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Local LGBTQ writers'group marks 40 years
by Melissa Wasserman

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Writing another chapter, LGBTQ writers group Newtown Writers celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.

Randy Gresham founded the group in August 1980, when he moved to Chicago from Atlanta. He had been involved with some mixed ( not LGBTQ-specific ) writing groups and knew there were LGBTQ groups in other cities. He was not aware of any LGBTQ writing groups in Chicago; therefore, he decided to found a group.

The group started as a salon where members would meet at each other's apartments, read and then hang out at a bar together. Eventually, the group moved from being a salon and started meeting at local places like Gerber Hart Library and Archives, Cafe Veranda and Ann Sather. NewTown Writers incorporated in 1988 and still holds that corporate status.

"We have short story writers, novelists, poets, films scripts, experimental writing, different types altogether," said Gresham, a past president of NewTown Writers as well as its founder. "We run the gambit of literary types. We meet, at present, on the third Thursday of each month at the Starbucks on Ridge [5970 N. Ridge Ave.]."

Gresham, who grew up in the Atlanta suburbs, said he has been writing since he was 9, starting with journaling, which then became short stories and poetry. In his adult years he has written a novel and short stories, which he published.

He enjoyed being part of a writing group so much in midtown Atlanta, which he described as "the equivalent of Boystown there," that he "wanted to duplicate it."

"Like so many young people, I enjoyed going out to the bars and meeting people, I'm a great one for conversation and I love to find out what makes people tick and I found out a lot of the people that I met were actually writers or aspired to be writers," said Gresham of when he was creating the group. "I thought, 'Okay—we can meet in people's homes, we can advertise in the paper, we can indicate it's LGBT' and go from there. The idea actually came to me because I did speak to writers who did not have a venue at the time. In the 1980 when it was founded, there was still a very strong need for exclusive gay writing."

"So we actually moved from a need, a necessity, to have a gay writing group because you were safe, you could be yourself, you could put it all out there without censoring and then we moved from then to it's perfectly fine to be LGBT, whatever," said Gresham, who identifies as gay.

Gresham recalled there were about 12 to 16 guys who showed up the first time he formed the group. Over time, he said, the group has evolved, growing in numbers and representation. He noted that NewTown writers has welcomed members from every part of the LGBTQ community.

Although, branded as an LGBTQ writers group, NewTown Writers is open to all literary enthusiasts. At a given time, members cycle, but throughout the years, Gresham said there have been about 400 writers/members. Right now, he said it is a mellow group of about six to 10 people who meet on the third Thursday of every month. The group has also shaken things up by welcoming different local writers and poets to guest speak at workshops and conducting various readings.

"I love the comradery," Gresham said. "As a matter of fact, my initial real reason for founding the group was because I wanted the comradery of fellow writers. So, I enjoy that. I enjoy getting together with the group."

During its 40 years, NewTown Writers has also put out 20 volumes of its Off The Rocks Anthology, a collection of written works by writers who attend the group's workshop meetings and writers outside the group who submit their work to be considered for publication. The first volume was published in 1982.

Gresham shared that NewTown Writers used to be connected with a theater troupe that performed for the public. Gresham explained the theater group was made up of actors who volunteered their time; they were not necessarily writers in the group. He added the performances were something he really enjoyed during the group's run and are something he would like to bring back to life.

As for celebrating the 40th anniversary, celebration plans are still in the works.

"I'm happy with the group at present," said Gresham. "I want us to continue printing our anthologies and I'd like to see a lot more performance. That's something we did very extensively for a while. I'd love to see that resurrect. I would like lots of public readings open to the public and that type thing and pretty much continue as we have done through the years. Obviously, I'd love to attract some new writers and that type thing."

See "NewTown Writers" on Facebook.

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