Stateside: NWS founder Doug Stanton helps put literary spotlight on Traverse City

Sep 27, 2012

Since 2009, readers from across the country have been making their way to downtown Traverse City for an opportunity to get to know some of the most celebrated authors and story-tellers of our time.

Now heading into its fourth year, the Traverse City National Writers Series, founded by Traverse City native Doug Stanton, has nearly doubled the amount of authors featured, according to their website.

The idea behind the series is to support Grand Traverse area high school students pursuing writing careers by hosting sessions that spark great conversations between authors and audience.

Cyndy spoke with the best-selling author.

She wanted to know what it is about Traverse City, and the people of the area, that has made it such a great setting to talk books?

Stanton said this area has always been both a place of last resort and a resort area.

"I think during the last economic engine, a lot of folks retired up here in midlife and there is a great unmet demand for this kind of activity," he said.

Stanton said this hunger in the community for higher things was commensurate with his own urge to talk less about politics as entertainment and go back to the idea that art can be entertainment.

"My job...is to disappear on stage and allow our guest to come to life, and to create some transformative moments, which are more like theater then they are, say, the lecture room in a college class," he said.

He told Cyndy he thinks guest authors like Janet Evanovich, Peter Matthiessen and Anna Quindlen help give the audience a sense of the story we're all telling right now about what it means and feels to be alive in America today.

Stanton said the point is that people are reading and we do need to work on literacy.

This fall, the National Writers Series kicked off their Front Street Writers Program, which is a partnership with Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS) to grow tomorrow's writers.

Cyndy wanted to know what the first-of-its-kind program hoped to achieve?

"I think that clarity of thought, clarity of the sentence, creativity, the ability to think linguistically through language is probably the most employable skill you can teach a young person today," said Stanton.

He told Cyndy that in our race to teach the quantifiable subjects like math and science we have really by default forgotten the creative arts and creative writing.

For example, he said, Traverse City, a very good public school system in Michigan, only has one creative writing course in an era where kids are constantly typing on cell phones or lap tops.

Stanton saw an opportunity to give young writers a sense of narrative since many from an early age were already publishing much of their lives online.

"This can be a life-changing moment if we actually place them in a very demanding college level creative writing program, bring in our major authors who are on the main stage with us at the National Writers Series, hire a very hard-working creative writing resident teacher and have at it," said Stanton.

And that's exactly what they've done. 

Cyndy wanted to know if Stanton thought the National Writers Series could be a resource to other communities?

Stanton said he has encouraged other authors to do something like the Front Street Writers Program in their own home communities.

"Wherever you have artistic or cultural capital that you've acquired through your artist friends, if you marry it with either the public school system or a business community, the two of you together can create something that's larger than either one of you together quite inexpensively," said Stanton.

Stanton said that there's been interest across the country, not only in what the National Writers Series does for authors, but about what the Front Street Writers Program will do in the public school system.

"We've created a new kind of curriculum within the public school system, and it's for free," said Stanton.

Stanton said that he's very aware that the story-tellers of tomorrow are going to come from all classes of this society.

To find out more about the upcoming cycle and also the Front Street Writers Program, you can visit http://nationalwritersseries.org/.

Stanton said that if you love Suzanne Collins, you should come check out best-selling author Maggie Stiefvater. She'll be taking the stage tonight with guest host Lynn Rutan.

There are two ways you can podcast "Stateside with Cynthia Canty"