By Amy Taylor
Well-known for its historic and cultural riches, the Prince William area inherently attracts musicians and artists. Among those artists are local writers who meet to share their work in public before an appreciative audience each month at Spilled Ink, a gathering of novelists, essayists, dramatists and poets who read their work in an open mic setting. Now in its fifth year, Spilled Ink, Virginia continues to prosper and support writers at every level.
The Launch of Spilled Ink, Virginia
Spilled Ink was formed after teacher and writer John Dutton attended a meeting of Write by the Rails, the Prince William Chapter of the Virginia Writers Club. “Having once again suggested there should be a central meeting place for writers to share their work, I heard a response of, ‘If you want it, you do it,’ so I did,” said Dutton. That’s how he became the host of Spilled Ink.
The group started reading at Grounds Central Station in Manassas, a coffee shop that has long supported local writers and artists. “On the first night, Jan. 16, 2015, I had a small amp and a microphone in front of a rattling Pepsi machine,” Dutton recalled. “A dozen people showed up to read that first night.”
However, Spilled Ink proved to be popular and quickly outgrew the venue, so it moved to Manassas-based Jirani Coffee House.
Spilled Ink, Virginia, Encourages Local Writers
It takes bravery to put pen to paper and even more to step up to a microphone and perform in front of a crowd. The participants, host and audience are all there to encourage writers, new and published, to bring their writing out into the world and keep moving forward in pursuit of the written word.
As the host of these events, it’s Dutton’s job to put participants at ease and make them feel welcome.
“After all, the object is to be brave while stepping up to the microphone to share your work,” he said.
Dutton recalled local teacher, author and former Prince William County Poet Laureate Robert Scott once told him, “You know, all that stuff you keep writing and storing away is meant to be read.”
“I wholeheartedly agree,” said Dutton. “Write it, share it and be proud of it.” With encouragement, the writers do just that. “Our new Prince William County Poet Laureate, Natalie Potell, told us she was inspired by Spilled Ink before she became a nominee,” Dutton said. But Spilled Ink welcome writers of all ages and levels of experience.
“Spilled Ink has had children the age of eight brave the microphone. High school students are some of our most delightful readers,” he continued. “Poets from Poets Anonymous in Fairfax are regular attendees. Robert Scott, and Kathy Smaltz, now former County Poets Laureate, often read to an entranced audience.”
Five Years of Reading is Reason to Celebrate
For Spilled Ink’s five-year anniversary reading, more than 30 writers shared their work. Owner of Jirani Coffee House, Ken Moorman, hired a photographer to document the festivities, and the evening was recorded.
There were quite a few memorable performances that evening. Michael Sensale invited crowd participation when he had audience members perform old-time radio shows with excerpts from his book.
Audience favorite Daniel Nearhood, a 9-year-old, read his color poems. He shared with the audience that he has nearly finished writing his series about primary colors.
“Mary Rook read, ‘Walking Our Dog, Chloe,’ ‘The Screen Judge,’ and a chapter from her YA novel, The Meeting with the Man in Black,” said Dutton. “I held Mary’s baby daughter while she read. Child care is just another of my many duties as host.”
Alice Mergler, a former teacher and current coordinator of the Prince William County Poet Laureate Circle, read her poems, “The Candle and the Mirror,” and “Happy New Year.”
Some performers read from their phones, while others memorized their pieces.
“Dave Martin often gives a poem completely from memory,” Dutton said. “He was inspired to read at Spilled Ink by his high school daughter. She is now in college, and he is still a regular at our Friday night readings.”
Poet Katherine Gotthardt, president of Write by the Rails, used her phone for the first time to read in public. She shared three poems: “Comma, and,” “Shutting Down” and “Resolution.”
Several first-time readers stepped up to the mic during the anniversary performance. Among them were Brittany Santince, Elisa Everts and Harminder Lall. Lall read, “Learning from Mistakes,” a humorous tale of trial and error about preparing a Thanksgiving turkey.
Gail Williams, a newspaper journalist who has discovered the art of memoir, read her pieces, “Sunday,” “Shores They’re Rowing To” and “The Art of Living Alone.”
Be a Part of Spilled Ink, Virginia
“If you would like to read at Spilled Ink, you are welcome,” Dutton said. Readers are asked to keep material to a PG-13 rating, as both presenters and audience members include a variety of ages and tastes. Readings should run 8 to 10 minutes maximum or 1,200 to 1,500 words. Novelists are asked to pick an excerpt rather than sharing an entire chapter.
If you can’t make it out to Manassas, there’s a second monthly event, Spilled Ink East, held in Woodbridge every second Friday at Tackett’s Mill’s Clearbrook Center for the Arts at 7 p.m. “Spilled Ink celebrates local authors, poets and scribblers as they read their work. All are welcome to listen or read,” Dutton tells the audience each time. “If you are inspired by what you hear, please sign up to read. Be brave.”
For more information on Spilled Ink, visit SpilledInkVA.com.
Amy Taylor ([email protected]) is a contributing writer and a native of Northern Virginia.