Spotlight: Susannah Felts, The Porch Writers' Collective

The Porch’s Susannah Felts (right) and Katie McDougall (left).

Always-sunny morning person and native Nashvillian Susannah Felts is an accomplished writer, teacher, and editor. We could go on for days about all the amazing things Susannah has done… Her first novel, This Will Go Down on Your Permanent Record, was published by Featherproof Books in 2008, she’s won several awards and fellowships, and her work has appeared everywhere from The Oxford American to (one of our favorite’s) McSweeney’s Internet Tendency.

But, today, we’re talking with Susannah about one project in particular — The Porch Writers' Collective — which she established here in Nashville along with co-founder Katie McDougall.

1 - Can you talk about what The Porch Writers’ Collective is and what you provide for the writing community?

Sure! The Porch is a nonprofit center for writing (aka, literary center), and we exist to support, educate, and connect writers and anyone passionate about the literary arts in the Middle Tennessee area. We do all of that in a bunch of ways: We offer classes in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, taught by well-qualified instructors; We provide regular panel discussions that help writers learn more about the business of writing and publishing; We host free monthly write-ins at The Skillery; We hold twice-yearly writers’ retreats in Sewanee, TN; and, We organize innovative public events around literature and writing.

2 - You are a Tennessee native, correct?

Correct! OK, almost. I was born in Little Rock, AR, but my folks and I high-tailed it to Nashville when I was a year old.

Your personal story states, "There were encampments in Connecticut, Atlanta, and North Carolina; a deep settling in Chicago; a sojourn in Birmingham, Alabama." You’ve lived in quite a few different places. Can you tell us a little bit about how your endeavors in other locales influenced your writing and the desire to found The Porch?

My years in Chicago are the most relevant in answer to your question. I received my MFA in Writing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, then stayed and taught there while also freelancing. During those years, I witnessed the blossoming of a vibrant indie literary community, with new reading series and publications popping up all the time. It felt like a period of emergence and great energy. Being a part of that community of writers was something I took very much for granted until I left — and realized just how precious and useful it had been.

By the time I moved back to Nashville, I was aware of a number of existing literary centers in other cities, and at the same time, I saw creative growth here that reminded me of what I’d observed of the Chicago literary scene years earlier. Stir in the population growth in Nashville, and boom: Was there ever a better time to start a center for writing here? Nay, there was not.

I’ve seen so many smart, passionate folks bring ideas here from other cities. It feels good to be a hometown girl who’s trying to do a similar thing. In fact — and I love this fact — my Porch co-founder Katie McDougall is also a Nashville native. We both left town for many years, and I’d say we both dig the fact that we’re creating something new in the city where we were raised up, which was, of course, a very different place wayyy back in the day.

3 - Here at CreativeMornings/Nashville we have a multitude of unique creatives including illustrators, designers, psychologists, dancers, writers, photographers, and programmers. Where do writers fit into the creative landscape, and what is the truest thing you could say about the writing community in Nashville?

Writers fit right in to that lovely list you’ve made! These days, there’s a lot of chatter about the power of story/storytelling in commercial creative culture (advertising, marketing, branding, etc). That makes me smile.

Writers understand perhaps better than anyone else the primacy of story and the power that comes with knowing how to wield words. Nashville has a strong literary history with deep roots, but in recent years our contemporary literary scene has been a bit quieter, or less cohesive, than what we’ve seen in other areas of the burgeoning local creative economy. That’s changing for the better, though. I also want to see the literary arts increasingly engaging with the visual and performing arts in Nashville. There’s so much room for fabulous collaboration.

One true thing about the writing community in Nashville: it’s growing. Oh, and like no other writing community elsewhere, it always has to distinguish itself as not songwriting… 

4 - What have you accomplished this year with The Porch, and what do you plan on tackling in the next year?

I’m going to let co-founder Katie McDougall step in and answer this one, since she’s been a critical force behind the Porch’s accomplishments. Take it away, Katie…

Katie McDougall: In our first year and a half, we’ve run about 35 writing workshops, held 25 unique literary events, hosted three successful weekend writing retreats, and engaged in creative writing outreach with Time to Rise, Nashville Adult Literacy Center, Oasis Center, and Martha O’ Bryan Center. We’ve also acquired our 501c3, established a membership program, held a successful inaugural fundraiser, co-hosted a city-wide teen writing workshop, and put together a strong board of directors. In other words, we’ve been busy!

Our plan for this next year involves basically more of the same. Additionally, we plan to expand our teen program, Nashville Emerging Writers (N.E.W.), by offering monthly workshops year-round in hopes of further developing a vibrant youth literary citizenry.

5 - Where can folks follow you and find out more about how The Porch is helping support local writers?

Our website is porchtn.org, we’re on Facebook (ThePorchWritersCollective) and Twitter (@porchtn), and we’d love for you all to sign up for our monthly newsletter.


Interview by graphic designer Stephen Jones.