If you sit down a group of MFA candidates to brainstorm a name for themselves, something catchy is bound to come out of it – and that's just how Parcels: MFAs in Progress, the UCF creative writing department's monthly reading series, was named in 2011.
"Someone threw that name, Parcels, out there and it just fit," says grad student Leslie Salas, who will host the series' upcoming Dec. 9 reading. "The word imparts so much – parcels are gifts, packages you pass around and share. Orlando has a rich underground literary community, and we want to let everyone know it's here."
Before settling on Urban ReThink, the bookstore-turned-open art studio, Parcels was unsure whether they should hunker down on campus – favoring accessibility to UCF undergrads – or venture into the city. Since making that crucial decision, Urban ReThink's very public forum in Thornton Park has illuminated Parcels for more than a year, something paramount to Salas during the planning process.
"We ultimately agreed that it would be better for our department to get the word out that we have developing writers and a community here," Salas says.
Every second Sunday from 7-9 p.m., a writer from each genre in the department reads selected pieces – fiction, nonfiction and poetry. There's an emphasis on showcasing work in progress, eschewing the nerve-wracking pathos of typical writing workshops. Pieces need not be complete to be shared with peers.
"Some people bring fresh works from that morning, and others read pieces that are weeks, months or years old," Salas says."It's important to provide a safe environment to read work that isn't polished. … We need to remember that an MFA program is about laying down a foundation."
Parcels intersperses each reading with audience participation prompts, allowing guests to write and share their own stories with the group. It's a process that hearkens back to Salas' concept of Parcels as a gift to the community: giving and receiving until something new entirely emerges. The group hopes to continue opening a conversation between local artists and their city, recognizing the opportunity to break down barriers – real or imagined – that may discourage such interaction. Writers, avid readers, literature fans or passers-by off the street – anyone can visit Parcels' downtown enclave.
"Children, family, out-of-town friends have come in and listened – everyone is welcome," Salas says. "We feel Orlando has so much to offer for us, and vice-versa."
Parcels: MFAs in Progress
with Deborah Beckwin,
April Urban and
7 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 9
625 E. Central Blvd.