Greek for a verbal – or written – description of visual art. It's one of the many words creative writers learn through Billings Area Literary Arts.
BALA has been providing a space for writers since November 2016 thanks to co-founders Anna Paige and Ashley Warren. When the two adjunct MSUB professors discovered Helena Area Literary Arts, they asked permission to adopt a similar model in Billings.
Core group activities began as bi-monthly write-ins, opportunities for aspiring or current writers to put pen to paper, brainstorm, edit and share their work. Paige and Warren act as mentors and facilitators. There is no age or experience requirement.
“BALA was formed with the idea to provide a space to start sharing stories outside of the traditional scene that is competitive in nature,” Paige said.
Warren says BALA is for every kind of writer, even those who don’t identify with the craft yet.
“We believe in the healing powers of writing,” said Paige. “It’s not an exclusionary event.”
Write-ins are free, as are poetry open mic events. They are held at MoAV Coffee and This House of Books, respectively.
THOB hosted poetry open mic Aug. 8, where 12 poets shared intimate writings of their own or from their favorite writer. One recited a poem about White Sulphur Springs. Another shared a “nasty woman poem,” playing on the current political climate.
Billings poet David Omen attends both open mic events and write-ins. He says the opportunities BALA provides reminds him of the old Flatiron Gallery, which closed in 2008 after hosting readings and artwork.
For Omen, writing poetry began at the same time he started sculpting. Warren encouraged him to write an ekphrastic poem about his art. He said that the process relates to the idea that a picture is worth 1,000 words.
A Reading of Her Own is another BALA event. It features several female-identified writers that share nonfiction work for eight minutes each. The content doesn’t have to be focused on gender.
Warren says the event, hosted twice a year, is a wide demonstration of women’s stories.
“You really get the full gamut,” she said. “Through these (events) we are able to find women with strong voices and demonstrate how many women writers there are in this town.”
Wyoming native Bailey Brown participated in the last women’s reading event in June. She’s also participated in some open mics and attends the write-ins.
“I have terrible stage fright and Ashley just keeps forcing me to get over it,” Brown said.
Brown credits BALA for pushing her writing along. She says she’s met many other writers and it’s easier for her to bounce ideas off of them.
“It’s created a really good community,” said Brown, who now lives in Billings.
Monthly workshops expand on the write-ins. Attendees pay $45 to get one-on-one feedback from BALA facilitators. The next workshop is scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 30, from 7 to 9 p.m. at Terakedis Fine Art.
“I don’t ever want to put the same event on twice,” Paige said, with Warren adding that it’s out of respect and homage to the Helena model.
Flight of Writers is another adopted event that is slated to have a local spin. Not scheduled yet, Harper & Madison and Lilac are two venue options for a night of wining, dining and writing about it.
“We have such great food culture,” said Paige. “Our mission has always been to connect and collaborate.”