Twenty years ago, three writers from Spartanburg, South Carolina—Wofford College poet and author John Lane, and journalists Betsy Teter and Gary Henderson—met for coffee and outlined goals for a literary identity for the city on a napkin. The result of that coffee meetup is the Hub City Writers Project, an annual literary celebration and local arts institution that includes the Hub City Press, a publishing house that’s released more than 65 titles, and the Hub City Bookshop, a nonprofit independent bookseller founded in 2010.
This weekend, May 8-10, Hub City Writers Project will celebrate two anniversaries—20 years as an independent press and literary force, and five years as an independent bookstore.
This year the HCWP will kick-off on Friday, May 8, with a literary pub crawl with readings by new Southern voices, followed by the launch of its latest release, Minnow by James E. McTeer II, winner of the South Carolina First Novel Prize. On Saturday, May 9, Hub City will host a street party with music, food, book signings and a silent auction. They’ll close out the weekend with a champagne brunch celebrating its writers-in-residence program.
Historically, Spartanburg has been known as a textile town, with an abundance of cotton mills, says former mayor Bill Barnett. Located at the foot of the Appalachian Mountains, Spartanburg is where major highways, including I-26 and I-85, connect, and it was a major railroad center that linked cities like Asheville with the ports of Savannah and Charleston, he adds. “It was a pretty active place.” It’s from this history that Hub City’s name derives.
But their initial goals weren’t as grand as the creative force the project has become. At first, Hub City’s trio of founding writers simply wanted to publish an anthology celebrating their city. “We envisioned a book of essays by different writers about their experiences living here,” Teter says. “There are a lot of writers and a lot of colleges here.”
The first book was more successful than expected. Hundreds of people came out for the release party, where they sold 600 copies. “It was supposed to be a one-shot deal. But it was so embraced by our community,” Teter says. “It catapulted us into financial success, which has stayed with us. We saw the response, so we said, hey, let’s keep going.”
HCP published a second anthology and continued from there, each collection focusing on different themes—the city’s history, art, music, wildlife. Eventually, they began publishing titles by single authors, all with an emphasis on the Southern experience. Today Hub City Press publishes four to six books a year and has 70 titles total in print and distributed nationally. Donors throughout the state as well as the South Carolina Arts Commission fund the non-profit independent press.
In 2006, the city built The Showroom Gallery & Performance Hall, a music venue and art gallery. At the center of it all, was an alliance with Hub City Writers Project. “You can make an argument that we ushered in a new era of creative energy here in Spartanburg," Teter says.
In 2010, Hub City led a $300,000 renovation of a historic Masonic Temple. There they opened the Hub City Book Shop, a non-profit independent book shop that hosts nearly 100 events a year, ranging from workshops to readings to luncheons.
“We have a lot of stuff going on,” Teter adds. “We have grown organically with very little planning. Six or seven years ago I would have told myself that’s ludicrous; we’ll never be big enough for a storefront downtown. Now we have the storefront downtown.”
Wilmington-based author Wiley Cash says Hub City “has been a huge support to writers like me.” When his debut novel, A Land More Kind Than Home, was released in 2013, he organized a reading at Hub City Book Shop. “They had such a great turnout at the store,” he says. “They sold so well for me and gave me so much support.”
And as a graduate of the University of North Carolina in Asheville, he’d always been familiar with Spartanburg. He was amazed to see it “flourish as a city for the arts.”
“The city has changed so much,” he says. “It’s such a small, funky little town, especially in the South. And it’s anchored by an indie bookstore and art houses. It’s an amazing thing to see. I really believe Hub City is single-handedly holding down the arts in Spartanburg.”