“This city is ripe for an epic fairy tale,” Sherry Carter Garbarini once said to writer and river advocate Jim Alabiso. His response? All the Angels Come, the online serial novel featuring Jacksonville-inspired characters whose struggles seem to facilitate a magical connection.  By its nature, All the Angels Come is a very fluid piece — always growing and changing, and its genesis is a reflection of what is happening in Jacksonville’s writing community.

Above photo: Tim Gilmore in one of his favorite hangouts; urban core bookstore, Chamblin’s Uptown.

Jacksonville’s literati seem to be coming out of the woodwork lately. Some would argue that much of this synergy sprung straight out of Professor Mark Ari’s creative writing workshops at the University of North Florida (UNF). Florida State College of Jacksonville professor Tim Gilmore and literary-minded colleagues have been gaining momentum with the Jax by Jax literary festival. Meanwhile, Jared Rypkema and his writing community have been busy publishing Bridge Eight, a literary journal with a mission to make Jacksonville “the next literary capital of the South.”  Hurley Winkler and Carl Rosen, also alumni of Ari’s workshops, are gaining steam with Perversion Magazine, and Jennifer Wolfe is connecting writers through an organization called Women Writing for (a) Change. The list goes on; from The Talon Review to Mark Ari’s EAT to the UNF-based literary journal Fiction Fix. There are too many new developments to cover them in one brief article, but we sat down with a few of the big movers and shakers to see how they are contributing to the movement.

Tim Gilmore

Professor at Florida State College of Jacksonville and author of the website Jax Psycho Geo

Professor Tim Gilmore, author of the website Jax Psycho Geo and numerous books documenting the local history of Jacksonville, remembers a time when he didn’t know any other writers in the city. “I wasn’t connected. It was lonely. I hardly knew anybody who was even a reader,” he says.

A Jacksonville native who felt “anchored to this place” early on for family reasons, Gilmore did not go to college right after high school. “I wrote constantly growing up … but I didn’t show it to anybody, and I just had this weird idea that somebody would discover me.” He returned to school in his late 20’s and, only then, did he begin connecting with other writers. “I stuck around for my master’s and that’s when I started meeting people.”

At UNF, meeting other writers really sparked his identity as a writer, and now he tries to do the same for others through Jax by Jax, a literary festival that takes place in the Park and King district every November. The idea is to celebrate “Jacksonville Writers Writing About Jacksonville.”

“I’ve always been attracted to people writing cities,” says Gilmore. “I was going to write this novel about Jacksonville, and it would be in the shape of a map … and that turned into Jax Psycho Geo. I just started looking for the stories around me.” Observing the relationships and documenting the stories gave him a purpose. “There are so many stories here that are waiting to be found.”

The concept of the Jax by Jax festival stemmed from his long years being disconnected from other writers in our community. “It can be hard to know that there’s anybody else doing what you do … I thought it would feel great to have a platform where a lot of the city’s writers could come together and have their voices heard.”

As if teaching at FSCJ, organizing festivals and writing books weren’t enough, Tim also writes a column in Folio titled “Let There Be Lit.”

“I try to shine a light on different kinds of writers. Some people think the writing community started only four years ago, but people have been writing about this place for a long time.”

Check out Tim Gilmore’s fascinating narrative exploration of our region at jaxpsychogeo.com

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Jennifer Wolfe

Women Writing for (a) Change Affiliate and certified instructor for The Center for Journal Therapy

As an agent of change and growth in Jacksonville’s writing community, Jennifer Wolfe is certainly doing her part. She hosts writing circles each month at Unity Plaza and teaches classes through Women Writing for (a) Change, an affiliate of the larger organization. The idea of hospitality plays an important role in the culture of the group, so Wolfe hosts many of the classes in her Riverside home.

Above photos: Wolfe teaches workshops out of her home in Riverside, as well as at Unity Plaza.

One afternoon in early June, she and other writers welcomed me into their circle. As she made tea and prepared snacks for her guests, Jennifer explained that Women Writing for (a) Change is a subversive response to the patriarchal tradition. “Instead of being about power and domination, we are about hospitality and comfort,” she says.

Ten women created a circle in Wolfe’s living room, each with a pen and notebook in hand. Wolfe lit a candle, and began the session by reading a couple of poems. We introduced ourselves, and then she gave us a few options for the first writing prompt.

“We always have choices here,” she says.

After about ten minutes of journaling, each of us shared our writing out loud. Then we discussed the strengths in each other’s words.

Wolfe has used writing as a means of transformation and self-therapy for many years. She started keeping a journal when she was 10 years old when a teacher gave her class instructions to keep a journal. “That was a memorable moment — when I started to document my life,” she says.

Later, she decided she wanted to be a journalist when she became the editor of her university’s newspaper. After receiving her master’s in journalism at Columbia University and working as a journalist, she landed a job in corporate communications, and then became an instructional designer, “but the writing always followed me,” she says. A few years ago she became certified as an instructor for The Center for Journal Therapy, and she’s been leading workshops in writing and journaling ever since. She offers free writing circles every month, open to the Jacksonville community.

For more information visit womenwritingjacksonville.com

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Jared Rypkema

Founder of Bridge Eight Literary Magazine and Left on Mallory

Before moving to Jacksonville, Bridge Eight founder Jared Rypkema had no connections to the city. “I just picked a spot on the map after graduating from college. I found a job here, moved to Riverside, didn’t know anyone or anything.” That was five years ago. Now, Rypkema has his own publishing company, and he heads up a community of writers called Left on Mallory.

Above photo: Jared Rypkema is publisher and founder of Bridge Eight, is on a mission to make Jacksonville the next literary capital of the South.

He didn’t see the writing community that he wanted when he arrived, so he started his own. “I quickly learned that we all wanted to figure out a way to connect to one another … and to build a movement,” he says.

Although he has recently been accepted into the Master of Fine Arts program at Sierra Nevada College in Nevada, Rypkema’s main focus right now is to create something great in Jacksonville’s literary community. “The scene is growing and maturing, and as it grows everyone gets to decide what it’s going to look like.”

In the future, Rypkema plans for his nonprofit publishing company, Bridge Eight, to publish novels and poetry. The goal is to publish the first book in 2017. Its mission statement is to become the next literary capital of the South, says Rypkema. “So that means bringing in outside writers and challenging Jacksonville-based writers to rise to the occasion of speaking in the national conversation … It should be that they want to come here because we have a huge scene.”

But some are skeptical that Jacksonville will ever be able to support such a scene. Rypkema’s response? “Skepticism makes a city better. It’s a challenge. Make us prove we can be great. We need more skeptics in this city. It’s the only way we can get better.”

For more information visit bridgeeight.com