Quarles in front of the soon-to-open Unbound Writing Center in Sunny Brae | Photo: Stephanie McGeary

With poetry plastered on public walls and posted in Arcata storefronts, many local writing contests and an official poet laureate for the City of Eureka, it’s clear that Humboldt has a robust community of writers (oh hey, LoCO writes too!) and Heather Quarles — a local writer and highschool teacher — feels that the community needs a central place for active and aspiring writers to get inspiration and hone their craft.

That’s why Quarles is opening the Unbound Writing Center — a small business in Arcata’s Sunny Brae shopping center that will provide access to materials and resources to help people with whatever type of writing they are interested in.

“There’s so many writers in our community who need something like this — a hub for Humboldt writing,” Quarles told the Outpost in a recent interview. “My whole goal is to really inspire and excite people to write and to support them in that process.”

Partially inspired by writing centers in other communities — such as 826 Valencia, which started in San Francisco and has expanded to multiple cities across the U.S. — Quarles will offer writing workshops and tutoring to help folks with subjects including resume and cover letters, academic writing, poetry and short stories. One of Quarles’ upcoming workshops will focus on helping writers sharpen their flash fiction skills to prepare for Humboldt’s 2021 Flash Fiction Contest. Quarles is a great lover of the genre, she said, and actually won first place in 2020 with her story “A Perfect Stranger.”

Quarles has been passionate about writing for as long as she can remember and as a literature and language teacher at the Northcoast Preparatory Academy (NPA), she has dedicated her life to sharing that passion with her students. Quarles plans to further educate and assist high school students by providing workshops and tutoring sessions specifically for teenagers to help with both creative and academic writing, including college application essays. 

One of the ways Quarles plans to encourage young people to write is through the Teen Zine Team, which will allow a group of teenagers (13 to 19) to self-publish a collection of writings, drawings, photos and collages. The zine team is something Quarles has already been facilitating with a group of NPA students, but the group stopped meeting recently due to the surge in COVID-19 cases. Quarles has found that some of her students find creating zines to be a more accessible form of expression than formal writing styles.

Some of the teen zine team’s materials | Photo courtesy of Unbound Writing Center

“Having a welcoming, safe environment for teens to be able to express themselves and put their thoughts on paper is really important to me,” Quarles said. “To me, zines are more social — something where you can have music going on while you create. It can be messy, fun. It breaks down that barrier of ‘do I have to spell things correctly?’”

If everything goes as planned, Quarles expects the writing center to be open by the end of September. Right now she is busy painting and remodeling the space, which is pretty small and consists of two rooms. The front room will be a shop of sorts, with supplies and resources — such as books on writing theory and books by local authors — for sale, Quarles said, and the back room will be the gathering place and will hold the workshops.  But with the ongoing pandemic, there is a good chance that all group activities will be held virtually, at least to start. Of course, like many of us, Quarles is eager to return to in-person meetings as soon as it seems safe to do so.

Quarles wanted to start the center not only to provide writers and aspiring writers with a hub to meet and to work on their craft, but also because she felt there needed to be a central place to access information on all the various resources and opportunities already available to Humboldt writers. Quarles wanted to point out that Unbound’s website contains several free resources, including a calendar of Humboldt’s literary events and journal prompts to help you inspire your creativity.

For more information on the Unbound Writing Center, you can visit the website or email questions to  unboundwritingcenter@gmail.com. If you are also passionate about writing you can help out with a donation to the Unbound Writing Center’s Gofundme page. Quarles says that the money will go towards purchasing books by local authors to have at the center and also to employ the local writers as guest lecturers for future workshops. Supporting local writers and amplifying voices in our community is a big part of Quarles mission.

“I’d love to bring in all the different facets of our writing craft, but also the different facets of our community,” Quarles said. “Writing is incredibly powerful. Words can be used for comfort, for release and can be used for change.”