Around the table, talk turns to magical superpowers, English classes and the questioned existence of Wookie genitalia. Ten or so students joke and posture at one another, taking off jackets and pulling out laptops, reporting aloud answers to Buzzfeed quizzes. Time is called when a black top hat is placed in the center of the room, and the meeting begins.

This is Writers’ Community, an intimate group of students who meet every Thursday to workshop one another’s writing. Though they come from a variety of majors and preferred writing genres, the members show an admirable dedication to their work and the improvement of one another’s. As club president Cammie Finch, an LSA senior, said, “It really is a community.”

Legend has it that famed playwright Arthur Miller formed the organization while he was at the University in 1935. Originally just seven writers, the size ebbed and flowed over the next 70 years, even dipping down to two at one point. There is no official application process; for much of its lifetime, Writers’ Community has functioned as a semi-secret society. Members are brought in solely through word-of-mouth.

“It’s always been our persona to be sort of a secret society,” Finch said. When she joined as a freshman, she was one of only four in the group, invited by a friend who had heard about it through another friend.

“Workshopping and presenting your work to other people where it’s free reign to comment and you don’t know if it’ll be good or bad can be really frightening,” Finch said. “And with the low levels of people, that was a good space to begin for me.”

However, some of this clandestine persona was changed in 2013 when the group opened up to the public, even having a booth at Festifall — albeit in the community’s distinctly quirky way. They set up a cardboard poster outside of the Dana Samuel Trask Building, distant from the other Festifall booths, with their mascot the “Dapper Walrus” sitting on the table.

“The ones who sought us out, those were the people we wanted,” Finch said.

This strategy drew in over 50 people intrigued by the unusual nature of the club, overwhelming the group for a few months until the community was stabilized.

Now, the group comprises around 15 writers with a variety of writing styles and forms, from screenplays to short fiction to poetry. There is a benefit to having such an arrangement of writers — their critiques and advice build on each other in unique ways, enriching the pieces bravely presented at meetings, Finch said.

At this meeting, I watch as two very distinct pieces are workshopped. One, a short story that the group has been discussing for a few weeks now, is a dystopian tale with a resilient female protagonist. As the author reads her story, I watch the members take notes on their copies, nodding when they like a phrase or frowning when a word seems off. Though not an official rule of Writers’ Community, it feels as though honesty is part of the sacred ritual here — when one participant admits that he disliked a certain character, the story’s author isn’t defensive or hurt. She takes the criticism at face value. Here, opinions are valued and respected — the room lacks the jealous competitiveness often found in writer’s circles.

LSA senior Eugene Jehl, who was one of the original four members before the group became public, finds this sense of camaraderie one of the most important aspects of the community.

“(In class) you’re kind of judging each other, or reading something and thinking, ‘Oh, that’s pretty good,’ or ‘Psh, I don’t have to worry about that.’ And it’s a ‘no one is talking about it, but everybody’s thinking it’ kind of thing,” Jehl said. “That doesn’t exist here. We all help each other out.”

Perhaps it helps that it feels as though these people truly are friends, often flying off on tangents or ragging on each other with ease. Jehl finds this to be true.

“The people are fun,” he said. “Everyone has a great sense of humor with each other; some are shy or introverted, but that’s cool, writers often are,” he said. These have been some of my closest friends through my time at U of M.”

Despite its semi-secret nature, Writers’ Community doesn’t give off an air of exclusivity or pretension. As Finch put it, “It’s just a bunch of nerds getting together each week to help each other out.”

Many of the writers are serious about pursuing careers in the field; Finch is planning on getting her MFA, while Jehl is double majoring in creative writing and screenwriting. But others are only here for their own enjoyment: one other member is a neuroscience major, another planning to become a therapist. This diversity of talent and background is due in part to the move to publicize the club.

An introvert myself, I walked into the meeting nervous, clutching my notebook as a crutch. But I was instantly welcomed. Jokes were made that they all must be on their best behavior since I was there. People introduced themselves and asked about my day. It was easy to understand why writers are drawn to this place and why they push themselves to a higher plane of excellence when they contribute.

As Jehl said, “I joined three years ago, and I’ve never been able to get enough of it.”

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