Last month, it was poetry. This month, it’s a fiction smackdown.
Paging Columbus, the brainchild of Hannah Stephenson, is a small organization that holds monthly arts activities, often poetry readings featuring local writers.
Its next event, the Flash Fiction Championship Smackdown, is co-sponsored by Columbus Creative Cooperative and is scheduled to take place at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Ohio State Urban Arts Space.
“Obsession” was the theme of poets Jeremy Glazier, Dionne Custer Edwards and Terry Hermsen, who are also arts educators in the Columbus area, Feb. 2, at the most recent event hosted by Paging Columbus.
Before reading his poems to the group of just more than 20, Glazier said a theme of obsession is “appropriate for a poetry reading because poetry is about obsession, and without obsession I don’t think we’d have very good poems.”
Kayla McGuire, a second-year in creative writing at Otterbein University who writes poetry, said she attended the February event because her professor, Hermsen, was reading.
“I enjoyed it a lot, which when there’s multiple poets I don’t expect to like all of them, but I really did,” McGuire said. “I like that each of them talked about things that were really familiar to them but in completely different ways.”
After spending about five years in Vancouver and Los Angeles, Stephenson said the pull of friends and family brought her back to Columbus, where she wanted to become more involved in the local arts and literature scene and expand upon what is already here.
She initially planned a one-time poetry reading last April and said she wasn’t sure where to hold it but was looking at gallery spaces. Her friend at the OSU Urban Arts Space suggested hosting it there and doing it monthly, and Stephenson agreed.
“I’ve been to some really cool events inside of art galleries, and I’ve found that art galleries are really good spaces for readings partly because it’s quieter and also because it’s so interesting visually — there’s always a new exhibit up,” Stephenson said. “It’s kind of a fun way to get people who are interested in art to also listen to poetry too and vice-versa.”
Stephenson said her inspiration for her events comes from an annual writers’ festival she attended in Vancouver and panel discussions and other readings there and in Los Angeles. She said that she was able to grow as a writer because of those experiences.
“It really helped me figure out my own goals for being involved in the arts and in literature too. I was more of a private writer before
I went to the West Coast,” she said. “There were big literary scenes in both of those cities. I think that Columbus has that too, and I wanted to kind of capitalize on that.”
Stephenson said she knows of events at a larger scale held at the Wexner Center and at the Columbus Museum of Art, but that she prefers smaller events.
“I really like the idea of a recurring reading series where it’s local authors, it happens every month — it’s kind of low pressure for people to attend that way, they know there’s always going to be one the next month,” she said. “I thought that a smaller gallery kind of fit that perfectly.”
Stephenson said as a teacher and poet she enjoys naming things. She wanted the name to include the word “Columbus” in the title to keep it local, and said “paging” is a play on words for books, but hopes it says more than that.
“It’s like a call to action, so I imagine it as, ‘Hey everybody in Columbus who likes reading and writing: Let’s come together and let’s, sort of, be an active community, an active supportive community around our writers,'” Stephenson said.
Most Paging Columbus events are poetry readings, but Stephenson said there have also been fiction readings and a couple of panel discussions where community members come together to discuss something relevant to literature. She said she hopes to eventually explore offering other types of events, but is happy with only one event per month.
Cortney Ellis, a graduate in social work, has been to several Paging Columbus events including poetry readings and a panel discussion.
“There’s always like a diverse mix of readers, which is pretty exciting and interesting,” Ellis said after the last reading. “Hannah always comes up with really great topics and I think it’s really fitting — it matches the mood of the art here in the OSU (Urban) Arts Space.”
Stephenson said she is glad that students and university professors come to events but hopes to attract more non-university community members as well.
“I’d be very interested in expanding in a couple areas. One would be other … community members, so people that aren’t tied to universities but are very active in writing their own work and in reading other people’s work,” Stephenson said. “And I’d like to have more people attend who aren’t familiar with poetry or with fiction, or maybe they’ve never been to a reading before.”
Stephenson said she is always looking for new writers who would be interested in presenting their work, and encourages anyone interested to contact her via her website, www.thestorialist.com.