PA generally), one of the guiding principles for the Blue Lit project will be that we interface with regional business as exclusively as possible. I want to form partnerships with regional businesses and organizations that do good in the community, and that make Williamsport what it is: a thriving, small town with an identity. Sure, we have big box retailers and chain restaurants, but we are still distinct. I want to preserve that distinctness.
What are your long term goals?
A writers’ retreat, like Tin House’s. A scholarship fund for deserving young writers who are children of single moms. An online literary journal. Building a community of voices through the blog: readers, writers, authors, publishing industry professionals. These are just a few. I hope more people will join Billtown Blue Lit and have other ideas and energy for realizing them.
Your short term goals?
We’re trying to raise money so that we can host two bigger, well-marketed events. I want the authors who come to read to get paid. It’ll cost about $2500 to host a single event, not counting marketing so we’re trying to raise that for one event, plus marketing, plus some money to make the rewards for our donors (T-shirts, MP3s, DVDs, and books), and buy time so that we can write some grants and forage partnerships with other businesses and organizations.
Some of the businesses that are already on board and supporting us are the JV Brown Library, Otto Book Store, Wilcox Development Solutions, Gustonian Gifts, and Grey Art Gallery.
If we get funded, we will become a 501(c)3 by the end of 2012.
What events do you have planned for the coming year?
Just today I confirmed the venue for the pilot event. Peter Damian Bellis will read from his newest project on January 20 or 21 in the evening at Grey Gallery. The success of the fund raising campaign will dictate whether we can host additional events. But Tim Parrish has agreed to read at some future, unnamed point, and you have, too, Marc, and I have some other authors in mind.
What challenges have you faced so far?
This is a huge project, and it’s spreading me pretty thin. My main challenge has been making the time to get everything done. So far, it’s rocking and rolling. It’s also challenging to find folks who will volunteer their time to help, folks who are passionate about the project and its cause.
What have you learned?
That people and businesses in Williamsport, strangers who’ve come on board, and my personal friends are even more enthusiastic and supportive than I thought they would be (and I had a pretty high estimation of their enthusiasm). I have also learned that asking people for donations of time, money, and resources for a nonprofit venture is a TON easier emotionally, and with a much, much higher success rate than selling things, which is what I spent about four years doing. I stopped a bit under a year ago, but that skill set and ability to differentiate my self from my cause (or product) is massively helpful.
How can people get involved or contribute?
Visit www.billtownbluelit.wordpress.com, or go to the StartSomeGood campaign. If they have ideas or have written books and would like to come read, or if they want to contribute to the blog, or if they are interested in a marketing internship, they can also email me at AprilLineWriting@gmail.com