Vive Les Conteurs


vive-les-conteurs-2Where writers meet to be writers

By Javacia Harris Bowser // Photos by Amy Dobelstein

“Qualified.” Megan Beam is not a fan of this word, especially when it’s used to ask questions such as: “What qualifies me to write what I’m writing?” or “What qualifies you to tell anyone else how to write what they’re writing?” or “How does my work qualify for publishing?” When Beam started her Birmingham–based writing workshop series Vive Les Conteurs in January one of her goals was to strip this word of its value.

“I think that there is this sort of romance around creativity that you can’t really approach it unless you’ve been born with some sort of sparkle,” Beam says. “And I’m not saying that that doesn’t exist but I think that creativity in whatever form it is can save people’s lives and give them a reason to get up in the morning and make sense of the chaos.”

Beam says her primary goal with Vive Les Conteurs is simply to give people a safe space to write so they can finally feel like writers.

“I wanted to take away a bit of what was intimidating about it and give people the space to become impressed with themselves and what they can pull off,” she says. “Just because their voice doesn’t sound like mine or sound like the people that they love to read and have always admired doesn’t mean they don’t have anything to say.”

Beam started writing while she was studying music and English at the University of Tennessee at Martin, but she didn’t consider herself a real writer at the time. She didn’t feel like a bona fide scribe until she completed her first novel.

“When I told my college friends I had written a novel I was like, ‘Who would have thought that I would actually finish this and become a writer?’ And they were like, ‘Megan, you used to volunteer to write our papers! You are the only one who didn’t know you were a writer.’”

Beam has since completed and self-published several other writing projects including the first two installments of a young adult adventure series she’s writing with local author Erin Hicks Moon called The Last Beholder. The first two books, Bring and Gather, are available at    TheLastBeholder.com.

Vive Les Conteurs started the way most great things do—as a group of friends gathered around a dining room table. After so many of her friends started to come to her for writing advice Beam decided in January to create a group to help these friends with their projects. In May she launched a website and Instagram account and opened the workshops to the public, offering both in-person workshops for local writers and online workshops for those outside the Birmingham area.

At a typical workshop, participants begin by writing together, responding to provided prompts and sharing what they produce. They then work on their individual projects getting personalized guidance from Beam.

“It’s not the same as a classroom,” Beam explains. “You’re not going to be graded on your work. You’re just going to be expected to work.”

Each workshop series lasts for eight weeks, but Beam says most students sign up for more after completing their first series. Vive Les Conteurs is open to all writers, but Beam says thus far all participants have been women.

“We’re basically a girls club,” Beam says with a laugh. “I’m particularly proud that I have girls who have never written anything before and are well on their way to finishing the project that they started and feeling confident about it.” 

While Beam doesn’t believe in a list of qualifications to determine whether or not someone is a writer, she does believe writers should finish what they start.

“It’s almost like a whole lifetime between starting a project and finishing a project and there’s something about letting it go once it’s finished that frankly I find to be kind of holy,” Beam says. “I say finish it, because it’s alive and you shouldn’t walk away from something that’s alive. Maybe it needs a different form. Maybe it needs to go to its room for awhile. Maybe it needs to eat and you need to spend time with it and nurture it.”

This fall Beam is launching the Vive Les Conteurs literary magazine, which will feature completed projects by workshop participants.

“One of my first goals when we started in January was to get something publishable,” Beam explains. “I wanted us to work on short stories and actually send it out to places, but the girls were really intimidated about sending out their work.”

The literary magazine is yet another example of Beam creating a safe space through which writers can get their work out into the world.

“I really wanted them to have the experience of having their work put in something,” Beam says. “To say, ‘You did this! You made a thing! And now you can look at it. You’re a writer. It’s that easy. It’s that simple and that incredibly difficult.’”

Learn more about Vive Les Conteurs at vivelesconteurs.com and follow the group on Instagram @vivelesconteurs.

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