Three years ago, on a steamy August afternoon in Manassas, four local writers–Cindy Brookshire, Katherine Gotthardt, Sheila Lamb and Pete Pazmino–met at what was then the Simply Sweet Coffee Shop on Main Street to talk about ways they could encourage and support other writers in the area.
As the meeting ended, they agreed to meet later at Okra’s to organize. Recognizing the railroad heritage of Manassas, they named their new group Write by the Rails.
Since that day, things have changed. Simply Sweet has become Grounds Central Station, where owner Matt Brower continues to serve great food and drink and supports all manner of the arts—music, ballet, art, phonography and, of course, writing. And Write by the Rails has grown from those four writers to 257 members signed up through Facebook and other means. Early members joke about not meeting their Facebook friends face to face for months. About forty members are active.
That first year the club held networking meetings at area restaurants, started a email distribution list; publicized the group through local newspapers, online news sites and blogs; staged a literary panel discussion; sponsored multi-author book signings and displays at la Grange Winery in Haymarket, the Manassas Neighborhood Conference and the Arts Alive! Festival (sponsored by the Prince William County Arts Council) at the Hylton Performing Arts Center
The group staged a book signing at the Manassas Railroad Festival in June, 2012, and in the fall of 2012, became the Prince William Chapter of the Virginia Writers Club. The group also published New Departures in November, an anthology featuring poems, short stories, essays and artwork by its members. Eleven members of WBTR (as its members call it) joined the Prince William County Arts Council, and one member was elected to the Arts Council Board of Directors.
This past year Write by the Rails has become a chapter of the Virginia Writers Club. Chapter member June Forte and others worked to establish a Prince William Poet Laureate Program, the first a county (Richmond and Alexandria and a few other cities name laureates.). On June 14 at the Poetry & Jazz on the Lake event at Tacketts Mill, the club named Robert Scott and Zan Hailey as twin Poets Laureate.
Book clubs aren’t new, with some dating to the eighteenth century in England and perhaps even earlier. In the opening years of the twentieth century in this country, a group of writers in the San Francisco Bay area (including Jack London, poet George Sterling and short story writer Herman Whitaker among others) held informal meetings at first but soon became the Press Club of Alameda. In 1909, a faction broke off from the Press Club to form the California Writers Club, which is still active today.
The Virginia’s Writers Club dates back to November, 1918, founded by a group of writers including James Branch Cabell, the first president. Poet Ellen Glasgow hosted the first meetings at her house.
News, plans, members’ writings and more are posted on our homepage, www.writebytherails.org, and in the Facebook group, www.facebook.com/groups/Writebytherails.The group is open to the public. If you are a writer (published or unpublished) affiliated with Manassas, Manassas Park or Prince William County, consider officially joining by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org. There is no charge to join.
–Dan Verner, Vice President, Write by the Rails