From its beginning, Hub City’s emphasis was place-based literature that encouraged readers to form a deeper connection with their home territory.
A literary arts co-op founded in Spartanburg County in 1995 and modeled after the Depression-era Federal Writers Project, the Hub City Writers Project marshaled the talents of writers across South Carolina and beyond to create a series of books characterized by a strong sense of place. Founded at a coffee shop on Morgan Square in Spartanburg, the nonprofit organization was shepherded in its early years by the Wofford College poet John Lane, the journalists Betsy Teter and Gary Henderson, and the graphic designer / photographer Mark Olencki. From its beginning, Hub City’s emphasis was place-based literature that encouraged readers to form a deeper connection with their home territory.
Hub City published in a variety of genres, including fiction, personal essay, poetry, nonfiction, biography, humor, nature writing, children’s literature, and history. With its first title, Hub City Anthology, the fledgling press asked local authors to write about living in Spartanburg. Strong initial book sales led to a hefty base of charitable donors in the Spartanburg area, allowing Hub City to spread beyond the hometown borders. A 1998 title, New Southern Harmonies: Four Emerging Fiction Writers, featured stories by Rosa Shand, George Singleton, Scott Gould, and Deno Trakas, and was named best book of short fiction in North America by Independent Publisher magazine. In 2001, in a partnership with the South Carolina Arts Commission, Hub City published Inheritance: Selections from the South Carolina Fiction Project. Edited by Janette Turner Hospital, the writer in residence at the University of South Carolina, the collection featured thirty of the more than two hundred winning stories in the long-running state literary contest.
The success of the press led to national media attention, including articles in the New York Times, Utne Reader, and Orion Afield, and the spin-off of similar efforts in other parts of the country. Among other communities that used the Hub City model to create place-based literature were Beaufort, South Carolina; Flagstaff, Arizona; Fidalgo Island, Washington; and Charlotte, North Carolina.
Hub City’s impact was particularly felt in Spartanburg, where the organization enlisted writers to chronicle the community’s deep musical roots, vanishing peach farming culture, and complex cotton mill history, then hosted community-wide celebrations for each book’s release. In 2000 funding from the National Endowment for the Arts spurred a multidisciplined environmental arts initiative focusing on a damaged local waterway, Lawson’s Fork Creek. That same year thousands of residents attended a four-day, book-related festival. These projects and others spurred community activism and broad appreciation for local history and culture.
Hub City writers, who numbered more than 120 by 2003, annually made dozens of visits to schools, colleges, and clubs to encourage reading and creative writing. The organization offered scholarships to prestigious writing workshops to winners of an annual creative writing contest. Hub City sponsored community readings by national literary figures, including Barry Lopez and Janisse Ray, and in 2001 began offering its own regional writing workshop at Wofford College. In 2002 Hub City received the Governor’s Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Award for outstanding contribution to the arts in South Carolina.