By: Nathan Blanchard
Volunteer Nathan ventures off from the Potomac River area, from which the Potomac Review draws its name, to nearby waters in Baltimore to attend the City Lit Festival.
If you are a writer in Maryland, you should acquaint yourself with the City Lit Project from Baltimore. They host dozens of programs and events that cultivate and encourage reading and writing. Their website offers writers’ resources and plenty of local information to distract writers from writing, but in a good way. The apex of their local influence is their annual City Lit Festival, named “Best of Baltimore” by Baltimore magazine in 2005 and 2009.
On April 13, 2013, for the first time, I attended the City Lit Festival and enjoyed the day with such delight that I will be returning each year I’m able. The Enoch Pratt Library in Baltimore opened its doors to City Lit, and a grid of tables called the “literary marketplace,” covered Central Hall. Booths of local publishers, journals and imprints offered publications and information for festival attendees.
I spoke with several local writers and editors about the local writing community, and the forum primed us for casual yet productive and informative conversations. As a writer, I got the opportunity to ask editors what types of fiction they respond to and what they are looking to include in upcoming publications. The soulless among us would say that I was Networking (shudder), but really, I was simply having exciting discussions with fellow enthusiasts.
Throughout the day, speakers held talks in several auditoriums. I enjoyed Tim Wendell and Leigh Newman as they gave readings. I listened to Stanley Plumly and Dick Allen read some poems, followed by a Q & A. The highlight of the festival was headliner George Saunders, interviewed by Tom Hall. Hall guided the interview with engaging questions that sparked Saunders’ entertaining and charismatic personality, and together they kept the audience laughing. The audience heard anecdotes about Saunders’ writing career, particularly from his beginning years, which inspired and sometimes reassured the writers in the crowd. Saunders took on the interview like it was a creative project, spinning similes and metaphors to illuminate his answers and to keep the audience’s attention.
He read an excerpt from “The Semplica-Girl Diaries,” a story included in his latest short-story collection, Tenth of December. The interview concluded with a Q & A with the audience, who asked a surprisingly small number of questions.
Afterward, I had the pleasure of speaking with Saunders informally, and he put to ease my lamentations about avoiding adverbs in fiction, which is a rule that has been hammered into my cerebral cortex from every tutorial, class and workshop I’ve attended (there’s even writers’ tools that provide seek-and-destroy adverb tactics, like Edit Minion with its “Adverbinator,”). Without hesitation, Saunders told me that adverb usage is ok—even great, sometimes—as long as you make it count. The lesson: no lazy writing. Make each word matter.
I ecstatically recommend this festival.