Poetry! Sandwiches! Stories! Potato Chips! Essays! Soda!
If that all doesn’t sound good to you just add the phrase “for free” to the end and you should be golden. “Where can I get all this?” you might ask? The answer is at one of Columbia College Chicago’s Writers @ Lunch events.
The Creative Writing Department at Columbia College Chicago offers a wide range of initiatives for student involvement. Two exciting endeavors are run by the graduate students themselves: the 33 Reading Series, which features and evening of student readings from each of Columbia’s three writing tracks (fiction, nonfiction, and poetry) reading for approximately ten minutes each; and Writer’s Boot Camp, an entire day devoted – just as the title sounds – to serious writing. There’s no cellphone use, internet access, or talking allowed, except during two short breaks.
My favorite initiative for the student writers at Columbia is the one I began the blog referencing: Writers @ Lunch. Writers @ Lunch is funded by the Creative Writing Department and coordinated by Patricia Ann McNair, an Associate Professor in the Creative Writing department. Patti teaches undergraduate fiction and nonfiction, and graduate fiction courses.
“One of my goals with Writers @ Lunch,” Patti told me recently as we set up trays of catered sandwiches, “is to create a sense of camaraderie and community here among the student writers at Columbia.” She went on to tell me that many students consider Columbia a commuter school. Nearly all of the graduate students live off-campus in one of Chicago’s many vibrant neighborhoods. Columbia has copious amounts of dormitories but while numerous undergraduates live in these, just as many – usually natives of the Chicago area – do not.
Patti has created a space where faculty, staff, undergrads, grads, and anyone with an interest in reading and hearing the work of Columbia College Chicago students in a professional setting can come together, eat together, learn together, and enjoy great writing with one another. In my opinion, Patti has been very successful in this endeavor.
Each Writers @ Lunch event follows a certain format. There is an open mic sign-up (two-page limit, please), some introductory remarks by Patti, and then I act as an emcee to welcome the student readers to the stage. Two or three featured readers are introduced and after about ten or so readings, we take a break. Next there is a presentation by one of Columbia’s other initiatives such as the Study Abroad Office and the Publishing Lab – organizations that do amazing things but that students may not otherwise hear about.
Undergraduate classes generally last 80 minutes so there’s a turnover of audience and performers for the second half of the event. One of the very cool things is that faculty usually allows their students to attend W@L during class time. Undergraduate students make up roughly 75 percent of the attendance.
Currently, W@L occurs three times a semester. We’ve been catering a lot from a place called Starship. In keeping with Patti’s themes about community, the manager of Starship is an alumnus of Columbia and a former student of Patti’s! So, if you’re hungry both in mind and in your stomach, come check out this remarkable initiative!
The next Writers @ Lunch meet-up will be Thursday, March 16, from 12:00pm to 2:30pm.