To write is, in great part, to live and work in isolation. The writer lives through his or her words in worlds created in the mind and in the heart. Yet a literary community is vital to a healthy community, and not just for the benefit of writers.
The Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters, located at 758 Wealthy Street SE, in Grand Rapids, is a non-profit writers' center. GLCL’s mission is to encourage, promote, and celebrate the literary endeavors of writers in the Great Lakes region.
GLCL was founded in 2013 and offers reading series, talks about the craft of writing, classes and workshops, book launches for authors in the Great Lakes region, and programs for teens and and young adults. It also sponsors writing contests and offers consultations with professional writers, among other services.
Robert Russell is the director of development at GLCL. Asked about what GLCL does, he brims with enthusiasm. “Literary arts are open to everyone. Anyone can write down thoughts. You don’t have to be published. There is healing in writing. It’s a kind of therapy, and it also connects people. I’ve always thought the literary arts are vastly under-appreciated.”
Individual membership is $40 a year, allowing the member access to the Writers Hub, private events, discounts on manuscript consultations, workshops and classes, and other benefits. Student membership is $25 annually. A hundred dollars makes you a "Friend of GLCL." Most events are open to the general public.
“As a nonprofit, we survive on memberships and fund drives,” Russell says. “Our annual drives raise funds for GLCL, general operating funds, help us bring in more staff, increase the hours of the Writers Hub, add additional programming, pay writers, and so on. We do sell books by our members, but it’s all these other events that distinguish us from bookstores.”
Russell is a writer himself. His first novel, Sea of Trees, was published by Winter Goose Publishing in 2012. His first collection of stories, Don’t Ask Me to Spell It Out, was published in April 2015 by Whiskey Paper Press. His Western novel, Mesilla, was published in September 2015 by Dock Street Press. Russell has been nominated three times for the Pushcart Prize.
“I learned about GLCL from Roni Devlin, who owned the Literary Life Bookstore that was at our location before,” Russell says. Devlin, who founded GLCL, brought Russell on board because they shared a passion for the literary arts. She works full-time as a physician specializing in infectious diseases but also serves as the center's president and treasurer. Devlin is the author of Influenza, and has a passion for sharing her love of reading and writing with others.
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