Community can be defined in many ways—shared interests, shared experiences, a shared zip code. For Oliver Egger ’23, founder of the student-led Route 9 Collective writing community, Middlesex County provided fertile ground from which to examine the different voices that populate this small Connecticut county spanned by Route 9.
In early September, Wesleyan University Press (WesPress) and the Route 9 Collective published Route 9 Anthology: A Collection of Writing from Wesleyan Students, Faculty, Staff, and Middlesex County Residents, compiled and edited by Egger, who has dreamed of fostering community through art in this manner since his first year at Wesleyan.
“When you have a vision as a freshman, and then have a really difficult experience with COVID, being disconnected from Wesleyan and the Middlesex County community…. It just feels like a nice start to my senior year and a nice cap to my time at Wesleyan to be able to leave this space and give this physical object, which is a testament to the writing community,” Egger said.
The anthology features prose and poetry from 24 writers: 11 students and recent graduates, six professors, one University staff member, and six current or former Middlesex County residents, three of whom are poet laureates for their towns in Connecticut. Their work ranges from meditations on grief and stories of love to tales of family and examinations of nature and the seasons.
WesPress Director and Editor-in-Chief Suzanna Tamminen said that when Egger—who has worked as an editorial assistant at WesPress since fall 2021—approached her with his vision, she was immediately intrigued.
“Part of our mission as a university press is to engage in the university’s teaching and learning mission by providing substantive work and apprenticeship experiences for students,” Tamminen said. “[Oliver] described the project as a concrete way to showcase the literary talent that is flourishing both off campus and on campus, something that could help build a shared sense of literary community for Middletown. Like many university presses, we have devoted part of our list to works that encourage local and regional understanding, connecting our parent institutions with the communities we inhabit.”
As the founder of the Route 9 Collective, Egger oversees The Lavender and Pre-Owned, Good Condition, two campus literary magazines that provided him experience compiling and editing others’ work. The process of putting the Route 9 Anthology together required painstaking attention to detail, according to Egger, with months spent communicating with different contributors, securing writers’ submissions, and working through licensing rights. The journey was long and complicated, but Egger, who received funding from the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship to create the book, said the final product far surpassed where he thought the project could go.
Associate Professor of the Practice in Creative Writing Douglas Martin, whose work “Three Poems” is published in the book, initially contributed to the anthology at the encouragement of Associate Professor of English John Murillo, who also has a poem featured. Martin praised the project for building the connection between the literary communities on campus and in the larger Middlesex area.
“When I was in college—doing my BA in a little music town—that was where we knew the art could be so located,” Martin said. “This [anthology] points to some voices that are out there, and it starts a dialogue across some social strata.”
The anthology also contains work from the late Susie Allison, the first Poet Laureate of Middletown and co-founder of The Buttonwood Tree/North End Arts Rising, Inc. Her husband, Stephan Allison, contributed her poem “Local Color” on her behalf.
“The book is written by the community,” Egger reiterated. “It has my little name on it because I glued it all together. But it’s a book written by the community and that’s what makes the book special.”