A really inspiring book talk or reading or panel, at its best, offers a peek into the writer’s mind and process, reigniting a desire to get back into your own creative endeavors. Baltimore’s CityLit Festival offers a month full of such conversations, affirming the interconnected importance of great storytelling, sharp craft and form, and strong community.
CityLit Project is based upon the notion that artists need relationships, resources, advocacy, and opportunities to sustain their creative work. In the literary world, it’s helpful to see your peers not as competitors but as comrades; this dynamic can help alleviate the sting of rejection, demystify the pathway to publishing, and generate entirely new collaborative structures and outlets to share your writing with the world. It is the kind of energy we need, especially as the publishing industry collapses and consolidates—as newsrooms are gutted, as cultural publications and journals struggle to survive.
Those behind Baltimore’s CityLit Project understand these dynamics intimately, and for almost 20 years they’ve nurtured a community of writers throughout the region. Founded in 2004 by Gregg Wilhelm, the literary nonprofit is presently run by a sole staffer, executive director Carla Du Pree, whose work is supplemented and supported by an enthusiastic board and volunteers. Historically, CityLit has been able to accomplish a lot with fewer resources than many of the big-name organizations that host conferences that cost hundreds of dollars to attend, while offering transformative opportunities for writers. Its annual cornerstone event, the CityLit Festival, is filled with both practical advice and inspiring talks, readings, and workshops featuring locally and nationally renowned authors, and it is largely free.
This year, the organization has taken its lessons from two-plus years of enduring a pandemic. Its March 2020 festival was supposed to be the biggest one yet with 85 writers packed into the single-day event, but it became one of the first major local events canceled due to COVID concerns. For Du Pree, this decision was “devastating,” she says, but “it also gave CityLit a chance to reflect on what’s next.” It was clear that CityLit’s offerings were still necessary: “People needed poetry in their lives more than ever,” Du Pree says. “People needed words—whether they spoke those words or heard them.” Subsequent programs in 2020 and the 2021 festival were conducted virtually on Zoom.
The 2022 CityLit Festival will be spread out over the month of March, offering both live and virtual events with a host of great writers. (Now is a great time to disclose: BmoreArt is a media sponsor of the 2022 CityLit Festival. Additionally, I am participating in a “craft intensive” panel on creative nonfiction which also features BmoreArt contributor Angela N. Carroll, and a few more contributors are part of various events this year as well.) Most of the live events will be streamable for those staying at home, and the virtual events will be “meeting-style” rather than webinar-style to encourage attendees to actually get acquainted and talk like they would in person.