Creative Writing

Creative Writing Alumni and Students Form Athenian Press

Founded over the summer by UNC Wilmington MFA candidate Daisuke Shen, BFA and publishing certificate alumna Lori Wilson, and Queens University MFA alumna Kelly Rae Williams, Athenian Press & Workshops seeks to empower women and femme writers by establishing an inclusive meeting and creative space in Wilmington and providing publishing resources. Athenian’s offerings will include workshops with editors, as well as access to the Adobe Creative Suite, the professional design software used widely in the publishing industry.

“There are no organizations geared toward helping women and femmes, especially queer folks of color, succeed in the writing and publishing world in the Southeast,” says Shen, the organization’s program coordinator, “so we felt a great need to build one.” Through mentorship, support, and eventually the publication of books by marginalized voices, Athenian’s founders hope to offer an alternative to the mainstream narratives they see dominating the current literary landscape.

Both Shen and Wilson were drawn to UNCW’s Department of Creative Writing for its renowned faculty and promise of cross-genre work but found particular inspiration and mentorship in the department’s Publishing Laboratory. They credit courses and hands-on experiences with Lookout Books—the department’s award-winning literary book imprint that champions books by debut and historically underrepresented voices—with enhancing their understanding of how to run a press and successfully garner the publicity necessary to release a book.

“Lookout has been such an incredible course to take this semester. We are currently developing an anthology comprised of women and femme essayists. Working on everything from the book cover to assembling media kits, and using Photoshop and InDesign, has broadened my understanding of all that publishing entails,” Shen says. This knowledge will be instrumental in Athenian’s long-term goal of becoming an independent press, releasing one book and an anthology of work by women and femme writers each year. 

“Mentorship in publishing is not only about demystifying the industry and teaching the business of books,” says Publishing Laboratory director and Lookout founder Emily Louise Smith, who taught both Wilson and Shen. “It’s also modeling thoughtful editorial relationships and imaginative design and marketing solutions, revealing the innovation and resourcefulness required to sustain a small business, and maybe most of all, instilling in students the power of literature to enlarge our sympathies. Athenian is a compelling example of the Pub Lab’s legacy, of alumni employing the skills they’ve learned to create positive change, to lead and innovate.”

It was through the department’s publishing curriculum that Shen and Wilson first learned about disparities in publishing, evidenced since 2009 by the annual VIDA count, which “highlights gender imbalances in publishing by tallying genre, book reviewers, books reviewed, and journalistic bylines to offer an accurate assessment of the publishing world.” As Wilson, Athenian’s executive director, notes, “Less than 1 percent of publication bylines include trans women and gender non-conforming writers. Women of color represent less than 14 percent of major publications.” VIDA’s work further galvanized their efforts.  

Athenian Press & Workshops symbolizes its founders’ devotion to social justice in writing, publishing, and in the world at large. “We deserve to be the authors of our own stories,” Shen says, “because our stories matter.”

On this Giving Tuesday, please take a few minutes to learn more about Athenian Press & Workshops’ inclusive literary space in Wilmington, as well as programs of the Department of Creative Writing and Publishing Laboratory.