By Kristin Boza
For Love of Writing, or FLOW, is a south side group dedicated to supporting writers on their journey from conceptualizing to publishing — and a lot in-between. The core group of six African American women writers are Tina Jenkins Bell, Lydia Barnes, Chirskira Caillouet, Dr. Janice Tuck Lively, Sandra Jackson Opoku and Bettina Walker. The women started meeting in the mid1990s as a way to workshop their writing projects and support one another in their writing endeavors.
The support FLOW was so valuable that the core group decided to relaunch in 2012 as FLOW II, allowing associate members to join and participate in the group’s philosophy. “We wanted to recreate that safe, constructive, supportive space for nurturing and completing writing projects and supporting members by participating or hosting launches,” said Jenkins Bell, FLOW president emeritus. “FLOW II added to the original mission, writer’s retreats, professional development workshops and seminars for south side communities, single author salons, networking, and sharing publishing resources and information.”
Associate members, from new writers to experienced, have an incredible opportunity to learn from accomplished female writers on the south side. The achievements of the core FLOW group are too many to list, but here’s a few highlights: Jenkins Bell is publishing a mini-memoir in 2019 titled “Devil’s Alley” which will appear in the “Love in a Silent Storm” anthology. Walker and Barnes have poems in “Revise the Psalm: Work Celebrating the Writing of Gwendolyn Brooks.” Jackson Opoku wrote “The River Where Blood is Born,” which earned her the American Library Association Black Caucus award. Caillouet is a poet, both on the page and stage and participated in the Gwendolyn Brooks Open Mic Awards. Tuck Lively earned a 2016 Pushcart Award nomination for her short story “Dust Tracks.”
The FLOW network has provided publishing and funding opportunities for its members. “Because of our individual author salons, at least three of our members have completed novel manuscripts. We’ve met and networked with various publishing professionals,” Jenkins Bell said. “Members of the group are always willing to listen, read, or critique work on an as-needed basis.”
Aside from personal and professional development, FLOW is determined to make an impact on the community as well. Their writers have partnered with Chicago Public Libraries, Soulful Chicago Book Fair, Bookie’s and the University of Chicago Logan Center for the Arts to offer craft and professional development workshops.
“People don’t understand that there are many layers to being a writer,” said Barnes, current FLOW president. “The business part of writing, like selling your story, is daunting. We want to help people through that jungle of getting the story out to the world and discovering the various paths to do so.”
While honing their craft and navigating the business angle of publishing, FLOW writers also have developed strong relationships with one another to create a trust and a sense of security within which they provide feedback.
“We operate as a family, so we’re very honest and constructive with our critiques,” Jenkins Bell said. “But we won’t lie to you. We want people to gain confidence in what they’re writing.”
Associate members of any gender or race are welcome to FLOW II. Programming for associate members is varied and will appeal to writers of any level of experience. For more information FlowAuthors.com.