We are excited to share a recently completed anthology created by the Brookfield Writers Group (BWG) and the La Grange Writers Group (LGWG) titled "Covid Chronicles: 19-word Stories." While this anthology is a record of individual experiences and perspectives during this pandemic, it is also a demonstration that creative collaboration is possible during a time of social distancing! Twenty-three writers contributed to this collection. Some individuals belong to one or both of the writers groups that are hosted by the Brookfield Public Library (BPL) and La Grange Public Library (LGPL). A digitized copy is available now on the La Grange Public Library’s website. Check it out!
The majority of this writing is about the collaborative spirit of our Covid Chronicles project, but moreover it is intended to inspire and to offer encouragement as you form or enrich a partnership between the library and local writers. And if you are asking yourself if writers exist in your community, the answer is Absolutely they do!
In April, The Australian Writers Centre (AWC) invited writers worldwide to submit exactly 19 words reflecting their personal thoughts, hopes, fears, experiences and observations about Covid-19. Marie Anderson, facilitator of the La Grange Writers Group since January of 2009, spread the word about this creative challenge to LGWG and BWG members and many individuals wrote and submitted 19 words to the AWC. By mid-April, these local writers decided to gather their awesome 19-word reflections in one document, because they were confident that their efforts should be shared with an even larger audience!
One thing led to another, and before they knew it, they decided to illustrate these micro-stories with photos, drawings, or graphics. The only rule was that the images had to be created by each storyteller and had to have something to do with the theme or content of their 19-word story. Marie extended a writing invite to the LGWG’s support librarian, Jeanne Jesernik and to Nicole Peats who supports the teen writers of the La Grange Public Library.
Margo Rife, a member of both writing groups and another key coordinator in this project, suggested that the group also create a cover worthy of the collection. Bonny Kotapish came up with the idea of drawing personal interpretations of the virus and putting these on a cover. Eight writers submitted virus drawings. Jeanne’s son, Cody Jesernik arranged these pieces into a collage as a book cover. Laurie Whitman is currently working with Minuteman Press and having bound paperback copies made that will be available to peruse at both public libraries and at the La Grange Area Historical Society.
In the meantime, as participants and project coordinators were steadily exchanging almost daily emails related to this labor of love over the course of several weeks, the Australian Writers Centre (AWC) read all the hundreds and hundreds of 19-word reflections they'd received from all over the world. They published 75 of their favorites in late April. Thrillingly, they published the reflections written by four members of the La Grange Writers Group – Lauryn Kotapish, Nick Janecki, Pam Holtman and Sara Whittleton! Lauryn and Sara decided to have a different 19-word story in The Covid Chronicles rather than the one AWC published.
These achievements energized the writers of the Covid Chronicles and on the day of the project’s completion, it was immediately made accessible to all on the La Grange Public Library’s website and promoted through social media. This is what public library staff do—they connect people to one another’s stories in some shape or form each and every day, but during this pandemic additional outreach and promotions of virtual resources, projects and services is especially powerful. Ideas, which evolve locally, can also be shared with patrons and staff at other libraries. The effort can grow exponentially! To add some further insight to these accomplishments, it’s also helpful to recognize that new undertakings have historical roots. This is certainly the case regarding the Covid Chronicles anthology. A bit of history about the partnerships between the Brookfield and La Grange Writers Groups and their relationships with their host libraries, includes the fact that four of the writers Marie, Margo, Kevin Folliard and Gregory Von Dare belong to both groups and so the two groups often interact at both libraries. In 2016, the two writers groups collaborated on their first, and only other, anthology, "The Wrong Coat”--stories and poems around the theme of coming into possession of someone else’s coat. Copies are available through the SWAN catalog. In more recent times, some of the writers from these groups created a growing collection of “Basement Stories” podcasts in the La Grange Public Library’s digital studio. Other ongoing library activities include quarterly Open Mic Nights at the La Grange Public Library in which writers can read or perform their own works. And of course, the writers groups have met regularly for many years at both libraries to workshop these and other stories and poems.
Jim Chmura, the BWG facilitator recently shared that some of their group members originally met at Krochs & Brentano's bookstore in downtown Oak Park, a shop that closed in the mid 1990s. They met in members’ homes and John Quinn, their patriarch, helped them find space in the Brookfield Public Library. Marie shared that the LGWG has been going strong since 2009 in the La Grange Public Library where the group first met. Kevin has been the LGWG co-leader since 2010. One of his essential roles is making copies of the writers’ works to distribute at their meetings. Marie organizes the line up and coordinates with support librarian, Jeanne in promoting the LGWG program and in welcoming new members. Laurie Whitman says of Marie “She has the unique ability to always find something useful and special to say to the author.” And she adds that “The LGWG is one of the things in my life for which I am most grateful; not only the inspiration we glean from one another, the astute and kind critiques regardless of individual tastes, but also the camaraderie we have developed as a group. Writing as we know is a personal adventure and I love that we share with open minds and hearts.”
Some other personal testimonies that will hopefully inspire staff at other libraries to originate and/or support their established local writers groups include, Marie’s statement “We wouldn't exist without our wonderful libraries. It's so powerful to meet in a library because meeting in a space open to all means that our membership stays fluid and diverse. We never know who will show up! Sometimes a person will attend just one meeting, and sometimes they'll keep coming back. We have a core group of about 15 writers. We are especially grateful for the support we receive from our support librarian, Jeanne. We call her our angel.”
Margo has shared that “It was a new experience for me to have a library site appear on my Facebook feed as we tend to think of the public library as a building with books. Sharing the Covid Chronicles library post with family, friends and neighbors felt like a new adventure. It exposed me as a writer (many of my friends were not aware of that fact) and that the local library is my creative facilitator. Friends found this collaboration interesting— they commented on and shared the Facebook post. I hope that libraries will continue to explore social media outlets. I think it was a timely good fit for this project and I’m thankful for the LaGrange Public Library staff members who reach out to our group and community on a regular basis.”
As an Adult Services librarian who has a strong commitment to her local writing group, Jeanne “Hopes that other librarians who read this article will consider themselves not only as story keepers and story lovers, but as storytellers that find ways to advocate to others the importance of such meaningful partnerships. Start a writer’s group if you have none. If a group already meets at your library, connect with them, consider making their meetings a library sponsored program, communicate often and promote the heck out of them! You’ll be surprised how these small acts create great and unexpected outcomes!”
Our guest blogger today is Jeanne Jesernik. Jeanne is the Adult Services Librarian at La Grange Public Library.