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Washington Neighborhoods
The Arts: Local writer works to nourish the arts in the Mon Valley

Sunday, July 28, 2002

By Dave Zuchowski

Carla Anderton has spunk. What else can be said about someone who, after she was told she couldn't write for her high school newspaper until she had attended for a year and took several special classes, formed a publication of her own?

"I had been editor-in-chief in one school before my transfer to another, so I asked myself, 'Why wait a year?' " she said. "Instead, I gathered together a group of like-minded writers and contributors in 1994 and formed Peer Amid, a literary publication that features poetry, short stories, essays, photography and art work."

Living in Memphis, Tenn., at the time, Anderton, 25, was attending Raleigh Egypt High School. With the school mascot named the Pharaoh and a big civic pyramid built on the banks of the Mississippi River for sports events, concerts and conventions, the name Peer Amid popped into mind by association as the title for her new literary journal.

"There are actually several ways of interpreting the title," Anderton said. "Not only do writers often look within themselves for their material, but, when they're published, they also join their literary colleagues or peers. So you see there's more to Peer Amid than just its Egyptian connotation."

Since its debut in 1994, Peer Amid has been published eight times, and, since 1997, also has been available on the Internet. It was Anderton's involvement with the World Wide Web that got her to pick up roots and move to southwestern Pennsylvania.

As a member of the Author's Lounge Chat Room, the young writer made contact with Roger Sealy, local arts advocate for many years, originator of the Mon Valley Review and publisher of the former Focus Magazine, a news and feature story publication based in California, Pa. The chat room pals discovered they shared many interests and eventually came to develop the same vision for Peer Amid.

In February 1999, Anderton flew north to meet Sealy, who'd already helped her publish several issues of the literary magazine. Four months later, she moved to southwestern Pennsylvania with her now 4-year-old son, Allen, and enrolled in California University, where she's majoring in creative writing.

Anderton continues to publish Peer Amid and is planning to release an new issue with more than 40 contributors in late August. For the new edition, she says she's received thousands of submissions, some from as far away as Australia, New Zealand, South America and Europe.

Anderton and Sealy plan to print 1,000 copies of the August edition, which will be distributed free of charge at locations throughout the Mon Valley. To help defray expenses, they've written to advertisers and supporters of literary arts for contributions.

Although Anderton writes poetry, she tries to minimize the number of her contributions to the publication because she envisions Peer Amid as an opportunity for fledgling and often first-time writers to get published.

Eventually, she would like to turn Peer Amid into a production company that would encourage and promote the arts. She's also working on cutting a CD of songs and poetry with a musical background. Local artists will design the cover and write the liner notes, and local singers and musicians will record the songs. She hopes to have the CD, tentatively titled "Hotel Peer Amid," out by Christmas.

Another of Anderton's arts-oriented enterprises, the Peer Amid Literary Arts Experiment, is held from 8 to 11 p.m. Tuesdays in the Jozart Studios on the corner of Second and Wood streets in California, above the Dollar General Store. During the session, Anderton serves as moderator and emcee, and writers are invited to come on stage and read their poetry and short stories or play original music on acoustic guitar.

The public is invited to attend the free confabs, although Anderton encourages the audience to make donations to Jozart Studios.

"The Literary Arts Experiment is done in a workshop format in an expressive atmosphere," Anderton said. "Jozart is one of the first places in town where the university and community got together, where students and residents can mingle in a alcohol- and substance-free setting. It's not a bar but a nice, relaxing place where people can exercise their minds by enjoying a variety of cultural events."

Anderton's poetry is based on "things that go through [her] head in a sort of journalistic fashion." Her subject matter focuses on issues such as her son, her mother's bout with cancer and her grandparents' death in an Arkansas tornado.

Anderton also has completed two dramas. The one titled "99 Ways to Lose Your Faith in God" centers around the aftermath of a rape and the personality changes women go through as a result of their trauma. Seemingly willing to try new things, Anderton is thinking of turning the script into a screenplay and eventually making a film version of the play.

To learn more about Peer Amid and the Literary Arts Experience at Jozart Studios, call Anderton at 724-938-2913. On the Internet, go to http://www.geocities.com/peer_amid. Anderton also can be reached by e-mail at PeerAmid98@aol.com.

Dave Zuchowski is a free-lance writer who covers arts and entertainment for Washington Sunday. He can be reached by e-mail at: owlscribe@yahoo.com

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