The Chautauqua Literary Arts Friends have quite literally been spreading poetry and prose throughout the grounds. This season, in honor of the Chautauqua Writers’ Center’s 25th anniversary, members of the Friends have been handing out pocket poems and prose to the many Chautauquans who share their love of reading and writing.
The Friends might even continue to hand them out next season, but they have a lot on their plate and are looking to expand. They already support the poetry and prose readings at 3:30 p.m. and the open mic sessions at 5 p.m., both on Sundays, the Chautauqua literary journal and special events with visiting authors.
Aside from increasing their membership and inclusivity, next season the Friends aim to add to their programming and increase their ties with the workshops at the Writers’ Center. They have added roughly 20 new members after Week Five’s luncheon with Margaret Atwood.
And the season isn’t over yet. The Friends have a huge hand in supporting the Favorite Poem Project, a presentation in which Chautauquans read their favorite programs, which will take place at 4 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy.
“I’m proud that we have many more members this year, that people seem to know more about us, that we have more visibility,” said Janet Cosner, president of the Friends. “I’m very excited about that — the tempo of the season and what we’ve done. We’ve tried to become more present in all the activities. Plus, meeting all the new people — there’s nothing like meeting new Chautauquans.”
Jennifer McDowell was new to Chautauqua three years ago. She joined the Friends in her first season and already finds herself a member of the board.
“It’s a great way to meet people who have similar interests,” McDowell said. “It’s kind of like when you go off to a huge college and you need to find your niche … you need to find where you really fit, and I found that this is an area that I feel very comfortable in — with writers and poets.”
McDowell is a retired special education teacher from Pittsburgh. She has written a few middle-grade novels and is currently working with an agent to finally publish them. She said she has found a lot of support in the Chautauqua literary community, from its workshops to the visiting authors to the Chautauqua Writers’ Festival that takes place on the grounds before the season even starts.
Carol Townsend was introduced to the Friends after taking a workshop at the Writers’ Center. Townsend has been a member of the Friends for more than 10 years, and she said her current position as a member of the board is her way to give back and show gratitude for everything the Writers’ Center has done for literary arts on the grounds.
Townsend is a professor of design at the University at Buffalo, and she did not explore writing until later in life.
“I’ve been devoting my life to art, to design specifically,” Townsend said. “It was wonderful to discover that I had this other talent, which has really been encouraged here at the Writers’ Center.”