• Ellen Cassedy
  • [TIPS OF THE TRADE]: Positive Reinforcement in the 'Hood? Rate your community
[TIPS OF THE TRADE]: Positive Reinforcement in the 'Hood? Rate your community
Written by
Ellen Cassedy
December 2014
Written by
Ellen Cassedy
December 2014

Do you live in a community that supports writing and writers, reading and readers?  I do.  For the past 14 years, I’ve been a proud resident of thecity of Takoma Park, near Washington, D.C., which has found many ways to promote literature and those who create and consume it.

            How does your community measure up?  Use this checklist to assess your community – and get ideas about how the place you live in can become a place that sustains you as a writer.

  • Poet laureate.  Every two years, we Takoma Parkers choose a new poet laureate.  The laureate hosts Third Thursday poetry readings, and also curates a rotating public display of poems (some famous, some not), which appear around town, at eye-level, in glassed-in frames on poles.  Local art students design the posters.  Every few hundred yards – outside the post office, the hardware store, the cheesecake café, and on and on – we have the opportunity to pause for a moment and peruse a poem. 

  • Little free libraries.  Have you seen the little book exchange boxes, shaped like birdhouses, from which anyone can donate a book or take a book – for free?  We have several in our town.  Check them out at www.LittleFreeLibrary.org

  • Authors’ fair.  Once a year, inside a local gift shop, local authors set out stacks of their recently published books. Restaurants donate wine and cheese, and we authors ourselves each chip in a bottle of wine.  The event is publicized on neighborhood list serves and social media, and people stop by to shop and chat.  It took a few years to get this to work, but this year, the sixth, was our best yet – a big success.

  • Library support.  Our local library hosts local author book talks and displays local authors’ books on a special shelf.  And twice a year, there’s an outdoor book sale where we all bring our used books, browse through the books our neighbors have brought, buy some for a dollar apiece, and get into some great discussions.

  • Book store on the way.  Our local independent bookstore closed 15 years ago, but now a local bookstore chain called Busboys and Poets is planning to open a new one on our main street.  We can hardly wait.  A café, yes.  Author talks, yes.  And, we hope, a local author display like the one in the library.

  • Book clubs.  The nation’s capital has an amazingly high concentration of book clubs, and our town is no exception.  Many invite local authors to speak.

  • Book talks.  Our local arts commission schedules a full year’s worth of author talks in the community center – plus concerts by local musicians and films by local cinematographers.

  • List serves and newsletters.  Authors announce their new publications and book talks on our neighborhood list serves.  Our local newsletters feature author interviews and (always flattering) reviews.

  • Writers’ group. A local restaurant hosts a monthly lunchtime writers’ group.  Over bowls of delicious kale-bean-and-bacon soup, we share the joys and sorrows of the writing life.  One member recently explained why he values the opportunity to meet with fellow writers. “I spend every day till 1 p.m. in my basement with my dog,” he said. 


Ellen Cassedy’s book is We Are Here: Memories of the Lithuanian Holocaust (Univ. of Nebraska Press, 2012), which has won four national awards, including the Grub Street National Book Prize, and was shortlisted for the Saroyan Prize.  It’s now available in audiobook format as well as paperback and e-book.  Ellen’s first post for SheWrites was “Who Cares about Your Family Story? Ten Tips to Ensure Readers Will ...” Her [TIPS OF THE TRADE] series appears monthly.  See all of Ellen's Tips for Writers.



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