Sometime around 1992, a group of writers began congregating weekly at Anna’s, a small restaurant on Dickson Street. There, five to seven men and women read to each other from their original works over coffee and French fries. By 1993 the group still met to read and write together, but with the new feature of a monthly reader at the D-Luxe on Dickson Street. The tables and booths were packed as poetry bounced off the night, which always included an open mic. They called themselves the Ozark Poets and Writers Collective.
Any writer who wanted to join had only to show up to be considered a member. Still, to keep a monthly reading going, a board was formed and headed up by the late, inimitable Brenda Moossy. Other board members from over the years included Mohja Kahf, Sloan Davis, Barbara Jaquish and Lisa Martinovic.
Martinovic writes of that time, in her eulogy for the late Brenda, “We ran an ongoing poetry reading and open mic, conducted poetry workshops throughout Arkansas, hosted a slam series, fielded and won slots on national slam teams. In preparation for our first West Coast tour, we produced ‘Snake Dreams,’ an audiotape of our work (yes, an audiotape-that’s how far back we go).”
Up until 1999, the poetry slams and the OPWC monthly readings were conducted under the same umbrella, then the slam poets veered into their own venues. Today, OPWC features slam poets at least once a year and lists their events on the OPWC website (ozarkwriters.wordpress.com).
The collective has known many incarnations over the years. From the small founding members; to crowds of over a hundred people; to the more intimate atmosphere of Nightbird Books on Dickson Street in Fayetteville — OPWC never varied in its dedication to providing a venue for established as well as new writers. To that end they have featured a variety of nationally acclaimed writers such as Naomi Shahib Nye, Jim Whitehead, Miller Williams and Dannye along with emerging local writers.
Current board member and professor of botany at NorthWest Arkansas Community College, Burnetta Hinterthuer believes OPWC fulfills a timeless need: “When I think of why OPWC continues to flourish after all these years, I look at the reason for its existence in the first place. A belief in the value of the written and spoken word, in its ability to connect people who may be strangers, to open doors to young writers seems to draw us together.”
Upcoming Events from OPWC
March 27 — Gerald Sloan, University of Arkansas professor of music, trombonist (classical, jazz and pop) and, yes, a poet with a collection, Paper Lanterns, just published by Half Acre Press.
April 24 — The staff of “Connotations,” the award-winning literary journal of Fayetteville High School.
May 29 — Mary Angelino, a University of Arkansas Creative Writing MFA student in 2011. Mary grew up in Los Angeles and earned a bachelor’s degree in creative writing from Cal State, Northridge. The Nightbird Books website says she is the recipient of the university’s McKean Poetry Prize, as well as the Lily Peter prize.
June 26 — Regional writer Sloan Davis.
July 31 — Poet Shin Yu Pai, associate director for the Hendrix-Murphy Foundation in Conway. She has eight verse collections published.
Aug. 28 — Fiction writer and poet Tom Andes, formerly of Fayetteville and now in the San Francisco Bay area.
Sept. 25 — Our cousins, Ozark Poetry Slam, in a dress-rehearsal of sorts for the nationals.
Oct. 30 — We welcome back Garry Craig Powell of the University of Central Arkansas, who later this year is publishing a novel-in-stories, “Stoning the Devil.”
Nov. 27 — Adam Vines, professor at Alabama-Birmingham, whose collection “The Coal Life: Poems” was a finalist for the University of Arkansas Press’ 2012 Miller Williams Prize.
December — Because poetry can’t compete with Santa, OPWC does not meet in December.