A one-day event called Cleveland Inkubator back in August 2015, organized by 15 advisors in the literary world, eventually gave birth to Literary Cleveland. The nonprofit organization whose mission is to help writers with their work now boasts 300 members, an office, and a full-time executive director in Lee Chilcote. Just last year, Lit Cleveland had over 1,600 registrants for their classes and programs; that number is expected to grow to more than 2,000 this year.
"If you look at Cleveland, we have a great arts scene for a city of our size," says Chilcote. "The theater community, the visual arts community, they're both really well known. And even though we have a great literary community, it's not as well known. We knew there was a need for programs; we just didn't know how big the need was. So we did the Inkubator, 300 people showed up, and that was the moment that we said, 'Let's do this.'"
Once the decision was made, organizers put out a call for founding members and donations. Nearly 200 people came through. Since then, Lit Cleveland has focused on building a sustainable literary community.
"We essentially tried to build the organization to best serve that community need, so we spent the last two years in startup mode — doing everything from piloting classes and workshops, surveying the community to identify their needs, putting together a series of networking events that help writers build a community, organizing a reading series at the Happy Dog: That was all in our first year. This year we've continued those programs, strengthened them and added some new ones," says Chilicote. The organization has also expanded the Inkubator from one to five days, and introduced a neighborhood writing program in Buckeye/Shaker.
In August, Lit Cleveland launched a national online literary magazine, the Gordon Square Review. The magazine will focus on Northeast Ohio writers, with the intention to publish twice a year. Submissions are now being accepted for the inaugural issue, which will come out in the beginning of November and will coincide with a launch party on Thursday, Nov. 9.
"We want to create a sustainably funded online lit magazine in Northeast Ohio, but one that's also high quality and durable," Chilcote says. "Some of these pop up and last for a year and then they're gone; we want this one to stick around." They've received over 300 submissions since launching on Aug. 1.
One of the big components of Literary Cleveland is member feedback. Through surveys and questionnaires, they're constantly checking in with members to realize their needs.
"Right now, we can put a stake in the ground and say, 'Cleveland's theater scene is amazing, only second to New York,' and they can legitimately say that because ... there's a knowledge about what happens in the theater community," he says. "The literary community, however ... people don't know that much about it. We're just starting to realize the assets we have here. Let's celebrate the assets we have, let's grow them, and let's make Cleveland known as a literary destination — a place where writers can thrive, a book lover can know where to find the cool events around town. And maybe longterm, 10 years from now, Cleveland is known as a place that really supports writers and a strong writing community."