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Ellen Blum Barish

Ellen Blum Barish

 

Last Thursday night, more than one hundred friends, family members and art appreciators left their homes – some from as far as California, Colorado, Pennsylvania and New York – for a night of storytelling to celebrate Thread’s fifth anniversary.

Threadaversary: An Evening of Personal Stories was the seventh live lit event – the biggest show yet! A sell-out of 140 seats!

It was a chance to shine a light on the art of words; beauty made by the human hand, head and heart. Words that are witty or weighty. Heartbreaking or haunting. Poetic or poignant.

Decades into writing, editing and teaching personal narrative, I am still astounded by how we can take the experiences from our lives and simply by connecting words into sentences, we can connect and move people.

The house lights illuminated nine dazzling Chicago writer-storytellers (David Barish, Ada Cheng, Eileen Dougharty, Nestor Gomez, Jill Howe, Diane Kastiel, Sheri Reda, Jeremy Owens and Scott Whitehair as well as a few special guests including author Richard Reeder) All had interconnecting storylines to Thread.

But we quite literally couldn’t have gathered if it wasn’t for The Grant Street Writers.

These writers met in one of my writing workshops almost a decade ago. The essays they were writing were good. Good enough to publish. I urged them to consider submitting their work and Marie said, “Maybe we should make our own literary magazine.”

That’s when the idea for a publication first took stitch in my mind. But it was still an abstract concept.

In the spring of 2014, we invited friends and family to a final reading of their essays.

The following day, as I thumbed through the photos on my cell, I found one shot that had seemingly taken itself. It was a photo of the multi-colored braided rug on the floor of the café.

It captured the feeling of the evening: Strands of colorful stories braided together that created something separate and beautiful of its own. The word braid hung in my mind’s eye. Then yarn. Then thread.

Thread resonated because I often ask my students, what is the main thread here? Where does the thread fray or come loose? I love the idea that the thinnest strand of thread holds a garment together. Its presence  – or absence – makes its mark in a piece of writing.

A tailormade title for a literary magazine.

Long after the workshops ended, these writers continued to meet on their own. And just recently, they made good on that idea to make a publication of their own. They published their first book of essays, Wednesdays with Winston in April.

Once the name was pinned to my brain, the publishing machine moved at lightning speed.

By late spring, I had a name, a URL and web hosting. By summer, I had a logo that I only realized later contained the word read in it! In the fall, web architecture and contributors. I invited two Chicago-area writers whose work I loved  – Lee Reilly and Tom Wolferman – and four writing students to contribute essays to the inaugural issue. It was always my mission from the very start to feature established and emerging writers in every edition.

That December, Thread was launched.

Five years and 72 essays later, this solo-editorpreneur’s online literary publication has not only met, but surpassed my original mission. Thread has earned two spots on the Best American Essays notables list and has been the first published home for many writers whose names later appeared in bigger publications.

We say it takes a village and last week in the Village of Skokie – my Threadquarters –  everyone who helped build, contribute, read or support Thread were sewn into its tapestry and my heart.


I offer a new tagline for the occasion:

Life is messy. Find the Thread.

Subscribe. Submit. Support.

PS: Now that Thread is growing beyond its formative years, I’d love to hear your thoughts. What essays have moved you? What brings you to the site? What would bring you here more frequently?

 

 

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