Betsy Teter on Spartanburg, South Carolina
Recognize Spartanburg from road signs on the I-85 and I-26? It has so much more to offer than gas stations and travel plazas. Hub City Executive Director Betsy Teter tells us how her small press, colleges and local libraries tangle up to make a neat literary knot in the South.
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Pull into downtown Spartanburg, South Carolina and stop in the shadow of the city’s clock tower. On the ground floor of an historic Masonic Temple is a place the Chicago Tribune has said “is worth going out of your way to visit.” That’s where I work, at a desk under a portrait of Flannery O’Connor, as executive director of the Hub City Writers Project.
So Spartanburg doesn’t pop up on your radar when you think “vibrant literary scene”? It’s in the northwest corner of the state (an hour south of Asheville and three hours north of Atlanta). Together, a scrappy literary arts organization, two liberal arts colleges, and an ambitious public library created an unusual nexus – an emerging, if unlikely, literary center.
We’re going to talk about Hub City first because, well, that’s my baby.
Hub City, founded 20 years ago by three local writers, is a publishing house with 70 titles and three more books releasing this fall. It also runs the Hub City Bookshop, possibly the only bona fide independent bookstore in the country operated by a not-for-profit organization. A quaint bungalow three blocks away houses our Writers House national residency program, targeted at writers within five years of their writing degrees. Hub City also sponsors nearly 100 readings, workshops, panels, conferences, and other public events throughout the year.
This may look like your normal, everyday independent bookstore, but Hub City is way more than that – employing seven people (all women right now) making books, coordinating literary prizes, and just generally dedicating ourselves to making Spartanburg a literary center of the South.
What makes Hub City work? Virtually all the writers in town play a part in its success. Many of them work at Spartanburg’s colleges, including George Singleton, quite possibly the funniest fiction writer in America, and C. Michael Curtis, fiction editor of the Atlantic magazine for nearly five decades.
Wofford College, an 1,800-student liberal arts campus near downtown, nourishes the literary community with a quarterly Writers Series and annual Novel Experience programs. The college brings literary luminaries to town – Ha Jin, Tea Obreht, Tobias Wolfe, and Arthur Goldman to name a few. Hub City has published a substantial number of the Wofford professors in its various anthologies, and the bucolic Wofford campus hosts Hub City’s annual summer writers’ conference, Writing in Place, now in its 15th year.
Converse College is a few blocks in the other direction, where the low-residency MFA program brings a big crowd of graduate writing students to Spartanburg twice a year. The students work with such faculty members as Robert Olmstead, Albert Goldbarth, and Denise Duhamel (who can often be found hanging out at the Hub City Bookshop). Converse is also the alma mater of Julia Peterkin, South Carolina’s only Pulitzer Prize winner and has its own stellar public reading series that has brought a long list of writers to the city, including Natasha Trethewey and Joyce Carol Oates.
Finally the Spartanburg County Public Libraries has a “Fall for Reading” series that will knock your socks off. The last couple of years have featured Sebastian Junger, Chris Bojalian, Amy Greene, and Tayari Jones, among others. The library and Hub City co-produce The Writing Show, a popular series of panel discussions about the business and craft of writing. You can catch them January-May each year.
We don’t call Spartanburg, South Carolina the Hub City for nothing. The nickname used to refer to train lines coming through the city. Now we’re more like the Hub City of writers.