Local literary project set to expand

Jonathan Sanchez leads a poetry workshop with Burke High School students in 2011, a program sponsored by LILA.

For a decade, the Lowcountry Initiative for the Literary Arts (LILA) has offered unique programming to area writers.

It's a community-oriented literary outreach project that was started in 2004 by two poets, Marjory Wentworth and Carol Ann Davis, who wanted to establish a writing center.

Though the program succeeded in presenting valuable opportunities to writers with readings, workshops and festivals, and in advocating on behalf of Lowcountry authors, that goal never quite was realized.

But now, LILA has entered a new phase, Wentworth said. It has found a physical home at Circular Congregational Church, and that changes everything.

LILA is settling into Circular Church's Lance Hall and launching a new series of readings and workshops called "Write Charleston!" The events are open to LILA members and the general public.

The series begins Jan. 18 with a session devoted to fiction manuscript editing. It continues Jan. 30 with a reading by local novelist Mary Alice Monroe. Events continue in February and March, with sessions devoted to nonfiction and poetry.

Wentworth said she hopes to be able to hire an executive director for the program soon. Its board of advisers includes well-known writers Sue Monk Kidd, Mary Alice Monroe, Cassandra King, Pat Conroy, and Dorothea Benton Frank.

LILA, which until now has been connected with the College of Charleston, is funded primarily through grants and class fees. Wentworth said the organization is seeking nonprofit status, which will give it more management and fundraising flexibility.

She said she expects the initiative to expand, offering more extensive programming in the fall that includes sessions on a variety of literary genres as well as practical matters such as electronic publishing and the nature of today's literary marketplace.

The Rev. Jeremy Rutledge said hosting LILA makes sense for his church.

"It is often only through art that we give expression to our souls' deepest utterances," Rutledge said in a statement. "The literary arts, in particular, help us tell and share our stories. Circular has long been a place that celebrates both the arts and every person's unique story and search. So it's a natural fit for us to join in this new partnership with LILA. ... Reading, writing, thinking, listening: If these aren't spiritual exercises, I don't know what is."

Wentworth said LILA is seeking new members and class participants, as well as ideas from members of the community who can help the organization grow.

"It's really just the tip of the iceberg," she said. "I think the possibilities are endless."

Reach Adam Parker at 937-5902. Follow him at www.facebook/aparkerwriter.