One of the best-kept secrets in Oak Park is the Writer’s Group. It’s not that they want to be overlooked or unknown, but it’s an uphill battle to get their name and activities out in front of the larger, non-writing audience.
The group meets monthly on the first Thursday of the month at the Oak Park Library. It is open to anyone who writes and wants to share their work with others for supportive critiquing. There are no fees or dues. Just show up with about 15 copies to pass out to the rest of the group. The group is not restricted as to genre--essays, memoirs, nonfiction, poetry, short stories, chapters from novels-in-progress are all shared.
Some of the group members are published and others are either not published or not seeking to be published. Most of the members are in their 50’s and up although I did see some people who were in their late 20’s or 30’s. There was a mix of ethnicities as well as people for whom writing is only part of their life, such as a lawyer, a psychologist, a former computer programmer and members of religious orders. In other words, it is a typical Oak Park group—diverse, opinionated and talented.
They have an open mic every second Sunday at Eastgate Café on Harrison Street. It runs from 5 to 7 PM and not only is there good food, drink and company, there are an assortment of literary pieces read by their authors as food for thought. The night I attended, about 20 people were gathered to listen with rapt attention to poetry and prose. The evening ended with music. Very nice.
Some of the members told me that the open mic and their annual fall event “Writers Read” at the Oak Park Library provide much needed experience to writers in how to present themselves before an audience. In today’s publishing world, the writer must be a marketer too and needs to have confidence in explaining or reading their work. The audience for the open mic reading I attended was supportive but I’m sure that the participating authors were aware of which selections connected with the audience more deeply by the applause at the end.
The Writer’s Group started in 2003 and has been meeting regularly ever since despite changes in facilitators. Currently Dan Montville and Kathy Woods serve as the unofficial “official” organizers. Dan told me that for him this is a labor of love. The group is trying to make itself more relevant and known by publishing a literary magazine, sponsoring writing contests, participating in a local authors day at the Oak Park Library, and continuing to bring attention to the rich literary heritage of Oak Park and the surrounding areas.
I had a chance to talk to some group members to find out why they attended. “It makes you accountable,” and “I need the feedback from an audience,” were two of the reasons given. Mary Lou Edwards said that writing is a lonely job and it’s important to connect to others to find out if what you’re doing works. Mary Ann Eiler offered that the people who belong to the group are serious about writing even if they are not yet published and talking to other writers helps keep her motivated.
The group has a literary magazine, Keystrokes, that showcases some of their members’ writing. They want to encourage young writers and sponsored a writing contest at the high school. The winners’ pieces are included in the literary magazine and I was impressed by the selections. The images were crisp and strong and the subject matter serious and thought-provoking. The Oak Park Writer’s Group ensures that the literary tradition of the village remains strong, vital and relevant to readers of all ages.
They can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.