Meg Kearney Interviews Becca Connors and Lisa Allen from The Notebooks Collective, An Online Literary Space

Meg: The mission and vision of The Notebooks Collective is clear and straightforward, mainly focused on “community, connection, and continued learning” among both established and aspiring writers. Can you talk a bit about how the Collective was born–what inspired two busy writers with families and careers to take on the creation of a literary organization,and one that’s so active to boot? And how do you manage to balance your work at the Collective with life’s other demands, including your own writing? I ask this mainly because so many writers need to see how role models like yourselves “do it.”

Becca: I have always wanted to have a space where I could host events and create a community for artists. It was a huge lift to acquire a space, but once the pandemic set in and everything went virtual, I saw the potential in doing something online. It was liberating to be able to create space without walls – a place where people could come together, be inspired, and learn something new. 

Lisa: Like Becca, I’d long wanted to create a creative space. For quite some time, that focus for me was on single mothers; this was when my kids were younger, and I was trying to find any time I could to write. But like Becca said, the demands of an actual physical space always stopped me–the logistics of it, the investment, etc. When Becca and I talked that first time, I had zero doubt that we’d do this together.

As to how we balance our own writing, that’s tricky. I won’t lie and say that my focus is always balanced. It can be easy to spend all of our time working on TNC, because we both love it and it brings us so much joy; but I can say that our events inspire me to write. We often say that one of the best things about this endeavor is that we have a front-row seat to these amazing conversations, and every single time we host an event, I furiously take notes that I sometimes come back to when I write. We encourage one another to create and to submit work. And we try to workshop once a month with Lisa Charnock, another Solstice alum. 

Becca: Setting aside time to talk to Lisa & Lisa helps center me and makes me excited to write. In addition, several things have been helping me get to the page lately – trying to write a bad poem a day, writing with a timer (how much of a poem can I make in 2 minutes?) and then dictating to my phone. We’ve got a lot going on – and I take great comfort in the fact that Lisa is a text away. 

Meg: I’ve been to several of The Collective’s events on Zoom, and it seems the two of you have a cordial, respectful, and well-thought-out relationship with roles both shared and separate. How did you come to agree upon who would be responsible for what as you established your organization–and do you see your roles evolving and/or changing as you move forward?

Lisa: When we were at home during the pandemic, we were able to talk about what we enjoy doing most and what our innate strengths are; for example, Becca’s better at graphic design, so she handles that. We tried to make sure that the workload was even, and because we were both home and not working then, we had more time to really dig into our vision and establish some routines and core practices.

What’s kept our working relationship strong once we both went back to work full-time is that we trust and respect each other. We’re friends first, and we talk. We have each other’s backs and we pick each other up when one of us is stressed or overwhelmed. 

Becca: Like Lisa said, we help carry each other when times get too hectic. Going forward, we would like to increase our staff. It’s getting to the point that we need help if we are going to increase our offerings. Sometimes it’s hard to put things to the side because of capacity issues, when we want so much to do it!

Meg: What Notebook Collective accomplishments and events are you most proud of so far and why? Are you able somehow to measure the impact you’re having on the community you’re creating?

Becca: I am most proud of our ability to keep coming up with new ideas, despite the workload we both have. We have lists upon lists of great ideas and even if we roll them out slowly, we do end up rolling them out. And that gives me a lot of joy. I’m also proud that we are able to create space to center the work of our guests – they decide what they want to read, how they want to converse, etc. 

Lisa: I’m proud that we’ve kept going despite everything else we both do. It would be easy to let it go–and people would say they understand, because working full-time and having a family and finding time to write is hard. But we take brief hiatuses sporadically so we can recharge, and  we’re determined to keep growing TNC.

I honestly can’t say that I am more proud of one event over another; I’ve learned something at every single event and I’ve enjoyed each for different reasons. What I’m really proud of is that we work to make this a true collective: we let our guests tell us how they want to structure their event; we ask for feedback and incorporate that feedback so we can improve; and we’re adding classes slowly so we can grow without burning out.

To me, the greatest measure of our impact is that past guests suggest future guests. That tells me that they trust us with their time and talent, and I think that’s pretty special. 

Meg: What are you most excited about when you ponder the Notebook Collective’s future?

Lisa: I’m really excited about adding classes. Like the In Conversation events, we want these to be classes that the instructor is really excited about; maybe they’re really passionate about a topic or maybe they want to try something new. We’re a platform that supports that.

In my perfect world, Becca and I would both be able to make TNC our full-time job. That’s a long-term dream, but it’s lovely nonetheless.

You can find The Notebooks Collective on their website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Bookshop, and their mailing list.

Meg Kearney, a white woman with curly brown hair, smiles as she looks down to her left. The sunlight illuminates her hair and the foliage behind her. She wears a white blouse.

In spring 2021, The Word Works Press published Meg Kearney’s All Morning the Crows, winner of the 2020 Washington Prize for poetry, which made Small Press Distribution’s poetry bestseller list April through September, 2021, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and was awarded the Silver Medal in Foreword Review’s Indies Book Award for Poetry. Meg is also author of An Unkindness of Ravens and Home By Now, winner of the PEN New England L.L. Winship Award; a heroic crown, The Ice Storm, published as a chapbook in 2020; and three verse novels for teens. Her award-winning picture book, Trouper, is illustrated by E.B. Lewis. Meg’s poetry has been featured on Garrison Keillor’s “A Writer’s Almanac” and Ted Kooser’s “American Life in Poetry” series, and included in the 2017 Best American Poetry anthology (Natasha Tretheway, guest editor). A native New Yorker, she lives in New Hampshire and is founding director of the Solstice MFA in Creative Writing Program at Lasell University in Massachusetts.

Rebecca Connors, a white woman with glasses, smiles as she looks to her left. She has her right hand up by her neck and is wearing a floral blouse. Behind her, a snake plant sits in front of a green wall.

Rebecca Connors is the author of the chapbook Split Map (Minerva Rising Press, 2019). Her poems can be found in, or are forthcoming from, Salamander Magazine, Nixes Mate, Glass Poetry Journal, and Tinderbox Poetry Journal, among others. She is the co-founder of the virtual literary space, The Notebooks Collective, and received her MFA in poetry from the Solstice Low Residency MFA Program in Creative Writing at Lasell University. She lives in Massachusetts with her family and two cats. Find her at @aprilistwrites on Instagram,

Lisa Allen’s (she/her) work can be found or is forthcoming in The Bacopa Literary Review (discussed here by Editor Kaye Linden), Lily Poetry Review, December Magazine, Anti-Heroin Chic, Bear Review, and  MER, among others. She has twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and her poem, Prolapse: Etymology, published by South 85 Journal, was a Best of the Net 2023 finalist.

Lisa holds an MFA in Creative Nonfiction and an MFA in Poetry, both from the Solstice Low Residency MFA Program in Creative Writing at Lasell University, where she was a Michael Steinberg fellow in Creative Nonfiction.

When she’s not writing she works as a librarian who recently moved from being an Information Specialist to the social media coordinator for a 14-branch system. In her spare time she’s an amateur watercolorist and jewelry maker, a struggling gardener, an avid traveler, and a concert junkie.