Storytellers unite

By REBECCA SCHWAB

OBSERVER Staff Writer

SINCLAIRVILLE – Friends don’t let friends write alone.

Local artist, performer, and writer George Clever, author of the poetry collection “Dancing with Grandfather” and the story collection “Bear Lake Monster and Other Clever Stories,” credits much of his success to the Write Circle, a group of writers who meet Friday mornings at the Sinclairville Free Library.

“Because of this group I’ve really improved my writing,” Clever says. “This experience is so important.”

The Write Circle was started back in 2000 by current members Beth Hadley and JoAnn Marsh. The group refers to Hadley, who is also the librarian in Sinclairville, as “The Instigator.” She doesn’t deny the accusation, and in fact, Hadley is proud of everything she’s “instigated” at the library.

“As the role of the library changes, we’re trying to bring people here together who have similar interests,” she explains. “We also have knitting and quilting here, and people making flies for fishing. It’s more of a community center. We have two book clubs and a story hour, summer readings. (The Write Circle) is a great example of finding out what people are interested in and bringing them together. The library’s not just a place for books.”

The Write Circle starts their 9 a.m. meetings by talking about their weeks and what kinds of writing projects they have been working on. They often have optional assignments, and some members complete these “prompts.” Others in the group are working on long-term projects like novels, memoirs or poetry collections, and they report their progress on these.

“Once there was an assignment to write about a strange pet,” Clever recalls. “I wrote about ticks.”

“It’s fun to see how people take the same assignment, the same prompt, and do such different things with it,” Hadley says. “We all have such different styles. And the prompts often turn into other things poetry, stories.”

The group is made up of writers of all ages and genre styles, and always welcomes new members. Sitting in the meeting room at the Sinclairville Free Library, sipping coffee and surrounded by sylvan wall murals, are poets, storytellers, memoirists, Christian authors, a young adult novelist, a technical writer and a nature author. There is a palpable “One for all; all for one” spirit in the room. All attempts and successes are celebrated, and no one is judged if he or she didn’t complete an assignment or make progress with a project.

“This is not a hostile group,” Clever says. “It’s very supportive. Criticism is only given when it is asked for.”

Pama LeBarron, another long-time member, agrees.

“It’s a lot of fun to be here and hear from other people. We’re truthful but in a way that doesn’t break down our creative juices,” she says.

Hadley sums it in up succinctly: “It’s like a support group for writers.”

Other members include Ivory Fishgold, Lori Brockelbank, Jessie Andersen and her young daughter Gemma (who is also the group’s proclaimed “mascot”), Doris Richardson and new member Tracy Parmenter. Clever, who said he was the day’s “token male,” claimed that there were usually other men present, as well. Hadley, the group’s founder, also acts as their record-keeper. If members bring printed versions of their work to the meetings and would like her to, she will store them at the library in the archive. This way, she says, if anyone wants to go back to a piece of writing from months before and can’t find it, she will be able to produce a copy.

And, as Clever stated, although the group is friendly and relaxed, if a member wants a critique of his or her more polished work, the other authors are happy to oblige. For this, and especially when the group grows to a larger size, members sign up for different weeks to bring pieces in. This also helps to keep the group members on task, so they continuously work on their writing. They all agree that, for them, writing is a vital part of their lives.

“Some friends and family outside of the group don’t understand our need to write,” LeBarron explains. “They’re not big readers or writers. We need to put things down on paper to express ourselves, and we need support. It’s nice to have a group that understands what you’re trying to do and give you help and support.”

“I didn’t even know anything like this existed,” Fishgold says of the group. “It’s exciting. I’m an at-home mom, and it fills my gaps. It opens my eyes to different writing styles and gives me ideas. I didn’t know there was a whole community of writers.”

Andersen agrees: “I didn’t know we had this large of a group in our tiny town interested in writing. To be able to be with people who understand and make this a priority is a huge encouragement.”

Clever has self-published two books with Outskirts Press, and is working on a third. His current project is a collection of stories about animals and the Delaware Indians called “Lenape Indian Animal Tales.” And though his work often focuses on his Native American heritage and culture, Clever’s life experiences have been so diverse and interesting that his readers can always be assured of new material. His poetry and stories reference everything from living in New Mexico and working at NASA to his retirement at Bear Lake. Clever didn’t publish any of his creative writing until after he retired, but he had been dabbling in poetry for years before that.

“I’m a retired mathematics professor,” Clever says. “I had written professionally and published in my discipline. It was part of the business. I returned to my home area after I was widowed to raise my boys, and had time on my hands after I retired. I realized that I had been writing poems since the fifties, and I had saved those poems.”

Many of those poems found a home in Clever’s collection “Dancing with Grandfather.” But Clever explains that his poems are unique, and that the collection is not organized by topic.

“My dad was a Delaware Indian. Our word for that is ‘Lenape.’ So a lot of my writing reflects my ancestry, but my mother was German, so I’m bicultural. The poems are organized by years, so you can see the story. I call them ‘story poems,’ because to me they are observations on life at the time they were written. They are about all kinds of things.”

Readers of Clever’s work know what some of those “things” are: In addition to teaching mathematics at the college level and working for NASA, Clever was dean of American Indian Programs at Stanford. He was at Wounded Knee with his brothers. He is a traditional dancer, attends two major Delaware gatherings each year, and belongs to the Eastern Delaware Nation in Pennsylvania. Clever’s brother owns a marina and campground at Bear Lake, which is part of why Clever chose to live there. And though the small community of Bear Lake is relatively peaceful, the environment there gives him plenty of material to write about. His writing constantly reflects his life, and since life always brings new experiences, his writing stays fresh and interesting.

Clever chose to go the self-publishing route for many reasons. Because he didn’t start putting his poetry together in a collection until after his retirement, Clever didn’t want to spend years shopping his book around to traditional publishers. However, this meant that Clever had to learn the ropes of self-publishing.

“This was a learning process for me. I had to learn to write in E-book format, which is different and specific. I had to teach myself to use the technology I needed. Now, at my booksignings and talks, I make self-publishing part of the presentation, so I can help other people do it,” he says.

Also, since computers and E-readers like the Nook and Kindle have become such a vital part of everyday life, self-published books are in direct competition with traditionally-published books. Readers have instantaneous access to either; they just have to press a button and download their selections.

“Books are not just sitting in warehouses anymore,” Clever says. “People can pull them up online.”

There are drawbacks, though, which Clever acknowledges.

“The real difference is with marketing,” he says. “With traditional publishers, they help you with the marketing. When you self-publish, it’s all up to you. And that takes time and resources. It takes time away from your actual writing.”

Clever has a real passion not just for writing, but for storytelling, and for passing those stories down to future generations.

“I wanted to pass on stories to my children and grandchildren,” he says. “When you do an ancestor search, you get ‘Born,’ ‘Lived,’ and ‘Died.’ But you don’t get much information on the ‘Lived.’ These stories from life give my children and grandchildren the opportunity to get to know me a little better.”

To find out more about George Clever, his stories and poetry, go to his blog at www.cleverartandbooks.simplesite.com. Upcoming readings are scheduled for Patterson Library in Westfield on Tuesday, May 7 and Ahira Hall Memorial Library in Brocton on Wednesday, June 19. For more information, call the libraries or go to Clever’s blog to contact him. His books are available through Barnes and Noble, Amazon and Outskirts Press.

Send comments on this story to rschwab@observertoday.com