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Emily Menges’ literary newspaper ‘Bel Esprit’ grows, building on Portland’s creative writing community

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Writers benefit from a sense of community. It’s a truth that dates back to the classic works of Ernest Hemingway and carries on into the small pockets of creativity found in cities like Portland.

Inspired in many ways by the writing community Hemingway created while living in Paris, Portland Thorns defender Emily Menges has started her own literary newspaper called Bel Esprit. It’s a few print editions in after its beginning as an online-only publication, and Bel Esprit is gaining some new subscribers among the Rose City Riveters and others in the Portland area.

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“The name for Bel Esprit came from a passage in A Moveable Feast by Hemingway,” Menges said. “Hemingway was living in Paris and ran in a small literary crowd. His buddy Ezra Pound who, while having some questionably fascist ideas, came up with a concept called Bel Esprit and Hemingway quickly hopped on board. At the time T.S. Elliot was working in a bank and everyone, specifically Ezra and Hemingway, thought Elliot should not be working in a bank because he should be writing and also because he hated it. They came up with Bel Esprit as a way to pool money and take donations so that Elliot could stop working in the bank.”

Menges’ newspaper, which started in October of 2020 and only recently added its print edition, pays $25 per publication in the paper to local writers who want to get their work out there. The print edition comes out once a month with a constantly rotating series of articles posted on the paper’s website.

Menges will also post news/analysis on Instagram to add to the flow of content from Bel Esprit.

“I’ve been working my way up with the goal of having a physical newspaper the entire time,” Menges said. “July was my fourth edition in print, even though it was my 22nd edition total. I have always liked to write, and I have some friends around town who also like to write, and we formed this writing guild-type deal where we’d get together every so often.

“That was my first introduction to a kind of writing community. Bel Esprit came out of that with the idea of giving people a platform to publish on for those who wouldn’t necessarily have it otherwise. Being able to do whatever I want with it has been really fun.”

Menges hopes the work published in Bel Esprit is an “enjoyable, fun way” to consume news content while primarily consuming literary work. Poetry, essays and short stories are all accepted as pitches, and Menges tries to make space for as much work as possible from her tight-knit writers’ community and beyond.

Her Thorns teammates read and support it, too. Fellow defender Kelli Hubly is a hardcore fan of the crossword puzzles, so Menges said the next crossword will be Hubly-themed as a nod to her. It’s all fun and loose, but it’s important for the creatives Menges associates with to get their work out there, too.

“The concept of donating and ‘energetically’ supporting the passion projects of my peers so that they need not sacrifice their creative pursuits for anything was a main motivating factor in starting Bel Esprit, and why I named it such,” Menges said.

— Ryan Clarke, rclarke@oregonian.com





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