Cherilyn Parsons is the founder and executive director of the Bay Area Book Festival (launched in 2015 in Berkeley, CA) and its year-round Women Lit series. Previously, she was influential in building the field of non-profit journalism, notably at the Center for Investigative Reporting, and also has worked as a fundraiser, travel writer and book reviewer. She has a Master’s in Professional Writing from the University of Southern California.
In this post, Parsons describes Women Lit (a program of the Bay Area Book Festival), how it was founded at the height of the #MeToo movement, what type of events it offers, and more!
Name: Cherilyn Parsons, founder and executive director
Organization: Women Lit, a program of the Bay Area Book Festival
Founded: 2018 (festival launched 2015)
Affiliations: Bay Area Book Festival
Fees: Membership starts at $50
Organization for: We help female-identified authors of all genres and career levels. Aspiring or newer authors can access our featured authors through our in-person events, including private receptions (in Bay Area), and online through chat and Q&A.
Elevator pitch for the organization: Women Lit is “where women’s words remake the world.” Founded in 2018 at the height of the #MeToo movement, Women Lit was created to elevate women’s voices and foster “literary community” among women. Our membership-based program creates a wealth of opportunities for aspiring writers: an A-list literary event series; gatherings with fellow book-lovers in beautiful places to connect with each other and renowned authors; an online lifeline that brings inspiration, builds bonds, and simply helps keep us sane; and resources such as a rich online newsletter, “Literary Lighthouse,” with interviews, profiles, book recommendations, links, and more.
What makes your organization stand out from other writing or literary organizations?
We focus on female voices and empowerment—elevating the voices of our featured authors and our members through the power of the written word. We also stand out in creating special opportunities for our members to connect with the featured authors, in cultivating what we call “literary community” among our members, and in providing high-quality experiences (which have included, for example, high tea at our Rachel Cusk event, or member cocktails after seeing Candace Bushnell).
At some membership levels we also have a special panel and Women Lit gathering at our annual Bay Area Book Festival; at this gathering, more than 100 female Festival speakers join our members—a great way for our members to network, ask questions, learn, and get inspired!
Do you offer live events for members?
Yes, when we’re not sheltering in place, Women Lit brings members together for live author events at stunning venues across the Bay Area. In addition to the more traditional settings, we offer special events, such as a luncheon with Jenny Offill (she moved from table to table!) and a brunch with Jennifer Weiner at a spectacular restored Victorian mansion.
At higher membership levels we also offer intimate private salons where members meet to discuss a book over a fully catered dinner at a member’s home, with the author present. (Or, during lockdown, we do it via Zoom and send chocolate and the book to all participants!)
Do you offer virtual events for members?
Yes, since May 2020 we’ve offered live virtual events that our members can access for free, with live Q&A. Authors we’ve hosted recently (in addition to some mentioned above) include Patti Smith, Ann Patchett, Jane Smiley, and Julia Cameron, with LaRayia Gaston and others coming up.
We now have members all over the world, so even when we’re able to do in-person events again, we’ll always have a virtual component so everyone can join however works best for them.
What do you hope writers will get out of your organization?
We hope writers will gain confidence in daring to express their own literary voice, tips and tools to improve their craft, creative inspiration, literary connections, and an expanded community.
If you could share one piece of advice with writers, what would it be?
Tough question: Women Lit’s featured authors have offered hundreds of great pieces of advice for writers! I’ll share something I’ve learned from them all: Find what you really care about (not what others think you should), what you uniquely can say (because no one else can), and do the steady, unglamorous work to complete it (“without hope and without despair,” as Isak Dinesen once said).