Felicia Schneiderhan worried about finding her tribe when she moved to Duluth. Working as a freelance writer can be isolating, she said.
“To be with other people who understand what it’s like, who share the same struggles, the same joy, and who get joy over the work. I love that energy,” she said.
Schneiderhan soon found Lake Superior Writers, a locally based nonprofit with about 200 members from as far north as Grand Marais to northern Wisconsin. The organization hosts year-round writing groups, manuscript swaps, workshops on poetry and fiction, a monthly writers’ cafe.
“I was amazed at how many writers are working here, nationally published writers and people who are starting out," she said. "There’s a huge community. … They don’t always know each other, so we really want to bring people together and give them resources.”
It started in the late ’90s as a weekly writing group at the Depot. In 1998, they became a nonprofit and formed as Lake Superior Writers, said Mara Hart, a local author and member since the start.
They worked with grants from Arrowhead Regional Arts Council, they formed special groups for memoirs, publishing, mentorship, editing. In 2006, they hosted Great Northern Festival of Words with guest speaker Terry Gross of NPR’s “Fresh Air.”
Citywide, LSW helped create and promote venues for reading works other than poetry, and the group has made writing more visible and accessible here than it was 20 years ago.
“We had our symphony, we had our matinee musicale. We had our ballet, we had our music venues and we had our art institute and our historical institute," Hart said. "But there was nothing really for writers that was a way of bonding writers and encouraging writing in Duluth.
“It was underserved, but I don’t think it is now because of Lake Superior Writers.”
In the beginning, they had “ambitious plans” of modeling LSW after the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, but the core of the group has a similar mission. Today, they’re an important resource for northeast Minnesota and northwest Wisconsin writers of most genres, said Jim Perlman, former board member and owner of Holy Cow! Press.
He established the Duluth Poet Laureate project while he was a member, and he said they’re responsive to what local beginning and mid-range writers need to do to be productive in the “risky business of being a writer.”
“Having a chance to develop a community of like-minded artists and writers, and offer all of us mutual support and self-respect and encouragement in the pursuit of our work — whether it’s trying to be a published author or be a publisher or a teacher, a writer, an editor — it’s become an essential part of the literary landscape,” he said.
Vickie Smith started pursuing creative writing after retiring two years ago. Her short-short story “Tossed” won that category in last year’s LSW writing contest. Along with the business end of writing, Smith has learned about resources beyond the group — free library classes on publishing, editing, children’s writing.
“You do it alone, but it really helps to have a community of writers that you can ask questions, share ideas with, get encouragement from,” she said.
Membership is varied — poets, short story writers, memoirists, long-form and creative nonfiction writers, genre fiction, mystery/suspense. Some write to pass it along to family, but many want to figure out how to get their work published, Schneiderhan said.
“We had our symphony, we had our matinee musicale. We had our ballet, we had our music venues and we had our art institute and our historical institute. But there was nothing really for writers that was a way of bonding writers and encouraging writing in Duluth.”
“I already had three books when I started seeking out other authors because it’s kind of a lonely business,” said Patty Jackson.
She recently moved to Duluth from the Twin Cities, where she was a member of the Northern Lights Writers. She found LSW before relocating and was at a recent National Novel Writing Month workshop at the Duluth Public Library.
“There’s a lot to learning about self-publishing, marketing and finding an editor. It’s a big learning curve, and it’s a lot easier when you have friends. I want to make sure, now that I’m in Duluth, that I get in with a group of other authors that can help along the way, and I can help along the way,” she said.
LSW accommodates writers where they’re at. “You will find your people, and your people don’t necessarily need to be at your specific level,” said Maddie Cohen.
Since she joined in 2016, Cohen has made friends and found freelance work through LSW, which she calls a community and an organization. She has seen the group add to their online presence, launch a blog and a podcast.
She’s now working on a collection of short stories in her writing group, and sharing your art comes with some vulnerability. “It turns into group therapy almost because people are sorting through how to present the written material. To do that, you really have to go deep.”
She said there are novelists and hobbyists, if you’re interested in writing, it will be a good fit.
The Lake Superior Writers helped Schneiderhan during a tricky time. Editors weren’t accepting her pitches. She realized she couldn’t control what they did, but she could control the amount of time she invested in her work and service to others. “My way of getting through that year of rejection was to help other writers," she said. “Now, I feel like I’m part of a literary community that is a great support of the work I do by myself. I don’t feel alone in it.”
The author of “Newlyweds Afloat: Married Bliss and Mechanical Breakdowns While Living Aboard a Trawler” is now the LSW board chair, she’s working on another novel as part of a Minnesota State Arts Board fellowship.
Lake Superior Writers helped her host her first writing workshop in Duluth when she moved here 10 years ago. It’s helped her grow in her craft, and feel more comfortable promoting her work.
“Writers, we can be so shy … It’s not bragging," she said. "You want people to read your stuff.”
What’s ahead for LSW is their annual writing contest that kicks off in the new year, and the hunt for a new office with construction underway at the Board of Trade building. Also, they aim to continue offering the type of education members want.
“(In Duluth) there’s incredible access to nature and wilderness, and we have these amazing cultural resources," Schneiderhan said. "Lake Superior Writers can play a small part in helping to encourage that on a higher level.”
Listen to the Lake Superior Writers podcast on Soundcloud, Google Play and Apple’s podcast app.
If you go
What: Writers’ Cafe hosted by Lake Superior Writers
When: 9-11 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 14
Where: Perk Place Coffeehouse