Born with cerebral palsy, Mary Gillilan found that some jobs were just too hard on her body. So when she decided to try something new, she melded her love of poetry with her experience leading workshops and started her own business, The Independent Writers’ Studio, overseeing writing groups in the Clover building in downtown Bellingham.
She soon met Norman Green, a fellow writer and the owner of Threshold Documents, a Bellingham printing business. Together, they came up with the idea of “Clover; a Literary Rag,” a twice-a-year anthology to showcase workshop writers and other contributors. Whether the venture would succeed was open to question.
“Norman once said, ‘We’re either going to catch fire or go up in flames,’” Gillilan says.
Judging by the results, “Clover” is heating up nicely. The first volume, in the summer of 2010, ran 77 pages, with poems and short fiction and nonfiction by Gillilan and 17 of her studio writers. The latest issue, volume eight, fills 305 pages and has 63 contributors, including studio writers as well as people from about a dozen other states, from Michigan, Maine and Massachusetts, to Idaho, Ohio and Colorado.
“I think we pull it off,” Gillilan says.
That “Clover” has blossomed pays tribute to the Gillilan’s many hours of work soliciting and choosing the content, and designing the pages, with Green’s assistance and the printing of each issue at Threshhold.
Gillilan isn’t sure whether “Clover” runs in the red or black financially. If it makes money, it’s not enough to be excited about. If it loses money, it’s not enough to deter her from continuing. Profit, in other words, isn’t the point.
“The only way you can do this is to say money’s not the object,” Gillilan says.
A Yakima native, Gillilan studied poetry at the University of Puget Sound, then earned a teaching degree at Central Washington University. Years ago she lead a writing group at Lynden Community Center that resulted in “Echoes from the Past,” a collection of people’s stories about their early days in Whatcom County. Later, Gillilan led writers’ groups at the Roeder Home, resulting in two more books; “The Storytellers” and “Tough Guys Don’t Give Up.”
Once again, she finds herself immersed in poetry, book design, publishing, and writing groups.
“This makes me happy,” she says. “How could I not be happy doing what I’m doing?”