Seats are filled, and some stand elbow-to-elbow alongside the bookcases, patiently waiting in the back room of 57th Street Books for the first live showcase of the Indie City Writers, a new writing community based in Hyde Park. Tired of “perpetually traveling up north for expert talks about publishing, for live-lit performances, [or] to hang out with other writers,” K.B. Jensen created the Indie City Writers to foster and “strengthen the writing community on the South Side.” The group seeks to rectify the discrepancy in writers’ services like industry talks, workshops, and live performances, all of which she says are hard to find south of the Loop. While many writers’ groups exist throughout the North Side and Evanston areas, the time and cost of transportation to those neighborhoods begins to take a toll on those who don’t write full-time or can’t spare a two-hour commute.
Jensen, together with M.L. Kennedy and Kayla Gordon—both local writers—has worked to establish an artists’ space for emerging writers on the South Side. Jensen and Gordon met at a writers’ meet-up and Kennedy met Jensen through a mutual friend from Minneapolis. Jensen introduced the two to each other, and they started to think about how the group would take shape. They wanted it to be a community since “writing, a lot of the time, is isolating,” as Jensen put it. “And you really need a community. It’s not enough to just sit there in your own little house, typing away…you need to be able to edit it, workshop it, and grow as a writer.” At the group’s weekly meetings, participants can workshop pre-existing works, begin the writing process with a prompt, read one of their pieces, or hear an industry representative speak to the group about the steps to publication.
Though the activities of a meeting may differ depending on the night, the collaborative, supportive principles behind the group’s inception are meant to be an important characteristic in all interactions. All are welcome, and in addition to the low price of dues ($0), the nurturing feeling of community is sure to motivate many to join. Currently the group is relying on word of mouth to advertise, though so far they’ve been successful in reaching out not only to local writers, but also to those from the North Side and Chicago suburbs.
The showcase at 57th Street Books served to showcase the talents of emerging writers, and it was interesting to note the various subject and genre matters handled: from Melanie Holmes’ excerpt from her novel The Female Assumption, a feminist endeavor to survey and understand motherhood’s role in womanhood, to Wednesday Quansah’s humorous short story about a coffeeshop (“Coffee Shop”) and its surly barista, and from a humorous twenty-five-word short about seeing Santa in September to an uncompromising class-conscious poem about the significance of an insignificant street sweeper. Although the writers in the collective come from varying genres and experience levels, the group believes great writing is great writing no matter the specialty, and it works to supplement and reinforce the talents of all its members. It acts as not only a platform for its members to showcase their work, but as a place for them to grow.
After watching Quansah showcase her ability to wring humor from a scenario as mundane as ordering coffee before going to work—at moments producing belly laughter throughout the room—it was clear that she and the other performers have unique ways of letting their pieces demonstrate their dedication to storytelling; the pieces performed were not first drafts.
For Jensen, the purpose of the Indie City Writers is to “showcase emerging writers. [To see] people developing their talents before [they’re] famous… A group where you can create, share, learn, critique, refine. All those things.” She has large plans for the organization: in five years, she sees it evolving from a writer’s collective to a nonprofit for supporting emerging writers. Jensen hopes the group can serve as a springboard for supporting and developing talent, which could make a lasting impact on “bridging the gap” between the inequity of writer’s resources on the North and South Sides. If the first live showcase is any indication of what the group has to offer, then all admirers of good literature and local talent should keep their eyes out.
If interested in attending a meeting or getting more information, e-mail Indie City Writers at firstname.lastname@example.org.