Four years ago, the phrase “Los Angeles’ literary scene” would have been an oxymoron. Since then, the paltry landscape has grown lush with grassroots literary efforts, namely in the form of small publishing presses and zines enthusiastically supported by locals. As short fiction and poetry rise in printed popularity in the city, so too are “prosetry,” storytelling and spoken word performed before audiences in a way most Los Angeleno twenty and thirty somethings haven’t seen in years, or maybe ever. It seems Los Angeles creative writers across the board are finally starting to receive the kind of artistic clout they’ve long deserved.
One of the names steadily making an impact on the ever-growing lit scene is Dylan Doren [pictured], who in 2012, founded the WOMEN group, an all-inclusive poet and writers collective focusing on genuine community in a scattered city and an impersonal digital age. I sat down with Doren at Trystero Coffee in Atwater Village to talk about the Los Angeles collective.
NAKID: Why did you start the WOMEN group?
DOREN: At the time, I began book collecting and reading a lot. My whole life revolved around literature. I was hanging out in bookstores and what really got me interested was collecting City Lights’ Pocket Poet Series by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. I was reading a lot about the Beat poets and their writing, them as a group. The collective may have come out of a fear of this being L.A. and surviving this age of technology. There’s too much, too many cliques and everything’s very spread out. Collecting the Pocket Poet Series was inspiring. I wanted to do something like that, but in a different way for this generation, acting as a time capsule of art that could later be found. A lot of my friends are creative and produce a lot [of art]. I fear their work might never be found, or maybe only by a select few. I wanted to have something tangible, something you could pick up and remember these artists by.
NAKID: What inspired the name “the WOMEN group”?
DOREN: At first I wanted to focus on publishing books, having each poem be somewhat anonymous. No names, no idea about gender. Ideas are ideas; poetry is poetry. It’s very human. I didn’t want readers to think about the gender perspective of each writer, just read it as a human experience–universal. At some point I heard the term “future feminism,” and I would classify the collective as being future feminist. We’re showing our work to each other—bare bones—and I think we’re learning from one another, males from females and vice versa. It blurs the lines in a way I’ve always wanted. It’s a feminist collective of writers and poets, but in a way that offers even more unity. Just like in any historical case, the civil rights movement, for example. It wasn’t just blacks fighting for black rights. It was everyone who supported the cause—all races, each gender. In the same way, the WOMEN group is all-inclusive.
NAKID: Did you have any expectations or hopes for the group before you formed it? You mentioned reading a lot about the Beat generation of writers. Were you hoping to recreate that kind of community and movement?
DOREN: I didn’t want to recreate anything–you cant do that. But I was infatuated with the Beats, yes. Their entire lives revolved around writing. I simply wanted to surround myself with creative people in a similar way, but of course establish something new for this era. All of my friends are artists of some sort. I’m really into writing so naturally I wanted a group for us. I’ve been to a lot of open mics and was happy to be going. They were the best I could find, but they still weren’t exactly what I was looking for. I didn’t feel all that comfortable at any of them. Everything still felt too scattered. I started the WOMEN group so writers could have something focused that they could return to each month. But I had no real expectations for how the collective would be.
We have published two books featuring solo poets and four collective issues now. By issue 3—released here at Alias Books East—I felt so overwhelmed. the WOMEN group had become way bigger than I’d ever imagined. We started with eight poets in issue 1 and now had 30. I already knew then this had surpassed any expectation I might have had. I was happy with the progress, but I was scared.
NAKID: You were scared? Why?
DOREN: Yeah, I was scared! Because I thought I was going to take on this huge responsibility of 30+ people. Now it’s 30 personalities, 30 schedules. I didn’t know how it was going to work or how I could keep making this happen. But it’s working now and continuing to grow.
NAKID: How does a writer seeking community in Los Angeles become part of the WOMEN group? Do you have an initiation process?
DOREN: Initiation? No! Basically we’ve been slowing down a bit on the publishing. One day the WOMEN group will publish more seasonally, but I want to focus on it as an actual collective and community of friends and writers, one where we all personally know each other. You go to other open mics and start noticing there are very few people regularly coming out to read. There’s less of a communal feel there. the WOMEN group is focused on having that community. If you participate, if you come and read two or three times, that’s it. If you really want to be involved and you come out, that’s it. If the shoe fits, I guess. the WOMEN group is not just about creating exposure for writers. The printed work is secondary to what we’re actually doing. We’re creating a collective space for writers here in Los Angeles.
NAKID: You spent 19 months at L.A. Fort. Now you have a new home at Stories in Echo Park every last Tuesday of the month. Do you think the change in venue has helped expand the collective to give more access to people?
DOREN: Yes, at first I was actually scared of the move. L.A. Fort was perfect. White walls, big open space. It was a blank canvas that worked for us. It closed down and the first place I could think of was Stories, so it was the best choice. L.A. Fort closed down on a Thursday and by noon the next day I had secured the WOMEN group’s new location. Stories has been working out great and we’re seeing even more people come out to the readings, probably because it’s not downtown on skid row like our last location. But that aspect had its positive side, too. It filtered out the people who weren’t all that serious about committing to the collective. That’s the part about L.A. Fort I loved.
NAKID: Aside from the monthly readings, are any other events on the horizon for the WOMEN group? Is an issue 5 in the works?
DOREN: People and organizations are reaching out to us about events, which has been great. Most recently we participated in We Choose Art: A Feminist Perspective in Hollywood, where some of the core members of the collective read their work.
We’re also currently putting together another collective issue showcasing all of our work. But I’m mostly excited about publishing more solo work—books featuring individual writers from the group. There are some writers who I know wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that a year ago, two years ago, but having a regular space to share writing each month has opened up the door for them to publish solo. Both the collective and our next featured poet books will be released in summer 2015.
NAKID: Would you say the WOMEN group as a platform has helped grow these artists as they develop their craft and confidence in writing and performing?
DOREN: I don’t know if it’s because of the collective or not, but I can say I’ve watched a lot of the core writers progress. And that’s the coolest thing to see: to watch an artist improve, take more chances, continue creating.
NAKID: How do you choose the writers who will represent the WOMEN group in publication?
DOREN: They’re people who understand what the WOMEN group is about. No one’s going to get published for showing up to read once, getting there late, not listening to anyone else reading and then jamming out. The writers I want to showcase appreciate and know what we’re trying to do. I’m always trying to motivate people to write more. There are so many writers who have a lot to produce and write a lot and they’re just sitting on it. I want to gather these pieces and give them exposure, put it out there for readers.
the WOMEN group will be at Stories Books & Café in Echo Park, Los Angeles tonight and every last Tuesday of the month at 6:30pm for their monthly readings. Find the collective on Facebook and Twitter to read their featured monthly poets and keep track of their writerly happenings.