It would appear to be a banner year for Chicago's premier gay/lesbian writers' group, The New Town Writers ( NTW ) . Following on the heels of a standing-room-only Pride Performance at Unabridged Books June 22 ( featuring such notables as John D'Emilio of UIC, Jennifer Vanasco of Chicago Free Press, and performance poet Roianne Phillips and Company ) , and the recent production of Robert Klein Engler's well-received play, One Hot Day in Chicago, the group prepares to celebrate 20 years of promoting excellence in the ever-expanding genre of gay/lesbian writing. With the spring 2000 publication of their anthology, Off the Rocks, and the rapidly expanding audience of their GLBT 'zine, Swell, the group has entered the new millennium with talent and energy to spare.
Founded by Randy Gresham in the summer of 1980, The New Town Writers was conceived as a vehicle to promote gay/lesbian literature within a safe space where members could feel good about themselves and their literary offerings.
The group employed a simple formula: bring together gays and lesbians who have a love of writing, place them in a cozy setting, and give each participant a chance to be heard and critiqued by those attending. This engaging format has nurtured some outstanding writers who have gone on to make their mark in the literary world. Names like Aaron Frankel of Christopher Street, playwright Dave Rush, prize-winning author Dwight Okita, short story writer Scott Thomas, author Rick Reed, columnist, poet and author Sukie de la Croix ( Reed and de la Croix both write for Outlines and Nightlines ) these are just a handful of the people who have spent time with The New Town Writers.
Randy Gresham is proud of the fact that the group hosted famed author Armistead Maupin at a cocktail party in the mid '80s. "At least 10 people published for the first time in our anthology, Off the Rocks, have gone on to national recognition," says Gresham.
Jonathan Dixon, treasurer of NTW, is an attorney on the rise as well as a budding author. "NTW produces a mix of writingeverything from novels, short stories, social and political commentary, essays, lyric and epic poetry, journalism-even songwriting and experimental illustration," he said.
Dixon is enthusiastic about the direction the group is taking. "NTW parallels the GLBT community in that it reflects a more highly visible Gay community which is receiving greater acceptance in the community at large," Dixon said.
Randy Gresham agrees: "We have gone through the squeeze of the hourglass. What was once called gay/lesbian literature has become increasingly mainstream, and our writers reflect this. GLBT writing on the whole illustrates the reality that our community is more inclusive of society in general."
And so, as their anniversary approaches, members like teacher/author Larry Lesperance or a poet like this writer can be heard on the radio or leading a discussion on the Iowa Writer's Workshop. Barry Frauman's epic poetry can be purchased at the local bookstore. NTW just keeps gathering momentum as the writers celebrate two decades of camaraderie and prolific writing, guiding each other to greater heights with each cozy meeting, every public performance, each new publication.
With visions of the Lambda awards, the Tribune Heartlands award, maybe even a Pulitzer Prize dancing in their ever-creative minds, we at the The New Town Writers keep making history as we look for vast new literary worlds to conquer.
The New Town Writers meet the first Wednesday of the month and the third Thursday of the month. Call ( 773 ) 784-9015 or visit http://www.newtownwriters.org/
Guarino is a poet and member of NTW.