“I think we what we need is more literature in bars.”

It felt like Andre Perry, co-founder of the Mission Creek Festival in Iowa City, was speaking just to me. He wasn’t.

Perry was addressing the packed room of writers gathered at a literary conference in Washington, D.C., and espousing on the topic of literary community. “If you see a gap,” he said, “then fill it.”  The lesson: build the community that you want to participate in.

Perry was right.

We did need more literature in bars.

Shortly after the conference I organized the first Write.Drink.Read. happy writing hour. I called a bar; reserved a space. Then, I panicked. Who would come? Do people want to write in bars?

Word-of-mouth spread. We filled three tables. We grabbed some beers, drank wine, passed around appetizers and created new work. I facilitated writing prompts, we talked about our works-in-progress and we laughed—a lot. I decided to turn Write.Drink.Read. into a quarterly event.

Willona Sloan leading a workshop

Writing with Willona
For most writers three things are true:

1) Writers want to get published.
2) Writers need time and space to write.
3) Writers often feel isolated.

Write.Drink.Read. could fill some of these needs, but I wondered, how could I help more writers to publish? I realized that I have a lot of knowledge and experience that I could share. I earned a B.A. in English from UVA, and I feel grateful every day that I make my living as a writer and editor.

I launched the Writing with Willona series of writing-focused social events in Washington, D.C. to help writers improve their skills; to give them a push to create new work and to offer even the most introverted writers a chance to break out of their shells.

The first workshop I led was at a girls’ rock music camp. My friend asked me to co-present three self-esteem boosting writing classes to the campers (ages 8-18). As I had no prior teaching experience it was a very challenging yet inspirational experience for me. I’ll never forget seeing how proud the girls were of the work they had created.

I teach topics that intrigue me. Most recently I led a half-day travel writing workshop that concluded with shared tapas and pitchers of sangria. I recently organized a free poetry writing class, which included a private tour of the National Portrait Gallery; I taught a nonfiction workshop, focused on writing about race and I led a class focused on D.C.'s Black poets of the Jazz Age. 

Workshop participants

I have had to cancel workshops because no one registered; I have sat in an empty classroom waiting for students to drop in to no avail. It hurts. But, I do tend to forget. I’ll find myself signing another space rental contract and creating a registration page before I can remember the pain.

I hope that bringing writers together can help them to get what they need to keep writing—whether it's emotional support or skills development or a night away from that blinking cursor.

Participating in a vibrant community of writers has greatly increased my own productivity. I’ve learned from my students; I’ve made friends; I’ve made mistakes and I’ve written lots and lots of pages.

Find out what workshops and events are coming up next at willonasloan.wordpress.com.

Willona M. Sloan (Col '97) earned a B.A. in English from U.Va. and an M.A. in literature from American University. She received a 2013 Artist Fellowship Award from the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities. Her free ebook, Come to Our Show: Punk Show Flyers from D.C. to Down Under, has been downloaded more than 11,000 times.