Sure, it’s nice to find a locally crafted chocolate on your pillow in a boutique hotel. But how about a locally crafted sonnet on your bedside table?
That could soon happen at Burlington’s new Hotel Vermont, which has entered into an unusual partnership with the Burlington Writers Workshop. As we reported in December on Seven Days’ Live Culture blog, the hotel will distribute a small compilation of poems, essays and stories by BWW members to each of its 125 rooms, giving the guests a taste of local lit.
That’s in tune with Hotel Vermont’s branding as an establishment that showcases Vermont products, from food to building materials to art. “The arts are an integral part of the Hotel Vermont experience,” says Marketing Coordinator Tori Carton in a December 18 press release.
The compilation will be renewed quarterly, with BWW organizer Peter Biello selecting and sometimes soliciting submissions from the group’s members, he says. The first installment, featuring work that appeared in The Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop 2013, should appear in hotel rooms in the next few weeks, says Carton.
Meanwhile, BWW members are at work assembling a second annual “best of” anthology, due out in April. And the free workshop series, which has grown by leaps and bounds since its founding in 2009, has acquired its own dedicated space at Burlington’s Studio 266.
The BWW currently counts 476 members on the organizational website Meetup.com, Biello says, of whom about 200 are active. That’s a lot of writers to squeeze into 15-person workshops on the classic creative-writing-class model: Participants read one another’s work and offer in-depth critique.
Until recently, the BWW met on the lower floor of downtown’s Halflounge, which was only available in the evenings. The search for a permanent home, Biello says, “sprang out of the overwhelming need for a place to meet during the day.” He’d noted the popularity of daytime meetings held at the Young Writers Project headquarters in the Old North End. “We had so many people who said, ‘We want a space.’”
Then Biello found himself at Studio 266 (at 266 South Champlain Street) on a First Friday art walk with Colleen McLaughlin, a BWW member who has an art studio there. Liking the size and the price, he soon put down rent on a spacious room, he says, thinking, “I’ll just do it, and I’ll hope that everybody backs me up later.”
BWW members have indeed come through with automated contributions, which currently cover about half of the space’s $610 to $630 monthly rent and heating costs. Last Saturday, they gathered to outfit the room with a coffee maker, couch and other crucial writerly amenities. “We have a lot of visual artists among the group, and they all want to put work up on the walls,” says Biello, who envisions First Friday events combining words and visual stimulation.
There certainly won’t be a shortage of the former. Most weeks, the BWW schedules four or five workshops, which quickly fill to capacity. About eight members have volunteered to host workshops, providing informal leadership. The offerings have become more specialized, as well, with short-fiction writers, poets and creative-nonfiction writers holding dedicated gatherings; novelists can air their entire creations over a series of “book-length-narrative nights.” The new space will accommodate demand for songwriting workshops, Biello says, and a horror-fiction workshop is planned.
Special events and readings are in the works, too. In November, the BWW held a publishing panel featuring, among others, Vermont novelist Jon Clinch, who recently moved to self-publishing after two well-received books with Random House. On January 16, the BWW will team up with Magic Hat Brewing Company for “Ale Tales: An Evening of Stories About Drinking” at the Artifactory. After four writers read their booze-themed narratives, audience members can contribute their own.
Why are the workshops so popular? Biello — a producer at Vermont Public Radio who writes fiction — says he often hears from BWW writers that they like both the “social aspect” and the feedback. “People want to learn how to do what they’re doing more effectively. They really want to know what their work looks like to someone else,” he says. “Normally [writers] are alone and wondering if they’re any good and wondering how they could possibly get better.”
And, of course, it helps that the workshops are frequent and free, making it easy for participants to come and go. “Some people arrive at a certain point where they’ve learned all they want to learn, and they can go off on their own,” Biello says. “I’m not encouraging dependence on the workshop.”
BWW writers may not be dependent on their gatherings, but donations toward rental of the new writing center suggest that a critical mass of them is eager to commit.
“Ale Tales: An Evening of Stories About Drinking.” Thursday, January 16, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Magic Hat Brewing Company in South Burlington. Free.