St. Petersburg has a rich literary culture. Popular author Dennis Lehane got his start here. Beat icon Jack Kerouac spent his last years in the city. Well-known writers regularly visit to speak at reading festivals and teach at writers’ conferences, and a strong community of local writers and lovers of literature is thriving, thanks in part to the efforts of Keep St. Pete Lit (KSPLit).
“There was a void for a larger literary organization that could bring all the elements of the St. Pete literary scene together,” says Maureen McDole, president and co-founder of KSPLit, a non-profit, all-volunteer organization with a six-person board dedicated to the literary arts and expanding the community of local writers and readers. “Writers can be insular, and there seemed to be a need to create a larger literary dialogue with other local literary factions.”
Keep St. Pete Lit offers a variety of ways to get involved with literature, often with unexpected components from other disciplines. There is the monthly book group held the second Thursday of the month at the Museum of Fine Arts downtown, which pairs books with current art exhibits.
“The book group,” says McDole, “brings people together to talk about literature in an informal environment.”
This summer, LitSpace was born, offering free writing classes to the public on a variety of topics at the Morean Arts Center, 719 Central Avenue. LitSpace was designed to teach the nuts and bolts of writing plus creativity classes, according to McDole. Classes are offered for writers of all experience levels.
“Classes are comprised of all ages. I attended a class that had people ranging from 18 to 80,” says McDole. “Our goal is to provide a framework where everyone is welcome, and experienced students can mentor newer writers.”
The writing classes are popular and are expanding to critique groups as well.
“I am over the moon to have the opportunity to help KSPLit bring this class and others to the community,” says Tracy Bird, who teaches The Art of Crafting Fiction on Saturday morning. “The response has been incredible, and these classes are filled with talented and creative writers of all ages and from all walks of life.”
But Keep St. Pete Lit’s vision is not for a literary community of writers alone. Two weeks ago the group opened BookSpace, St. Pete’s newest bookshop, at the Bloom Art Center, 910 5th Ave. N, in conjunction with Mitzi Gordon and the Bluebird Book Bus, a mobile bookstore. BookSpace is open Sundays and Mondays from noon to 6 p.m. and features used and vintage books, magazines, ephemera and small art. Even with the limited hours, says McDole, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. People, it seems, still strongly support the idea of the local independent bookstore.
“In addition to LitSpace and BookSpace, we also want to continue to go into the community and provide services that highlight St. Pete’s diverse culture and the interdisciplinary aspect between art and literature and nature,” says McDole. “Currently, we partner with over 20 local organizations.”
A recent event in partnership with the St. Pete Preservation gave a literary twist to the Preservation’s walking tours of downtown St. Pete, and an urban slant for local writers who participated.
Upcoming events include Final Draft: St. Pete Stories, a collaborative short story competition with Green Bench Brewing Company, where writers can submit stories inspired by the name of a Green Bench beer until September 15.
A beach journaling walk is planned for September 27 in collaboration with Project Shorebird, a year-long initiative by the St. Pete Audubon Society to educate the community about the impact of climate change on shorebirds and local coastal environment.
McDole is passionate about community and the healing power of literature.
“Writing helped me find my place in the world,” she said. “So many people are lost and hurting. They can pick up a book and know someone has had a similar experience. There is nothing like the power of literature to change the world.”