DC literary organizers Rachel Coonce & Courtney Sexton share the motivation behind their mission

By Zach Powers

Zach Powers: We were on a panel together recently, and one of the things that surprised me was that a number of people in the audience didn’t know exactly what a reading series was. How would you describe a literary reading to a newcomer?

Courtney and Rachel (front) at Porches Writing Retreat 2017

Courtney and Rachel (front) at Porches Writing Retreat 2017

The Inner Loop: It’s simple! A literary reading is a public event where writers read their own work aloud to an audience. While the basic concept is simple, the structure of a reading series can vary widely. Some have open-mic options, or a Q&A portion, or a book signing afterward. Some involve one writer, while others (like ours) feature 10 writers! Some mix genres, while others focus just on poetry, fiction, or nonfiction, and still others invite writers according to a theme. Whatever the format, literary readings are a chance for writers to connect with their community.

Why did you start The Inner Loop? What are you hoping to accomplish?

We started our reading series, The Inner Loop, because we were looking for a creative community. At the time, in 2014, it was hard to find opportunities to meet and commune with other writers in DC, and most literary readings were either specific to MFA programs or were geared toward poets. We wanted to bring all the disparate writing groups together, whether they were MFA  students, working writers, or someone who has always written in secret and never thought they would be a serious writer. We hoped to create a space where any writer could feel comfortable sharing their work, and where anyone—even someone walking into the venue off the street—could stop and listen and be a part of another world, even just for a moment.

What accomplishments are you proudest of so far?

The Inner Loop at Colony Club

The Inner Loop at Colony Club

We have held live readings ten months a year for the past five years, featured more than 50 established writers, and hosted over 500 local writers in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction! What we are most proud of is sustaining this series as a regular, free event, while expanding to offer additional programming to the community, including retreats, a summer residency, a podcast, workshops, and collaborations with other local businesses and organizations—building our community and making literature a part of it. Recently, we won a grant from the Amazon Literary Partnership, which will help us continue our community engagement and reach even further to community members who may not have access to local writers.

Why is literary community important for writers? Why is it important for DC as a whole?

Writing can be an isolating endeavor. At times the isolation is welcome and productive, but at other times, writers need community. They need to step out of their inner loop, and hear what other writers are working on, commiserate on the hurdles they face, or get a fresh perspective on their latest project. They need to hear what the community is talking about, see what’s going on in the world, feel what is urgent in their time. Most of all, they need to hear and see and feel that other writers are working, too.

Communities need writers, as much as writers need community. Writers are the scribes of our time, of our history, and of the future. The more writers are connected to their community, the more accurately they can represent that community in their work. Writers hold a mirror up to the world, they offer perspective, they offer feedback. The community needs to hear what their writers are working on, and give them feedback. Writers connected with community creates a feedback loop. Writers’ work comments on society, society comments on that work.

What’s your favorite part of the DC literary community?

Our favorite part about the DC literary community is its vast diversity and warmth. DC is home to myriad people from all over the world, all of whom have unique stories to tell. Perhaps because of this diversity, the DC literary community is incredibly supportive. It is challenging for arts organizations to flourish, and in many places this leads to competition. But the literary community in DC prizes collaboration over competition—the more we all succeed, the better.

What’s one thing you’d like to see change or evolve in our literary community? Why?

Even more collaboration (and coordination)! We would love to see more communication among organizers to make sure we’re not overlapping or offering the same opportunities at the same time and in the same places. We’d also love to see more organizations teaming up for big events!

Finally, what advice would you give to a writer who’s trying to get involved in our local literary community?

Get out of your head! Get out of your house! There are so many opportunities now to meet other writers—do it! Come to The Inner Loop… have a drink, listen to writers, ask questions. Submit to read your work. Stop by any one of our awesome independent bookstores and ask them what local writers they are loving. Sign up for workshops with MoonLit. Attend classes at The Writer’s Center. You can really determine the level of involvement that works for you…dip a toe or dive write in.