More than once, after asked where I’m from, I’ll hear a co-conversationalist dare a joke about the faux-native yokelian name of my hometown, Chattanooga, Tennessee. Say what you like; you’re more than likely to mispronounce it. (It’s chae-tuh-NOO-guh or chaet-uh-NOOG-uh, depending on how quick you are on the consonant draw.) I’m ever pleased to rebuff your suspicions of no-shoes, no-shirt, no-Yanks, no-education. The town’s more than just Moon Pies, Rock City, and “Pardon me, boy . . . ”
Chattanooga sits in a valley along the Tennessee River, surrounded by mountains, where it cradles restaurants, bars, the Tennessee Aquarium, the Riverbend Music Festival, and much more. Not only has Outside Magazine consistently rated the town as one of the best cities to live in, I’m now telling you: It’s got an intimate and avid literary scene.
Case in point, unus: Meacham Writers’ Workshop, a three-day all-day junket of readings, lectures, workshops, and social gatherings. This perennial blossom’s been cultivated by poet Richard Jackson for over twenty-five years, primarily in partnership with the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and Chattanooga State Community College. Rick now has a team of coordinators, including faculty from both institutions, as well as the always-eager writing students from UTC.
Once I was one of those students. I volunteered for the conference as a driver to the visiting writers, and it provided me with access to rare interactions with writers. I learned how to talk to writers, to ask them questions about their work, to ask for advice about grad school and beyond. As a student, this was an invaluable boon to my growth not only as a poet but as a citizen of the poetry community. The conference isn’t just for the students, however; it’s free and open to the public. And if you’re anywhere within a four-hour radius of Chattanooga, I suggest you go. Buy books. Talk—actually talk—to writers. (Check out a list of their past guests.) Ask Rick for a wine recommendation. Shake out those little bees in your bonnet: for three days, live your life for writing and writing only.
Of course, I’m biased. And nostalgic. Which brings me to my next counsel—something new, something that attests to the growth of Chattanooga as a hub for literary, visual, and performing arts in the Southeast. Now introducing: the FUSEBOX art&word series, a year-old reading series that’s happening on a near-monthly basis.
Meet Aubrey Lenahan, founder of the program and graduate of UNC–Greensboro and George Mason University, a hella-stylish poet herself. You may ask, How does she bring in the likes of Matt Hart and Jenny Sadre-Orafai and other scribblers from the far-flung states of the nation?
A. Out of her own pocket. And donations.
That’s part of the miracle of the program, a testament to Lenahan’s tenacity and insistence that Chattanooga have a literary scene throughout the year, beyond the biannual Meacham conference. It’s unpretentious, stylistically diverse, and solicitous of the audience and readers’ needs. Now hosted in the Folk School of Chattanooga, one feels as if literature does indeed speak to other forms of art. How do you find out more? Facebook’s your best bet, although I’ve heard rumors that they’re expanding their online presence in the near future.
The longer I’ve been writing and working with journals, the more I’ve become aware of how important good citizens of our community are, like those who run the Meacham Writers’ Workshop and FUSEBOX art&word. So often, after toiling over a few words and nitpicking our writing decisions, we feel we deserve praise, and we do, but let’s not forget to give the laurels to our champions, too, beyond National Poetry Month, beyond this venue.
*Throughout Poetry Month 32 Poems will use this space to praise presses, journals, and readings series that bring poetry to us in a special way. Our hope is that we can point new fans in their direction and publicly thank editors and curators for their work. Check in with us again tomorrow for another poet’s recommendation.
Emilia Phillips is the author of Signaletics (University of Akron Press, August 2013) and the prose editor of 32 Poems. She teaches poetry at Virginia Commonwealth University and, in August, will join Gettysburg College as the 2013–2014 Emerging Writer Lecturer.