Jason Kurtz is an English teacher at Harrisburg High School. He teaches composition to freshmen and English to juniors. Kurtz is also a college adjunct instructor at the University of Sioux Falls. Despite his busy schedule, he decided this past April to start a Facebook group called “South Dakota Writes.”
Looking back, Kurtz says his initial motivation to start the group may have been selfish. “I was tired of not knowing what was going on in South Dakota for writing. I started the Facebook group where people could post their events, so subserviently I would know what’s happening.”
The description on the Facebook group states, “The purpose of this group is to organize people with a passion for writing in South Dakota by creating a vibrant online and offline community. This group will share information and events that may interest writers in South Dakota.” There is also a Facebook page that people can like to get more information on events.
Kurtz had the hopes of finally hearing what was going on, but what he thought would be a small group has turned into a non-profit organization with events in several cities across the state. Launch parties to celebrate South Dakota Writes’ non-profit status took place in September in Sioux Falls, Watertown, and Spearfish.
The group has steadily grown since its formation earlier this year. Kurtz said the group had eight member the first week, growing to 70 a few weeks later, and now the group has around 200 members. The group gains about two new members every day.
Kurtz says word of mouth and blasting out events on Facebook helps promote South Dakota Writes. It also helps when group members share the events on Facebook. On every third Monday of the month, the group hosts Writer’s Happy Hour at Bogtrotter’s in downtown Sioux Falls. This has also steadily grown.
South Dakota Writes hosts workshops, also normally held on Mondays, and informs group members of any upcoming author signings, book launch parties, and poetry readings, which can be anywhere across the state. There is information for those looking for freelance writing and publishing opportunities listed in the group, as well.
Kurtz says those interested in writing can get connected by going online and joining the Facebook group and liking the Facebook page.
“They can ask advice in the group,” he explained. “Someone asked where there was a cheap place to get bookmarks printed to promote their novel and a lot of people responded to that.”
There is a wide range of people that are writing in South Dakota. Kurtz says most are in their 20s-60s. In Sioux Falls, the crowd ranges from 20-40 years old, in Watertown they are mostly 50-60 years old, and Rapid City sees mid 30s-40s in the group.
“A third to 50 percent of the people in the group have their own published books, which shocked me,” said Kurtz. “I had no idea that that many people had published books in South Dakota.”
He says that is another reason the group is important, to promote the authors in the state and be supportive of their work.
In October, South Dakota Writes will be hosting another Writer’s Happy Hour at Bogtrotter’s and a workshop, which Kurtz believes will focus on word building. Both of these will be in Sioux Falls. November is National Novel Writing Month, which Kurtz says the group will be focusing on.
“Without Facebook, we wouldn’t be doing this. I was shocked myself at how fast this exploded. I felt like I started with a rowboat and within a month, I was captain of a steamship. I think there was such a need out there for some kind of community for the isolated authors in South Dakota.”
To get connected with upcoming events, look up “South Dakota Writes” on Facebook.