The other day I was invited to the What Cheer Writers Club to look around the premises and sign my book, Lost Providence. The club was on the second floor of 160 Westminster St., a muted classical building that sits between the Francis Building and the Union Trust Bank Building, two of the street’s most ornate exemplars of Beaux Arts classicism, having opened, respectively, in 1894 and 1901. The Union Trust address is actually on Dorrance Street. Right across Dorrance is the Dorrance Building, on Westminster Street.
The club’s building opened in 1870. A fourth story was added in 1940, and the building’s spare classicism was given a modest and elegant uplift four or five years ago. The state preservation survey calls its appearance “a classical moderne style” and adds that “in type and scale it provides continuity to the streetscape, and its reserved articulation is a foil for its more elaborate neighbors.” I was happy to have a reason to enter for the first time.
Jillian Winters, the club’s general manager, greeted me at the door. She had just ushered out a group of visitors (whose names were listed in the club’s visitors log), so we had the place all to ourselves, and a couple boxes of Knead doughnuts, of which I limited myself to one, the chocolate glazed, which was superb. What cheer, indeed!
“What cheer,” by the way, for non-Rhode Islanders who have reached this far, was the greeting offered, according to local lore, by the Narragansett Indians to our founder Roger Williams on his arrival (after his dastardly exile from Massachusetts) in what would become the colony of Rhode Island. (“What cheer, Netop?” is the full phrase, meaning “Hi, Neighbor.”)
Winters sat me down in one of the facility’s modern chairs and we discussed the club and its offerings. The club defines writer broadly – a must in these days of multifaceted media. Its definition includes:
- Writers, authors, poets & journalists
- Podcasters, playwrights & screenwriters
- Cartoonists, illustrators & graphic novelists
- Indie media & publishers
- Editors, translators, agents & related pros.
Isn’t that just about everybody? No doubt most writers, broadly defined, could use some space away from home, and a place that, like a Victorian men’s club, opens doors to new connections, friendships and sources of advice and/or inspiration needed for work in the groves of wordsmithery. There are meeting rooms, private rooms and, soon, soundproof rooms to facilitate podcasting and other voiced writing. The brochure asks, “Are you a writer or an introvert seeking space? Come up for a free tour!”
So if you are both a writer and an introvert, you can double your pleasure. Seriously, if you need a mailing address, a hotdesk, a comfy chair, a wifi plugin, access to black & white printing, cups of coffee, tea or spring water, or even a bike rack, the What Cheer Writer’s Club, write in the middle of downtown (pun intended), may be just what Dr. Johnson ordered. A free tour is a good place to start.
Do I have, wonders the brochure, “any ideas of ways to support the work of local writers?” You bet I do. I advise any writer to print out William Hazlitt’s essay “On Familiar Style,” or better yet, find it in one of his books of essays, and put it under your pillow at night. Not before reading it, of course. The words verily trip off your lips, even though Hazlitt wrote it in 1822, perhaps because he wrote it in 1822. Here are the first few sentences:
It is not easy to write a familiar style. Many people mistake a familiar for a vulgar style, and suppose that to write without affectation is to write at random. On the contrary, there is nothing that requires more precision, and, if I may so say, purity of expression, than the style I am speaking of. It utterly rejects not only all unmeaning pomp, but all low, cant phrases, and loose, unconnected, slipshod allusions. It is not to take the first word that offers, but the best word in common use; it is not to throw words together in any combinations we please, but to follow and avail ourselves of the true idiom of the language.
Not much farther along in the essay he shakes his finger at the prose of Dr. Johnson. So maybe I should amend this post to defenestrate its reference to the Great Lexicographer. But no, I refuse to bowdlerize my blog, even for my favorite writer, Hazlitt!
But actually I do have one idea, if I may be forgiven for voicing it. If the club expects to have speakers in the future, this writer is not so introverted as to spurn invitations to speak.