A great story weaves together many strands of subplot and characters to tell its tale. This one is no different.
The second annual “Statesboro: The Write Place” is a story of writers and readers, community and university, business and tourism, heritage and aspiration.
In a landmark partnership of the Georgia Southern University Department of Writing and Linguistics, Statesboro Magazine, the Averitt Center for the Arts and the Statesboro Convention and Visitors Bureau, the weeklong event celebrated the region’s best-known and emerging authors, raised awareness of Statesboro as a writing and cultural center and opened a new chapter in tourism potential.
First, we’ll skip to the story’s last page for the happy ending. A record crowd filled the Averitt Center for the Nov. 3 reading by six area authors. New events — three writers’ workshops, an “open mic” coffeehouse and a family night author program at Ogeechee Technical College — premiered to near-capacity crowds. A statewide high school writing competition garnered more than 100 entries.
With that in mind, let’s turn back to page 1 and see how the success story began.
Our place on the Southern Literary Trail
“It started as a vision of Statesboro as a community known for being the home of Southern authors,” says Jenny Foss, the editor of Statesboro Magazine and a founding partner of the event. “Statesboro is already that place. The university, the libraries, the arts center, the Convention and Visitors Bureau, the magazine — we were all already celebrating the abundance of good writers here. With Statesboro: The Write Place, we came together to showcase that aspect of our culture to the world, celebrate our literary heritage and claim our place on the Southern Literary Trail.”
Central to the event’s success is the Georgia Southern Department of Writing and Linguistics. As the only freestanding creative writing program in Georgia, it’s a unique link to the best writing of the region and a haven for aspiring writers.
“This Write Place is an opportunity to celebrate the literary arts in Statesboro, to showcase faculty from Georgia Southern and area writers who help us through their art to see anew our past, our region, our world,” said Phyllis Dallas, the department chairwoman. “All of the events suggest Georgia Southern’s impact on the community is to be measured not just in terms of economics, but also in terms of quality and richness of life.”
Eric Nelson, a professor in the department and one of the event organizers, added: “What I love most is the collaboration between the community, the university and other partners. Everyone talks about the town/gown relationship, but few events demonstrate as strong and mutually supportive collaboration.”
The narrative of loving books
Janisse Ray, a New York Times-noted author and presenting writer, found the greatest value of the Write Place to be embracing the arts as a crucial element in a vital community.
“I know what it’s like to live in a literary community, because I lived in Oxford, Miss., for a year as a writer-in-residence,” she said. “Literature meant something to the people of Oxford and because of this, the town attracted folks interested in books.
“I think what The Write Place festival is doing is simply bringing light to an ethos that already exists in Bulloch County, where so many people understand the power of literature, of story, to transform people and places and where so many people read,” she continued. “Statesboro's story is the narrative of loving books.”
Tim Chapman, the executive director of the Averitt Center, also sees how a growing interest in the arts is expanding the definition of our community.
“Statesboro has experienced its own renaissance in the last 10 years,” Chapman said. “What is unique about this community is that it is full of talented artists.”
Craving quality art opportunities
Chapman then pivoted to the festival’s wider impact.
“Tourists and others are craving exposure to quality art opportunities,” he said. “Through the synergy among organizations, Statesboro is becoming known for this facet of its personality.”
That reputation can have a significant economic effect. The Write Place joins Statesboro’s other cultural and historic venues as contributors to the $111.66 million in direct tourist spending here.
Barry Turner, the president of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, said: “By having various functions related to The Write Place around town, a number of businesses were positively impacted.”
Looking to the future, he added, “As with any new event, the numbers are expected to grow to the point that hotels and restaurants may see a substantial increase in visitors traveling to the region.”
“Events like The Write Place are impactful for tourism expenditures,” added Lori Hennesy with the Georgia Department of Economic Development. “In its second year, The Write Place was hugely successful in drawing in over 300 attendees. They in turn shopped in local stores, ate at local restaurants and stayed in local hotels.”
Mary Ann Anderson, an award-winning travel writer who visited Statesboro during a national travel writers’ tour, returned to report on the festival.
Afterward, she assured, “I’ll be in touch about my next visit to such a lovely, friendly town.”
The never-ending story
The sequel to The Write Place 2012 is already being written. Not only has planning for 2013 begun, but organizers are committed to being a year-round communications hub for literati. The Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Write Place Facebook page will highlight the almost weekly writing events throughout the community, from writers’ workshops at the Statesboro Regional Library to GSU’s Burning Swamp Reading Series at Sugar Magnolia Bakery.
In the review of The Write Place, the last word is owed to the authors.
Laura Valeri, a GSU professor and one of the featured readers, offered this assessment: “The Write Place gave a name to our community and gave us a way to express the many ways in which the literary talent here is growing and blossoming … We are unstoppable now.”