At Streetlight's helm: Poet steps into limelight

Susan Williamson may come across as a shrinking violet, but ask the right questions, and she's suddenly Mae West.

"An old beau used to tell me I was a goddess," she responded recently to a query about her age, "which would mean I'm immortal."

It would also mean that Charlottesville's fledgling journal Streetlight has a deity at the helm.

Williamson, a mild-mannered Richmond native who enjoys cooking and gardening in her spare time, has always been a writer. An introduction to Emily Dickinson at Saint Catherine School's was followed by a French lit major (and extended year abroad) at UVA. New York called in the late '70s, but after 15 years, the stifled poet grew tired of the city scene and looked south.

"As I got more focused, I knew I wanted to have a creative life, and it's really hard to maintain that in the city," she says.

With an elderly mother in a nearby nursing home and a brother active in the Live Arts scene, Williamson saw Charlottesville as the perfect destination. She moved back in 1992 and took an administrative position at UVA, where she still works today.

Last year, she submitted her poetry to the Charlottesville Writing Center's literary journal, Streetlight, and voila! three of her poems were selected for publication. This year she finds herself in charge of the magazine itself, as the new editor-in-chief.

"I was actually quite shocked to take over," she admits.

"It was tough, because it's a volunteer position," says Rod Schecter, fiction editor for the magazine. Schecter is glad that Browning Porter, the long-time head of the Charlottesville Writing Center, solicited Williamson directly. "Susan's making a difference, making it exciting to be a part of," he says.

A veteran editor of Tupelo Press, Williamson is no stranger to labor-intensive, salary-absent literary work. In March, she began her editorial position in earnest, weeding out submissions for the upcoming spring edition. She has initiated some profile-raising events, including a biweekly salon at the Gravity Lounge featuring local writers. And you might have caught her at the Book Festival with her coterie of "Five Easy Poets," one of a handful of writing groups in which Williamson is involved.

"There's a need in Charlottesville for a writers' community– for a group of like minds that you can discuss what you're up to after staring for hours at an empty page," says Williamson.

From a self-described "closet scribbler" to editor-in-chief, Williamson is on course to become the town's most mellow literary hostess– almost as awesome as being a goddess.

Susan Williamson