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Words to Be Heard
Peg Alfor Pursell creates literary community
By Leilani Clark
Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein had one. So did Virginia Woolf and E. M. Forster. What exactly did these writers have in common, besides a tremendous talent with words? Well, they all had the support of a literary community. For Hemingway and Stein, it was the cadre that arose out of the Left Bank Parisian bookstore Shakespeare and Company. For Forster and Woolf, it was the Bloomsbury Group. In the North Bay, thanks to Sausalito resident Peg Alford Pursell, a strong community has sprung up around a monthly reading series called Why There Are Words, held on the second Thursday of every month at Studio 333 in Sausalito.
Pursell's idea is simple: "A writer's words are meant to be heard, to be seen, to be alive in the world." It's a philosophy that infuses everything the South Carolina transplant does. Pursell curates and hosts Why There Are Words, providing a space for emerging and established writers to read before an audience of 65 to 120 people each month. She runs monthly writing workshops for writers of all skill levels out of her home in Sausalito. She participates enthusiastically in LitQuake, the annual San Francisco celebration of all things literary. In the midst of it all, Pursell hammers away at a novel, writes flash fiction and poetry, and acts as fiction editor for Prick of the Spindle, an online literary journal.
It's for all of these reasons that we are more than happy to honor Peg Alford Pursell with a 2012 Boho Award for her contributions to the North Bay arts community.
"Writing by nature is an isolated act," says Pursell. "It's solitary, and that's necessary. But it's important to have a writing community, and it's just part of my nature not to sit back and wait for things to happen."
After moving to Marin County four years ago, Pursell took action, creating Why There Are Words in 2010. The series features a mix of talent from the Bay Area and beyond. Craft and quality are two deciding factors in the curatorial process, says Pursell, who selects the seven to eight writers to appear each month. Local writers that have made the roster include Seré Prince Halverson, Joy Lanzendorfer, Daniel Coshnear, Stefanie Freele, Chris Cole, Albert Flynn DeSilver and Frances Lefkowitz.
"The WTAW philosophy is that good writing needs to be heard, always," says Pursell. It's also an opportunity to be part of a community that gives back, says the former public school teacher.
"It's very rewarding to create these opportunities, and to learn how much it means to people," Pursell says. "And that they're willing to do whatever they need to do to participate, to let me know how it's inspired them. That's a huge part of it for me."
Olivia Everett transforms Napa's arts scene
By Gabe Meline
Five years ago, while the majority of teenagers and twenty-somethings in Napa were complaining about there being not much to do in town, Olivia Everett decided to do something novel.
She went to meetings.
In fact, Everett, then 21, called for meetings—with city officials, with arts representatives, with young creative types and with just about anyone who she thought might be able to further the younger generation's involvement in the arts in the Napa Valley. Her friends had a dilapidated skatepark and the dwindling days of MySpace as entertainment. Everett thought they could do better.
She started a group, Wandering Rose, dedicated to the underground bands, zine makers, street artists and others who for years had been underappreciated in this sliver of wine country. In addition to running a robust online calendar, Wandering Rose birthed two major events: a Battle of the Bands for groups too loud to play at winetastings and the InDIYpendent Culture Fair showcasing art too edgy for most downtown galleries.
Because of Everett's long game in bringing disenfranchised artists together with city and county staff, Napa started to slowly turn around. To no one's surprise, Everett, now 26, was named the executive director of Arts Council Napa Valley, where she continues to champion the arts in all forms. For this, we're more than pleased to name her a Boho Award recipient this year.
"I had wanted to be a filmmaker when I was 12," says the Orinda-raised California native who, after graduating from Napa's Justin-Siena High School—where she worked on costumes and managed the stage for the theater department—and attending USC, lived briefly in Scotland. "Traveling in Europe had a big effect on me, traveling in small towns like Stratford-on-Avon and Bath that reminded me a lot of Napa. I loved this community, and I wanted to be a part of the community, and I felt like arts and culture had so much potential for growth and development here."
She adds, "I knew I wasn't the only one in our community who loved my hometown and wanted to be involved in the arts."
With the arts council, Everett has continued those goals on a larger scale. Arts education, cultural marketing and public art are the group's three main focuses now, taking advantage of the post-recession landscape of the county. This is evident in Art on First, a long-running program in which vacant storefronts on First Street in downtown Napa are transformed into temporary exhibits. High school artists, alternative art and works out of Napa's Slack Collective—recipients of a 2011 Boho Award—are included.
It's all part of Everett's open-minded outlook in supporting the full diversity of the arts, no matter how challenging. "If the arts council isn't willing to take risks," she asks, "who is?"