Outside of playing the fantasy dinner party game, there are few instances in which authors Haruki Marukami, Toni Morrison and Elizabeth Bishop would ever be in same room, but at the Hinge Literary Center’s launch party in June 2011, that’s exactly what happened.
Instead of using their real names, party guests were encouraged to write the names of their favorite authors on their name tags, a creative approach that provoked conversation about literature and writing throughout the night. Of course, that was The Hinge’s goal all along—to unite writers and readers of literature through a locally-based organization that promotes the Triangle’s burgeoning literary community.
Organized in early 2011, The Hinge was the brainchild of a few local writers who hoped to spotlight the literary talent concentrated around the Triangle universities. Ross White, a Durham poet and publisher of Bull City Press who currently teaches creative writing at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was one of the founders of an organization that he felt filled a need in the community.
“Writers work in isolation,” he said. “We wanted more community and thought there was a larger community of writers out there who needed a mobilizing force. We knew there were readers out there who wanted to connect with writers.”
Eric Martin, co-founder and local writer as well as Trinity ’91, echoes the sentiment that a literary community demands more organization and community than the music and dining scenes that flourish in the Triangle.
“Food and music are, by nature, communal acts,” he says. “Writing and reading are such solitary acts. It takes an extra step to make them into something that forms a community.”
Because the Hinge does not currently have a physical location and is run by volunteer participation, the organization is indeed the very product of community. Regularly-scheduled events are held in members’ homes and local venues, reflecting the Hinge’s desire to be integrated into the already-existing Triangle culture rather than a separate entity.
In addition to offering poetry and fiction classes taught by published, widely-known writers, the Hinge is building a solid online presence with regular posts inviting readers to discuss the selected works of local authors and poets and participate in a live chat with them. For more intimate conversation, the organization also holds an event called Third Friday, where every month Hinge members invite the public to a casual social hour to talk about literature in a less formal setting. Held in Martin’s writing studio, the meeting space is literally in the center of a cultural hub.
“The building is an artist’s studio, says Martin. “It’s a way to integrate writers into the artistic community. I found it very inspiring to be around people who work in creative disciplines like photographers, painters [and] actors.”
Almost as an ode to the fortuitous location, The Hinge created Open Wall, a crowd-sourced display of short fiction and non-fiction works that stands as an evolving exhibit in the building.
Keeping literature interdisciplinary and exciting is a priority for The Hinge, most evidenced in its popular regularly-scheduled event, Mixtape Readings. Held at the Casbah and open to all ages, the Mixtape Readings features local authors who read selections from their favorite works of literature, usually followed by some type of multimedia presentation like a short film. Martin has found Mixtape Readings to be especially well-received, providing a blend of local and national literature while also showcasing how different artistic disciplines present literature in an interactive setting. It all circles back to one of the Hinge’s key aims: shifting literature from its perceived highbrow pedestal to a vital part of the local color.
“I think you have to prove that readings can be fun and exciting,” says Martin. “They’re almost not readings,—they’re more than that.”
The Readings, which are scheduled for the 4th Tuesday of every other month, share the Casbah venue with “Professor Diablo’s True Revue,” another collaborative, Hinge-sponsored event that welcomes writers as well as musicians and artists for a night of live performances. These events, along with Ninth Street bookstore the Regulator’s “Blast from the Past” reading series, demonstrate a surge in the Triangle area’s desire to satisfy the increasing interest in local literature.
For now, the Hinge’s main goal still reflects the need for its creation—connection.
“We’re really focused on continuing to connect writers,” says White. “We were bringing great writers to the Triangle, and only small audiences were hearing about it, and this seemed like a way to connect area writers with different events that were going on.”
In its capacity as umbrella organization for all things local and literary, the Hinge wears many hats: promoter, organizer and patron saint to the Triangle’s devoted writers and readers.