Each month, a few local writers have gathered to share the thoughts and feelings they've put down on the page.
It's probably the bravest thing many of them have ever done.
And the most helpful.
For almost four decades, the Ricapito Writers’ Group has provided a sounding board for some Baton Rouge authors.
"There aren’t a lot of things any more intimate than sharing your forms of writing or ideas with a group of people," said member John Tarlton, author of the novels “The Cost of Doing Business” and “A Window Facing West.” "It can be disastrous, and it can be very, very stimulating and positive.”
Tarlton said the people in the group, whether writers of poetry or fiction, understand the process of writing and how to make it better.
"It’s a vital experience to take something that you’ve written recently, take it before a group of peers and have them respond to it, shape it for you, allow you to look at it," he said. “The writer is often blinded by what they’ve just made. You know, it’s perfect when it comes off the press. It’s only later when you put your eye to it that you can start to see to make it better."
The group began meeting in the 1970s, when William “Kit” Hathaway, then writer-in-residence at LSU, organized a monthly writers’ group that rotated among members’ homes. It was, said member Ed Ruzicka, a sometimes fractious assemblage whose critical comments were stinging.
Enter Joe and Carolyn Ricapito in 1980.
He chaired LSU’s Spanish and Portuguese departments and directed the Comparative Literature Program. She has written two novels, including the recently completed "Giorgio: A Novel of the 1980s."
They offered to host the group in their home once a month. Members began informally calling it the Ricapito Writers’ Group.
In memory of Joe Ricapito, who died at age 85 in November 2018, the members decided to make the name official.
On Nov. 17 at Baton Rouge Gallery, about 60 people attended a reading of members’ works, an event that celebrated the writers and recognized a new beginning for the long-standing group.
For many years, it was Joe Ricapito who would start those Sunday morning gatherings by selecting the first person to read something he or she was working on, and they’d continue around the room.
The unwritten rule, Carolyn Ricapito said, was to keep the comments positive.
“If you don’t like something somebody has written, find a way of telling them this in a constructive way, like, ‘I would like to see you try … editing that, making it shorter, or adding more about this character,’” she said. “You find a positive way of doing this, and this seems to be the method of the group. People are not destructive in their comments. I don’t think the group would last if that were true, being destructive.”
The size of the Ricapitos’ living room and time limitations kept the group from exceeding about 12 at any time, Ricapito said. Openings have been few, usually occurring when members have moved out of town, something Ricapito will soon do.
She has decided to move closer to a daughter — also a writer — in New York.
“I’m looking forward to that, but this group is one of the things I’ll miss most of all about Baton Rouge," she said, "and I hope to find a group of writers there in New York."
The group she leaves behind plans to continue.