SUNY Cobleskill has launched a new online literary journal, Tigerlily, which features the work of our students. This publication, which stems from a campus writers group, has been in the works since Summer 2020.
The idea for a writers group began with a water-cooler conversation, or, more accurately, a hallway conversation, between Lynn Berger, who was at the time the Director of Human Resources and Title IX Coordinator (sexual violence prevention), and Lynn Ontl, co-director of the Wellness Center.
“We were reflecting on how, in the heyday of feminism on campus [in the 1970s], there were all kinds of women’s groups focused on assertiveness training and empowering women, but far fewer now,” Berger remembers. “How beneficial it would be if we could create a setting for female students to develop their self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-advocacy skills.”
A few years went by, and Berger moved to a new role in the College’s Advancement Office. While seeking funding for campus programs from corporate and private foundations, she came across a grant opportunity from the Cornelia T. Bailey Foundation New ERA Women Writers Program, which focuses on inspiring women and girls to improve their writing skills so they can deliver clear and persuasive arguments for change and equality. “A light bulb went off,” Berger reflected. “I loved to write when I was a student; it helped me understand myself.”
Berger and Ontl worked with Erik Hage, a communication and journalism professor and writer, to put together an application for the grant, which was funded in 2020. The SUNY Cobleskill Writers Group officially launched in January 2021, with Hage, Berger, English Professor Kathy Johnson, and Wellness Educator Katie Simpson serving as advisors. In September 2021, Matthew Burns, a professor and published poet, joined their ranks, while Hage left to serve as department chair of Liberal Studies.
The group met twice per month (virtually, due to the pandemic) to share their work and give one another feedback. Seventeen students initially joined the group, and twelve submitted articles and poetry to be published in Tigerlily. The name was meant to combine the strength and ferocity of the College’s mascot with the aesthetics and agricultural resonance of the flower. “The name felt like us,” said Hage.
Although the initial focus of the group was on women and women’s issues, individuals of all gender identities were encouraged to participate. As Hage noted, “We all can work on building our self-confidence and writing skills.”
The grant also funded a speaker series, and three very different authors were invited to lead webinars for our campus community:
In March 2021, Charlotte Alter, a senior correspondent at TIME, spoke with the campus community. She covers politics and social issues, and her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and Vox. She is also the author of The Ones We’ve Been Waiting For: How a New Generation of Leaders Will Transform America.
Nonfiction writer and comedian Nina Sharma presented in April 2021. Her work has appeared in the New Yorker, Electric Literature, Women’s Studies Quarterly, Longreads, Teachers & Writers Magazine, and The Asian American Literary Review. Nina is a co-founder and member of the all-South Asian American female improv group, Not Your Biwi. Nina also teaches writing at Barnard College.
Author and activist Amanda Radke, featured in May 2021, writes on the BEEF Daily blog, providing tools and strategies for producers to effectively engage with consumers and counter negative articles on social media. Radke also writes “agriculturally accurate” children’s books to help promote ag literacy.
“The guest speakers were just great,” said Johnson. “They each brought a unique perspective on writing, and it was inspirational to listen to them. The students got a lot out of the Q&A format.”
The grant also funded two scholarships to budding writers. The writers group, guest speaker series, and scholarships will continue this fall. “Then we’re on our own, but the Bailey Foundation got us off to a great start,” said Berger.
Tigerlily can be found at: http://web.cobleskill.edu/tigerlily
Students interested in joining the writers group should contact Kathy Johnson, Matthew Burns, Lynn Berger, or Katie Simpson. Writers of all levels are welcome.