Fourth Fridays allows writers to find their voices
Fourth Fridays, a forum for aspiring local writers, will host a short fiction reading at 7:30 tonight at the Starkville Community Theatre.
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Anyone interested is welcome to attend. After the readings, there will be a short reception for people to mingle and further discuss the works.
Fourth Fridays began in 2006 when two friends developed a way for writers to get much-needed feedback on their prose.
Kris Lee of Starkville was writing a play for submission in a competition and wanted some constructive feedback. His roommate, Amanda Clay Powers, thought it would be great if they could get lots of people from different walks of life, ages and backgrounds all in one room to hear Kris' play and tell him what they thought of it â€” what they loved or what they might change.
Fourth Fridays was born from this idea. Its current committee consists of Powers, Lee, Thomas LaFoe, Damon Peterson and Abigail Voller.
The pair submitted the idea to the Starkville Community Theatre, and thanks to the organization's unwavering support, Fourth Fridays is kicking off its fifth year tonight at The Playhouse on Main.
"Starkville Community Theatre has been so supportive of us from the beginning," Powers said. "They see it as an outreach program for the community, so they've written it into grants (and) they've given us a place to meet every month. Even though we've branched out beyond plays, they have gone above and beyond to demonstrate their support of not only us, but of the community."
Although it started with plays, the group now dedicates the fourth Friday of each month to hearing all types of original work.
"We've opened it to be a forum to any writer in the area, whether it be a play, or poetry or short fiction," Lee said, "and we just rotate the genre each month."
Lee said the group has been integral to his success as a published author.
"At one point I had a short story I had submitted to a competition and it was returned. They thought something about it was lacking or didn't make sense," Lee said. "So we took it to Fourth Fridays and people made lots of comments ... I took that feedback, made some changes and resubmitted the story. It was immediately published and even nominated for a Pushcart Prize. To me, that is direct evidence that Fourth Fridays is of immense importance to writers."
Lee and LaFoe both said the criticism is always honest and always welcomed by authors. Although Lee said his writing is often personal, he still wants to appeal to the masses and have his writing understood.
"The feedback is never just purely negative," he said. "People always find something they like about each piece, and the criticism is always given in a constructive and supportive nature."
Not everyone who submits writing is a published professional, however. Lots of people with limited prior writing experience submit original works, including LaFoe.
"In the beginning we had trouble getting people to submit their writings, so to help out, I submitted a play that I had written when I was in college at Mississippi State that I honestly thought was not very good," LaFoe said.
"I was amazed that when we read it out loud. There was actually a lot of positive feedback and ways that I could improve it. People picked up on themes that could be expanded on. To hear people actually say, 'This is a good idea you have here,' it kind of gave me the impetus to start writing again."
Kat Hester is often involved with Fourth Fridays as a reader. All of the works are read aloud for the group, but never by the author. Lee said they like to bring in other people to read because sometimes the way the reader interprets the piece can change the tone completely.
"Being asked to read for an author is both an honor and a responsibility," Hester said. "I feel privileged to be a part of the process because it's personal, and in many ways, a vulnerable part of the process of writing."
Hester said she takes the material and the author's intent seriously, sometimes worrying if she will live up to the author's emotional investment in the piece. She feels it is very important as a reader to do her best to have the words come to life for the listeners.
"The burden of translation can be a daunting one," Hester said. "My role is to convey an auditory experience."
It is important for everyone to support our local culture and validate those who contribute to it, she said.
"Just being here to witness the birth of someone's time and effort means so much, and reading aloud is what I can do," Hester said.
For more information on Fourth Fridays, visit their Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/fourthfridays.