Do you know Hazel & Wren? If you know how to read and you understand how special the feeling of being included is, then you’re halfway there. To give you a better idea of what I mean, just go to their website and look at their About section.
“What’s It All About? The Hazel & Wren community is designed for creative people like you!”
Like me? Oh yes. Like you? Double yes. Like all of us? That’s the point! These girls give me chills with their Minneapolis-based literary e-dream.
Built by two sisters, Amanda and Melissa Wray, this website popped up earlier this year and has been warming hearts and crinkling noses ever since. Designed with a classic and eye-catching style, Hazel & Wren is full of literary goodies packed into all its nooks and crannies.
Although it’s Amanda and Melissa who created the site, it is Hazel and Wren–the duo’s online personas–who run it. Always with an eye toward their roots, the pseudonyms are family names. Hazel (Amanda) is named after their grandmother, while Wren (Melissa) pays homage to their mother’s favorite bird. Why use personas? In person, the sisters are soft-spoken and unerringly polite, however online their personas allow them breathing room–a way to separate the writer from the narrator. So, when you write to them via the website you should expect a sassy response from Hazel or Wren. However, should you run into them at say Books and Bars or Literary Death Match, they will delicately charm your socks off as the demure Amanda and Melissa Wray, but make no mistake–they are no pushovers, not even for each other.
They agreed to meet with me back in June for some ice cream at Sebastian Joe's and a little discussion about the literary community here in the Twin Cities. Over my plum-ginger sorbet I couldn’t help but ask question after question about what it’s like to work so closely with a sibling. Each time they politely laughed, smiling at each other. For them, it’s incredibly easy, they said. Although they are similar in many ways, they are different enough to create a style for Hazel & Wren that is entertaining but not insular. And, because they are close and naturally easy-going, they never have a problem discussing things that may not work, even if it sites a general difference of opinion. It probably helps, too, that while Amanda takes on the design component of Hazel & Wren, Melissa is free to work her magic as a writer. Amanda also writes a weekly section called Three Things, in which she discusses a concept and then expands on that subject by way of three pieces of visual art. These three pieces of art, along with her words, are meant to stir up the creative side of site visitors.
Actually, almost everything about this site is meant to get writers to create. They don’t publish themselves, and they don’t have artist features. Rather altruistic, no?
Other creation-inducing sections of Hazel & Wren include a very comprehensive Twin Cities literary events calendar in addition to a calendar of contest and magazine deadlines, a section all about books the ladies are reading which always ends with a call to action asking readers to respond, and my favorite section, the Open Mic.
The Open Mic is a chance for writers to post works that are in-progress, allowing other writers to read and comment on them, hopefully making suggestions to help strengthen the work. What makes the Hazel & Wren Open Mic so interesting is that it operates entirely online, has rules that aren’t ridiculous, and requires quid pro quo participation on the part of submitters who expect people to read their works. The best part about this? It’s been rather successful. Seemingly, there are participants each month, everyone follows the rules, and there are no commenting trolls. Personally, I find this kind of message board respect to be a testament to the circle of internet trust that Hazel & Wren creates by welcoming all, and turning away none.
They say that they do this through humor. Their theory, which will probably move into the state of law pretty soon if it isn’t disproven, is that when things are funny, those things are more accessible to more people. If you need a glimpse into the humor of Hazel & Wren, just look to Amanda’s funny little vintage ads that show up in the different sections.
To top all of this off, as burgeoning letter-pressers and book-makers themselves, they have an entire section of their website devoted to teaching others the things that they are learning, hoping to start a conversation with the community, and get the creative spark started in those who haven’t yet considered such a historical hobby.
Basically, the website is part schoolhouse, part coffee house, and part friend’s house all rolled into one. It is thanks to the Twin Cities’ love for all things literary that a site like Hazel & Wren, who only gives, but never takes, can be successful by turning out passion rather than profits.
Photo courtesy Hazel & Wren