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Third Street Writers Nurture the Written Word

By James Utt

When people think of Laguna Beach and creative expression, images of the Festival of the Arts, Pageant of the Masters or the Sawdust Festival come to mind. Some years ago, a small group of Laguna residents felt that literature—fiction, poems, memoirs, stories—should have a more prominent place in our city. This would lead to the formation of The Third Street Writers, a group that is gaining more and more recognition.

The genesis of the group began at The Suzi Q, where Chapman University professor Christine Fugate, who has helped so many of us find our voice as writers, taught classes. Christine said, “I began teaching classes so I could meet other writers like myself.” When her schedule no longer allowed her to teach at the center, a small group of us decided to meet on our own at the library. This group would morph into Third Street Writers. (Yes, in the interest of full disclosure, I was a founding member, but soon left the group to pursue other writing opportunities and to train for my dream of winning the U.S. Tennis Open.) I have followed the group the last couple of years, going to their public reading events, their book roll-outs at Laguna Beach Books, their fundraisers. Wanting to get a deeper feel for Third Street’s progress, I recently invited the president and vice president to lunch.

When we met at Slice, and president Amy Francis Dechary was still basking in the glow brought about by her beloved Virginia Cavaliers winning the NCAA basketball championship. Vice president Rina Palumbo, Johns Hopkins PhD and dedicated Springsteen fan, was still bitter about the end of Game of Thrones. I tried to tell her she was wrong, but I had not won an argument with her in some time.

“So, I asked, “You must feel pretty good about publishing three anthologies in the last three years?” Their smiles spoke for themselves. Beginning in 2017, Third Street Writers released the first of their “Beach Reads” series. Each year has a different theme. The first anthology’s theme was “Here Comes the Sun.” It had 30 contributors. The 2018 edition’s theme was “Lost and Found,” and this year’s is “Paradise,” which had the work of over 40 writers. In the 2017 book, you will find a poem by the late, great John Gardiner.

There is a word limit on submissions, so the pieces tend to be short, powerful and evocative. At the most recent roll out of “Paradise” at the warm and wonderful Laguna Beach Books, author after author mesmerized the large audience with their stories.

Amy and Rina emphasized that Third Street wants to showcase local talent, but they accept submissions from people far and wide. At the “Paradise” reading, there was a woman who traveled all the way from New York to read her piece.

What Amy and Rina have succeeded in doing is tapping into a neglected vein of talent in our town and surrounding areas. There are a number of people who feel that they might have something to say but are reluctant to step forward and put themselves out there. While writing is a solitary activity, it can be enormously helpful to have a place to go where you are free within a supportive group to tell your stories, receive feedback, and refine your work. A team, a literary team, is being built and strengthened one day a week at our library. There are about 25 to 30 dues paying members, but all are free to attend.

Third Street Writers is now a member of the Laguna Beach Arts Alliance and is taking steps to have a larger impact in Laguna Beach. Earlier this month, they organized a fundraiser called “Wine and Words.” The purpose of the event was to raise money for a scholarship fund which will assist a graduating, college-bound LBHS senior in pursuing a degree in writing.

Rina would like to see future “lit slams”—onstage competitions where writers perform their pieces and are judged by the audience.

For Christine Fugate, her dream has come true. Third Street provides a place for writers and future writers to gather and share. Thanks to her inspiration and the hard work of the members of this group, our town has something to be proud of, a growing appreciation of talented storytellers.

 

James Utt is the author of “Laguna Tales and Boomer Wails.” He agrees with Tyrion Lannister that nothing can beat a good story. Third Street meets at 10 a.m. every Monday that the library is open.

           

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for not only being a founding member but also shining a light on Third Street Writers with your column. Amy and Rina have done an amazing job building the community and publishing our annual literary journal. I agree with you that Laguna Beach is a better place with a writing group that meets every week with a fourth publication in the works.

  2. Christine is an amazing mentor, and Jim is one of many who have grown under her tutelage. Good on you, Jim, to recognize not only Christine but those who have carried the torch forward. The Wine and Words event was fabulous, and I look forward to many more events from this group.

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