Wordsmiths: Mary Lou Edwards and her fellow members of the Oak Park Writers Group hang on every word during the monthly public reading night at Eastgate Caf?.

One of the best-kept secrets in Oak Park is the Writers 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 Public 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 organization is not restricted as to genre. Essays, memoirs, nonfiction, poetry, short stories, chapters from novels-in-progress — all are shared.

Some of the group members are published and others are either unpublished or not seeking to be published. Most members are in their 50s on up, though I did see some who were in their late 20s or 30s. There was a mix of ethnicities and 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, a typical Oak Park group — diverse, opinionated and talented.

They have an open mic every second Sunday at Eastgate Café on Harrison Street, which runs from 5 to 7 p.m. and not only will you find good food, drink and company, but also an assortment of literary pieces read by authors, offered as food for thought. The night I attended, about 20 people were gathered to listen in rapt attention to poetry and prose. The evening ended with music. Very nice.

Some of the members told me the open mic and their annual fall event “Writers Read” at the main library provide much needed experience and exposure for writers in learning 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 his or her work. The audience for the open mic reading I attended was supportive, but I’m sure the participating authors could tell which selections connected with the audience more deeply by the intensity of the applause at the end.

The Writers 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. Montville 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 main library, and continuing to bring attention to the rich literary heritage of Oak Park and 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 the two most frequent 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, to that end, 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 Writers Group ensures that the literary tradition of this village remains strong, vital and relevant to readers of all ages.

They can be reached via email at oakparkwritersgroup@yahoo.com.

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Helen Kossler

Helen Kossler loves reading aloud to her grandchildren and is not ashamed to admit that she almost always likes the book better than the movie. She has been buying, borrowing, begging and stealing (well—not...

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