Even though Columbia is a relatively small city, it is full of published writers. On Intersection this week, local authors Keija Parssinen, Marlene Lee and Alex George told us why they think Columbia is such a writer’s haven.
1) There is a supportive community of writers in Columbia
Columbia writers love to help each other out. There are organizations like the Quarry Heights Writer’s Workshop and the Columbia Chapter of the Missouri Writer’s Guild for writers to critique each other’s work and give suggestions. Our panel said this feeling of camaraderie, rather than competition, makes Columbia special.
“Every other person in New York is a writer. But (in Columbia) it’s kind of special, still. And so I feel an identity as a writer here. In New York I just felt like, ‘Eh, it’s another unpublished writer. Dime a dozen.’” - Marlene Lee
“In all of the people who I’ve met being in Columbia, the sense of community there between writers is wonderful. There isn’t a shred, as far as I’m aware, of competitiveness anywhere. The workshop that Keija started (the Quarry Heights Writer’s Workshop) is probably the best example of that. And everyone is willing to, whether it’s cajoling or encouraging, do what people need to do… Having all of these people to talk to, it’s a good thing.” - Alex George
2) Columbia is cheap!
Cost of living in Columbia, Mo., is about 10% lower than the average cost in the United States. It costs more than twice as much to live in New York City than in Columbia, according to the Council for Community and Economic Research.
“One of the things that makes Columbia a good place for writers is it’s inexpensive to live here. Particularly if you’re just starting out on your path, you might not be rolling in dough, and so it’s really nice to pay not very much in rent.” - Keija Parssinen
3) There are less distractions, so writers have more time to focus
Parssinen and Lee have both lived in New York, and George lived in London. All three say it is easier to focus on your craft in Columbia.
“I listen to my friends who live in New York in wonderment, I’m fascinated by how they ever get any work done with how much goes on there.” - Keija Parssinen
“The pace of life is a little slower here, and when you write you need to take the time to think about things deeply and slowly so that’s helpful for sure.” - Alex George
“I moved (to New York) from San Francisco because I thought, ‘I’ll absorb the New York literary life, that’s why I haven’t been published, I’m not New York enough.’ It didn’t happen in New York. You know where it happened? Columbia, Missouri.” - Marlene Lee
4) People in Columbia actually read books
People in Columbia regularly attend book readings and frequent local bookstores. Local bookstores and organizations hold readings, like the Saturday morning book talks at the Boone County Historical Society and the Orr Street Studios Tuesday night readings.
“You have a lot of readers here, a lot of people who love to read and they will attend readings, they have reading series here… It’s a rich place, the bookstores are willing to have you read. And that’s what a writer needs. To be heard.” - Marlene Lee
Parssinen pointed to how Columbia bookstores are supportive of local writers.
“Yellow Dog Bookshop and Columbia Books make sure to carry signed copies by local authors. I just bought a memoir by Nina Furstenau and was very excited to do that at Yellow Dog yesterday, and so it’s just exciting to walk in and know ‘well that’s one of my friend’s books and heck, I’m gonna buy it, and get her to sign it.’” - Keija Parssinen
Parssinen, Lee and George spoke with KBIA on Intersection earlier this week. Watch the whole show or listen here.