Writer’s Groups Throughout History- Thoughts from Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House

Orchard House- where Louisa May Alcott wrote LITTLE WOMEN

During a recent family trip to Boston, Massachusetts, I was able to make my pilgrimage to Concord (yes, I’ve gone several times in my life already) to Orchard House, the home of Louisa May Alcott where she wrote one of my all-time favorite classic books, Little Women.

While I stood inside Louisa’s bedroom and stared at the half-moon wooden desk her father built for her where she wrote all 400-plus pages of what was at first two books, each called Little Women and Good Wives, it got me to wondering– Did she have a critique or a writer’s group?  Who did she share her early drafts with? Did she share them with members of Concord’s literary society, like her family’s friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson? Her own father, Amos Bronson Alcott, who was a writer and social/educational reformer in his own right?  Neighbor, Nathaniel Hawthorne?  Family friend, Henry David Thoreau?

I do know that Louisa shared her early writings (her “theatricals”) with her sisters, as they performed them when they were young and lived in the house next door to Orchard House, which is now known as The Wayside but was then known as Hillside to the Alcotts.  She also began Flower Fables here, which I can’t imagine her not sharing with her sisters.  In Little Women, Jo is seen reading her work quite a bit to her sisters.  I can’t help but wonder if they ever offered advice or critique to her.  It’s very possible that they, or some of the others mentioned above, did.

 

The Wayside- known as Hillside to the Alcott girls when they lived there from 1845-1848

 

The Wayside in 1845 when it was known as Hillside

 

 

I always feel a sense of kinship with famous writers of the  past whenever I learn about their writing processes, and knowing whether or not they were part of a writing group brings about that same feeling since I am a member of Viva Scriva.  Having a group to either critique with, bounce around ideas with, or just have a sense of artistic camaraderie with is such an important part of my writing career, and I am fascinated when I find other writers who were part of a group themselves.

After my visit to Orchard House an my thoughts about Louisa, I decided to Google famous writer’s groups, and here is a small list that I found.

 

 

The Eagle and Child pub- the meeting place for The Inklings

The Inklings

(According to Wikipedia– “The more regular members of the Inklings, many of them academics at the University, included J. R. R. “Tollers” TolkienC. S. “Jack” LewisOwen BarfieldCharles WilliamsChristopher Tolkien (J. R. R. Tolkien’s son), Warren “Warnie” Lewis (C. S. Lewis’s elder brother), Roger Lancelyn GreenAdam FoxHugo DysonR. A. “Humphrey” HavardJ. A. W. BennettLord David Cecil, and Nevill Coghill. Other less frequent attenders at their meetings included Percy BatesCharles Leslie Wrenn, Colin Hardie, James Dundas-Grant, John David Arnett, Jon Fromke[2] John WainR. B. McCallum, Gervase Mathew, and C. E. Stevens. Guests included author E. R. Eddison and South African poet Roy Campbell.”)

The Bloomsbury Group

(According to Wikipedia– “This English collective of friends and relatives lived, worked or studied near Bloomsbury in London during the first half of the twentieth century. ‘Although its members denied being a group in any formal sense, they were united by an abiding belief in the importance of the arts’.[2] Their work deeply influenced literatureaestheticscriticism, andeconomics as well as modern attitudes towards feminismpacifism, and sexuality.[3] Its best known members were Virginia WoolfJohn Maynard KeynesE. M. Forster and Lytton Strachey.”)

 

 

Algonquin Round Table

(According to Wikipedia– “Members and associates of the Algonquin Round Table: (l-r) Art SamuelsCharles MacArthurHarpo MarxDorothy Parker and Alexander Woollcott“)

 

 

Shakespeare And Company Writers

(According to Wikipedia– “Writers and artists of the “Lost Generation,” such as Ernest HemingwayEzra PoundF. Scott FitzgeraldGertrude SteinGeorge Antheil and Man Rayspent a great deal of time at Shakespeare and Company, and it was nicknamed “Stratford-on-Odéon” by James Joyce, who used it as his office.”)

 

Wow!  What a list!  And this is only the tip of the iceberg, I’m sure.  Yes, there are writers who really do work without other people’s input, but since writing is so solitary, having the right group to be a part of can really keep writers inspired, encouraged, and part of something greater than themselves as well as help their work be the best it can be.

I’m so thankful to my Scrivas for being my “sisters”and listening to my “theatricals,” just as Louisa’s listened to hers.  I definitely recommend joining a writer’s group, and if the first one doesn’t work out, try, try again.

 

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