A community of young writers

The Totally Unknown Writers Festival helps build a community of aspiring authors on our campus


I know it’s been a while since I’ve written an op-ed, but I’m going to pretend my words were insightful enough for you to remember what they were. Approximately two to three weeks ago, I wrote a piece on the crumbling job market and how, as an English and professional writing major, I’ve braced myself for a good decade of living in my mom’s basement before I find a job.

But I also spoke about how important it is to be here and how much I’ve gained at this school. Namely, the contacts I’ve made in professors or guest speakers whom I was lucky enough to get to know. The Totally Unknown Writers Festival is something I never even thought to bring up in my last op-ed, and it’s a good thing, too. For a writer, this event, in my opinion, is important enough to warrant its own piece.

For those of you who don’t know, the festival is hosted by Life Rattle. Life Rattle was created by UTM’s own Guy Allen and Arnie Achtman, who worked together for 25 years to bring their love of storytelling to life. Together, they worked with many others to introduce the Life Rattle radio program, Life Rattle Press, and the festival, as stated on their website. In 1992, Life Rattle staged their first festival, which consisted of local talent getting up on stage to read their pieces out loud to an audience. Since then, Life Rattle has been hosting their annual festival to publish and celebrate local writers.

I went for the first time last year. I had never heard about it. I had no idea how many of the student readers would later wind up in my writing classes. Right off the bat, my evening went well. It was the first time I saw Laurel Waterman (a professor I had in my first year at university) in years. I’ll always remember my conversation with her because, though she admitted that she couldn’t remember my name right away, she told me that she remembered my talent.

As she went on to greet other students, I saw Robert Price. A year ago, I didn’t really know who Robert was. I didn’t even know he previously worked for the paper, for crying out loud. But he walked up to me, greeted me, and asked if I’d ever been to the festival before. After I told him that I hadn’t, he was kind enough to give me a rundown of how the festival worked. He even set up interviews for me with people associated with Life Rattle and with Shane Driver, the winner of the Arnie Achtman Award that year.

Throughout the night, some great writers got up on stage to read their pieces. I remember some pretty wild stories; for example, there was one from a kid who wore Italian leather shoes to a slaughter house. He described in detail what happens to the animals there, and right before I puked, his story ended. Okay, I wasn’t actually going to be sick, but I was squirming with discomfort in my seat.

Then, at the end of the night, Shane Driver took to the stage. The story he read was taken from his book, Broken, which is currently being studied in my Community and Writing class. He moved me completely. I got the chance to interview him for the paper to learn that he never planned on publishing anything. But encouragement from those around him brought him to the stage that night and now he’s being studied in classrooms.

It’s here I want to segue into how important I think festivals like this are for young writers. To appreciate your peers and be among some of the best writers in your hometown has such a sense of community. There are tons of us who have stories to tell and platforms like the Totally Unknown Writers Festival grant us the freedom to express them.

There’s not much I can say without being too biased about why being able to express yourself through an art form is so liberating. Drawing on what I said before, it’s UTM that introduced me to this festival and it’s here that I met some of the people whom I associate with now. Even if I didn’t have enough confidence in myself to read something at the festival, seeing all those writers there that night encouraged me to submit something to Mindwaves, which was the first creative writing piece I submitted in all the years I’ve been here. It was also the first time I got published. I gained this confidence through one night that took place a year ago.

This year, I was summoned into the Medium office and unfortunately missed the festival. Two girls I know read that night, which just added to the sting of me not being there. But being in my Creative Writing and Communications and Writing classes, I heard more of my peers asking each other if they planned on going when, not too long ago, I had no idea what it even was. Being a part of that community, that community of young writers who all supported each other, was so welcoming. I think a big part of my identity was gained through the Totally Unknown Writers Festival and everyone who was brave enough to read that night. Festivals and events like this are so important for young writers and I’ll be forever grateful that I ever had the chance to attend one.

All that said, I’m signing off before this turns too much into an Oprah episode. Everyone here gets a free op-ed!

Maria Cruz
Managing Editor