Back in May, I filled out a form and mailed it along with a check to the Illinois Secretary of State. A few weeks later I received a form letter announcing that I now officially own a corporation, Cantraip Press, Ltd, and wishing me success in my new venture. August has come, and I still can hardly believe it. I never, ever imagined myself going into business, yet here I am.
I conceived of Cantraip Press when I decided to publish my novel Talion myself and couldn’t see why its ISBN should belong to anyone but me. I enjoyed the process so much that I began to think about publishing books by other writers – not right away but sometime in the future, probably after I retired. But then an exciting project came my way. The Past/Forward memoir group of Charleston, Illinois, was putting together an anthology of their work.
Past/Forward began in 2007 when Daiva Markelis, a professor at Eastern Illinois University whose memoir White Field, Black Sheep: A Lithuanian-American Life has garnered critical acclaim, taught a memoir writing class for adults. The course drew older writers, most hoping to record their experiences and family histories for their children and grandchildren.
One of them was Janet Messenger, at that time president of the Coles County Arts Council. “The class was great,” she says. “Members of the class became friends and enjoyed sharing pieces they had written. When it ended, each of us was bound and determined to go home and start writing until we had compiled our family histories. However, without deadlines or a specific date to get things written we soon found out we didn’t write much at all.”
The group realized they needed one another’s help and encouragement to keep writing. So Janet went to the CCAC and convinced them to sponsor the group. They found meeting space in the Charleston Carnegie Public Library and met for the first time in April 2008. They have been meeting regularly ever since.
Open to anyone with a love for writing, the group grew. Members were serious about learning their craft. They gave and received constructive criticism, brought in guest speakers, and participated in focused workshops with Daiva. As their skill and confidence grew, their ambitions broadened. In addition to writing for their families and one another, they wanted to share their work with the community.
To have a public presence they needed a name, so they held a contest and invited submissions. Bill Heyduck came up with the name they chose: Past/Forward.
The group has now given several public readings and has found an appreciative audience for their work. And it’s no wonder. They have fascinating stories to tell. As Daiva says, “Though most are over fifty, there’s nothing stuffy or ‘senior’ about their prose. They write about growing up in small-town America, about love and disappointment, about blackberry picking and baseball and being fat. They write about a father who worked for the FBI and a mother who was an expert Greek cook. They write about having cancer. They write about taking chances.”
The writers of Past/Forward have also collected many wonderful photographs from years past. This photo illustrates Phyllis Bartges Bayles’ remembrance of the ladies of the Danville Greek Orthodox church, including the author’s mother. Their bake sales have been a tradition in Danville, Illinois for many years. As a sweet bonus, the author will share her mother’s recipe for baklava.
I’m proud and excited to bring the work of Past/Forward to the wider audience it deserves. Their anthology, Occasional Writers, will be out this October.