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LIT

THE LIT: CLEVELAND'S LITERARY CENTER was an organization of Cleveland-area writers with its office at the Art Craft Building, a former garment factory site at 2570 Superior Avenue. It claimed to be the oldest and largest independent literary organization in Ohio. The Lit promoted writers, writing, and general literacy through classes, workshops, programs such as its "Lantern Awards" night, and a quarterly literary magazine it publishes, titled Muse.

The Lit had its roots in the region's poetry community. It was first incorporated in the mid-1970s as the Poets' League of Greater Cleveland, a volunteer nonprofit organization. Its founder was John Gabel. The Poets' League emerged from an informal group of area poets like Gabel, many connected with the anti-war and counterculture movements of that period. These writers saw the benefits of a more formal network-and a support group-among practitioners of what is by definition a solitary endeavor. From the start the underlying principle was that writers need encouragement and input from other writers.

Over the years the organization became bigger and more structured, with a broader mission and more professional oversight. It established classes, launched programs such as its "Lantern Awards" night, and published a quarterly literary magazine, titled Muse.

In 1991, the Poets' League merged with the Cleveland Writers' Center to form the Poets' & Writers' League of Greater Cleveland. (After a time, the conjoined name seemed too cumbersome, and the group was rechristened The Lit). Desiring a center to house its office and growing activities, the group rented a townhouse at the Fairhill Center on Fairhill Road in Cleveland; it subsequently moved to a loft on Superior Avenue. It gained financial support and strategic advice from the CLEVELAND FOUNDATION, the GUND FOUNDATION, and the Ohio Arts Council, among other groups, and it sought a greater variety of backgrounds and expertise on its governing board. The organization hired its first paid director, Darlene Montonaro, in 1994.

Ultimately, however, the organization was unable to sustain itself financially. Long carrying substantial debt, The Lit was faced with funders' reluctance to underwrite operating costs, growing competition from the Internet which rendered many of the group's networking functions increasingly obsolete, and, finally, the economic downturn beginning in 2008-2009 that hit nonprofits especially hard. By 2011, The Lit's leadership concluded that the level of support needed to continue was no longer available. The decision to dissolve was made in August of that year.

Shortly before closing, The Lit had 368 members and an annual budget of about $165,000. In its final few years, the director was Judith Mansour.

Benjamin O. Sperry