American writer William Faulkner once wrote, “If a story is in you, it has to come out.” Well, Literary Cleveland is offering six emerging writers the opportunity to work with mentors to write those books they’ve always dreamed of writing with its new yearlong Breakthrough Writing Residency program.
Supported by The Wolf Family Foundation of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, the Breakthrough Writing Residency will be funded for two years, beginning this October.
Two writers will be chosen in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry genres, and the six residents will be mentored by fiction writer Laura Maylene Walter (“Body of Stars”), nonfiction writer Eliese Colette Goldbach (“Rust”), and poet Kelly Harris-DeBerry (“Freedom Knows My Name”).
“All three have Cleveland connections, and all three are published, career authors,” says Literary Cleveland executive director Matt Weinkam. “Cleveland is full of incredible writers—Langston Hughes, Toni Morrison, Anthony Doerr—Cleveland can be a real incubator for writing talent.”
Weinkam says the motivation behind this program is to foster the potential talent that is budding in the region. “The vision is, when you help six writers for a year,” he says, “how many books will come out of Cleveland?”
The program, which is designed for writers who have not yet published a book or completed an advanced degree in writing, will pair each participant with a mentor for the year. “The program is flexible—it would be someone who has been writing for a long time but hasn’t done a book-length product, or someone who is just getting started,” says Weinkam. “Maybe it’s someone who has written 20 poems but needs 40 more poems for a collection, or someone who has written the first act of a novel but needs to write the second and third acts. The primary focus of the residency is to work on this project.”
Weinkam says they have never done anything like this before. “We’ve had different versions of fellowships and internships,” he says. “But we’ve had nothing like a full year-long mentorship with one-on-one coaching.”
Most of the year will be spent writing, revising, and getting feedback. But even as the writers complete their projects, Weinkam says the mentors will talk to their mentees about publishers, editors, and agents on how to get their works published, as well as meet people in those industries.
“In addition to coaching authors through the process, we will talk about the tools about there,” he says. “We’ll help people see about next steps in their careers—what it takes to get there and what the next steps are.”
Additionally, Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian American Pacific Islander, those who identify as LGBTQ+, people with disabilities, and other members of communities historically underrepresented in the literary community are encouraged to apply for the Breakthrough Writing Literacy program. Weinkam says this program is all about supporting evolving writers in their journeys.
“Unless you have that support, it’s virtually impossible to do alone,” he says. “It takes time and money. How do we give folks that advantage—because they deserve to be able to tell their stories as much as everyone else.”
The Breakthrough Writing Literacy program is free. The application deadline is June 20. A free virtual information session will be held on Monday, May 23 from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. Register for the information session here.