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Why The Back Road Café?

In the Review’s Author, Author section of Saturday’s The Guardian there was an excellent article by Jeanette Winterson. I encourage you to read it (just click the above link). She suggests that when she left Oxford the desire to be a writer was “the most hopeless and reckless of ambitions, as lofty as it was unlikely” while today such ambitions and hopes are “as ubiquitous as coffee shops on street corners. If you keep a notebook or blog or even tweet, you call yourself a writer.” And I might add, if you have a website or if you self-publish eBooks and/or print-on-demand books you call yourself a writer. Winterson is not necessarily being critical of this growing unsightly tribe of “armatures” and she certainly is not being elitist. Regarding this explosion of writers, writing courses, literary festivals, etc., Winterson sees both negative and positive possibilities. She says:

Jeanette Winterson“The crazy part of it is that we are breeding professional, competent, homogenised writers who will go on to teach writing that is professional, competent and homogenised. The intriguing part of it is whether this movement towards creativity and self-expression is really the start of a kind of Occupy – that it could be dangerous and confrontational, not homogenised at all…The arts are responsive to social change. Writing isn't something handed down from a big brain in an ivory tower – that's the academy, not the rough and tumble of creativity. Writing is a conversation, sometimes a fist-fight. It is democratic.”

I was actually moved and encouraged by Winterson’s article because recently someone asked why I created The Back Road Café. Though I would never have said the following at the time I was learning how to build a website, I do say it now (thanks to Jeanette Winterson): I did it to create a space for the “rough and tumble of creativity.” It was never my aim to create a homogeneous space. It was my desire to offer a place where people are free to express themselves (including myself, of course) and that through writing, reading and conversing perhaps even a “kind of Occupy” might occur.

Pretentious? Perhaps. But why not try? As Winterson said in her article, all we writers, bloggers, tweeters, self-published eBookers and print-on-demanders are not motivated by fame or fortune, because let’s be honest, it is very very unlikely any of us will obtain either. It’s not about recognition, it’s about self-expression and a kind democracy. It’s absurdly simple. We want to write and to read. And even more absurdly, we want to change the world. And why not? It needs changing.

To that end people are invited to contribute to The Back Road Café in whatever way  they please. There is nonfiction and fiction. There are one-off and occasional contributions posted in The Journal section of the site. There are regular contributions - so far a column from America, essays on Dietrich Bonhoeffer and today’s Church, and poetry, with more regular sections in the pipeline). There is poetry, songs, articles, travel writings, essays, journalism. It’s an open site.

Is The Back Road Café succeeding? I’d say, cautiously, yes. The site statistics I check each week are encouraging. The number of visitors to the site is increasing, admittedly slowly, but nonetheless increasing. The development of regular contributors is exciting. The variety and quality of the writing is good. And I’m told the site has a “good and welcoming feel.” On the anxiety side of the coin, The Journal has gone quiet, which is disappointing because that is the place where readers will encounter the most diversity of expression. Also, it has always been my hope that The Back Road Café would be an international space. So far it has been mostly an American and British café, but I have not given up hope. Currently, I’m in conversation with people in New Zealand, Singapore and Taiwan. I’m not sure where those conversations will lead, but again, it can’t hurt to try.

So, if you happen to be reading this and you want to contribute, let me know (either on the website itself or by emailing The more writers the site has, the more readers it will attract. The more readers, the more writers will be tempted to contribute. You don’t have to be a traditionally published author. You do have to want to say something and the desire that others will read your thoughts.

Copyright © 2012 Dale Rominger

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