Local Writing Community members discuss how this year affected writers in Chattanooga.
The past year has brought huge changes to all parts of the Chattanooga creative scene, including the local writing scene. While it tends to be overshadowed by local visual arts, Chattanooga has a thriving community of poets and authors who enrich the city with poetry events, writer workshops, and of course, their wonderful books and stories.
This year presented new challenges for everyone, but COVID was a particular challenge for local writing groups. Local writers are a tight-knit community with writing clubs, group readings, and community workshops being the main ways to stay connected. The pandemic meant that almost all of these events were either shut down or forced to go virtual.
Dr. Sybil Baker is the associate department head of the UTC English department and plays a huge role in creating and promoting local writing events. This year she says that the community lost many events that the university organizes, and those left were made virtual.
"While there were still a lot of opportunities to hear local and national writers via Zoom this year, we lost the in-person opportunities that make up a local writing scene." Dr. Baker said.
Events such as the Meacham Writer's Workshop were still able to take place by going virtual. One of the biggest forces in creating local virtual writing events was Christian Collier, founder of The Poetry Plug Project. Christian is one of the main drivers of poetry and literary circles in Chattanooga, and he took a huge part in keeping the writing scene alive during 2020.
Christian began hosting virtual open mic poetry events for the community that other literary leaders like Dr. Baker attended. Over the summer, Christian was a reader for the Black Voices Matter movement sponsored by poets and activists in Nashville. He believes that these events show that even during a pandemic, the literary arts can find ways to continue to be involved with communities.
"One thing that’s been interesting is that location isn’t really a factor anymore," Christain said. "Due to Zoom and some other platforms, it’s entirely possible to take part in a virtual open-mic anywhere in the country or beyond."
As 2020 moves into 2021, Dr. Baker shared that she does not think we will be able to see in person events return for a few months due to the pandemic's nature, but that this should not be discouraging. Local organizations like UTC, the Southern Lit Alliance, the Plug Poetry Project and many others are planning to continue to host virtual events as they did in 2020.
"I hope that we'll continue to have a mix of events to allow more opportunities and access for all people interested in the arts in the area," Dr. Baker said.