With many people writing during the pandemic, writers needing to hone their skills is all the more important. That’s why one group, Lounge Writers, provides the writing community with affordable instruction to develop those skills.
Lounge Writers (formerly known as the Las Vegas Writers Lounge), is a local creative writing studio where writers of all levels come to enhance their craft and thrive. Founded in 2018 by Oksana Marafioti, the organization offers workshops, lectures, classes, and panels led by professional and award-winning writers.
According to Marafioti, writers often give up on their dream of writing before fully exploring it, adding that while talent and inspiration go far, writing is a craft that’s all about resilience and learning.
“We're here to help writers feel empowered and in control of their aspirations - to bring talent and craft together and inspire writers to keep creating,” she said. “Our goal is also to make creative writing education accessible to writers of all levels and economic backgrounds.”
She was the 2013 recipient of the Library of Congress Kluge Center Fellowship for her research, titled, Magical Realism in Russia: How Ancestry Worship, Shamanism & Christianity Shaped the Nation. She is also the current recipient of the Picador Excellence in Literature Award from the University of Leipzig, Germany.
Living in Vegas for over 20 years and meeting many writers who sought ways to connect and learn about writing, she noticed there weren’t any local creative writing studios, only creative classes offered through the local colleges.
“Though [they are] great, higher education writing programs aren't always accessible or affordable to everyone,” said Marafioti, adding that she taught a four-day writing workshop back in 2018 to writers at the Henderson Writers Group.
“The experience was so enjoyable and enriching that I just continued teaching, and the writers kept on coming,” she said. “Now, Lounge Writers fills the need for more affordable and genre-inclusive creative writing education, not just locally but internationally.”
Marafioti expressed how the Lounge separates itself from other writing groups, being “all about the craft,” adding that while you can’t teach a talent, the craft is available for anyone interested in learning it.
“There are plenty of places where one can learn about creative writing, but often students learn theories without any applicable knowledge,” she said. “We give students the tools they can use right away to improve their stories and stay inspired. We provide these necessary tools to help writers become independent creators of their own stories - writers who, at some point, will no longer need a teacher.”
Due to the pandemic, the Lounge has moved its workshops online and quickly got comfortable teaching virtually. Since creativity is their focus, Marafioti said that the change didn’t jar them too much and actually opened up the world to them in “unimaginable ways.”
“Our students tune in from all over: [the] U.K., India, Taiwan, France, Russia, Brazil, New Zealand, [and so on]. The experience has created a stronger community of writers around the Lounge,” she said. “Not only has it enriched our teaching and learning, but it also helps all of us in those meetings think about creativity in ways we might not have considered in the past.”
With people coming together from all over the country and the world, it has created “rich soil for more creativity to thrive.”
Once it is safe to do so, the Lounge’s in-person classes will resume. Marafioti said that they plan to continue their online classes and videos with coursework and start a YouTube channel devoted to craft talks and author interviews.
According to Marafioti, while she herself teaches many of the workshops, the Lounge has had the honor of hosting several “highly accomplished guests and returning instructors” from the Las Vegas community and abroad. These guests include writers like:
Brittany Bronson, a contributing writer for The New York Times, who has received awards and recognitions from TalkPoverty.Org, the Nevada Arts Council, Vegas Seven Magazine, and The Pinch Literary Awards;
C. Moon Reed, a well-known staff writer for the Las Vegas Weekly;
Adam Szymkowicz, two-time Lecomte du Nouy Prize winner, and Juilliard-trained playwright whose work has been produced throughout the U.S., and in Canada, England, The Netherlands, Germany, and Lithuania;
Dominic Biondi, a UNLV professor with over 25 years of experience as a writer, director, producer, and editor in Hollywood and Las Vegas; and,
Veronica Klash, a regular contributor to the NPR publication - the Desert Companion, whose work has appeared in Cheap Pop, Ellipsis Zine, and X-Ray Lit.
Olivia Clare, a writer and a poet who's won the 2014 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers Award and the 2014 O. Henry Prize;
Gabino Iglesias, a professor at the SNHU's MFA program and the author of Coyote Songs and Zero Saints;
Marafioti added that she is excited about the Lounge’s lineup of future guests, including Andrew Buckley, author of young adult fiction and the co-founder of the Wordsmith Academy, and Octavio Quintanilla, the current poet laureate of San Antonio, Texas.
Just in time for Halloween, Gabino Iglesias taught a writer's workshop on Saturday, October 31st, discussing the elements of writing horror fiction.
Other past events have covered topics such as How to Plot a Novel, Book Editing Essentials, and How to Write Captivating Dialogue.
Starting the new year out strong, Lounge Writers’ has three classes this month open for registration with their first workshop, Writing Irresistible Story Beginnings, on January 10th, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. This workshop is $25 and is being conducted through Zoom.
Speaking on the art community's underlying issues, Marafioti said that “Las Vegas is considered a city without culture, but this is untrue.”
“The biggest issue is that we do have a creative culture, but it's not tended to,” she said, adding that the pandemic has impacted all of our creative communities here, and “...unfortunately, the damage is great. ...our industries aren't considered important enough to support.”
“Our local creative family needs attention and care [in order] to help us survive and grow,” she said, suggesting that people check up on their creative friends.
Marafioti concluded by sharing ways that the community can help and support Lounge Writers. These include taking their classes, leaving reviews, and spreading the word by sharing their social media posts, telling friends about the group, and inviting the Lounge to speak on any platforms you may have - be it a radio show, podcast, or other media opportunity.
While the Lounge does not presently have their own website, you can follow them on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, MeetUp, and Eventbrite to keep up to date with upcoming events, get writing prompts, and more.
You can also contact the group at email@example.com.