About a year ago, when nonprofits everywhere were crashing, I became the Executive Director of the Writers’ Center of Indiana. Long story. Mainly, I took on the job, as a volunteer, because the Writers’ Center was there when I finally trumped up the courage to try to write and I wanted it to be there for others who dreamed of being writers and needed a place to begin.
Believe me, being the Executive Director of anything was the last thing in the world I ever thought I’d be.
(Once, in Las Vegas, my husband and I watched a disgustingly scruffy, eastern-European guy losing big-time at the high stakes Baccarat table and being a really bad sport about it. When the Casino employee leaned down and said something to him, the guy leapt up, pointed his finger at the Casino employee, and shouted, “You! You are imbecile! I want never you should be in charge of nothing!”
This has become a joke in our family. When somebody screws up—or has major potential to screw up—it’s what we say. It says a lot about I felt about this unlikely turn of events in my life.)
With the help of an amazing Board of Directors, numerous volunteers and supporters, and the indispensible Roxanna Santoro, who keeps chaos at bay in the office, the Writers’ Center is not only surviving, but thriving!
Plus, I love this work. Who’d have thought?
Saturday we had our annual Gathering of Readers and Writers, coordinated by Victoria Barrett, who, in my humble opinion, should be put in charge of organizing the universe. Award-winning poet Alice Friman, who helped found the Writers’ Center in 1979 (just in time for me to take my first class)gave a keynote address that celebrated the Writers' Center's 30th anniversary by way telling of her own story--and ended with a reading of a half-dozen poets who were there from the start.
More than a dozen Indiana writers gave break-out sessions and participated in panels on poetry, fiction, memoir, mystery-writing, screenplay, publishing, and other topics. (FYI: there are many, many accomplished, award-winning Indiana writers whose work is recognized on the national level and beyond.)
It was a wonderful day. The foyer and galleries of the Indianapolis Art Center, where the conference was held, were lined with Day of the Dead altars, each one just waiting to be turned into a story, a poem, a memoir, a movie—maybe a mystery. Even the weather was inspiring; sunny and balmy, autumn’s last gift.
But my absolute favorite moment of the day was glancing into the library where Norman Minnick, a new, young voice in poetry, was presenting a session and seeing Roger Mitchell—
well, here’s his (abridged) bio:
Roger Mitchell is the author of nine books of poetry and a work of nonfiction. Roger Mitchell is the author of nine books of poetry and a work of nonfiction. The University of Akron Press published his most recent book, Half/Mask in January, as they did his previous book, Delicate Bait, which Charles Simic chose for the Akron Prize in 2002. Mitchell is formerly the director of the Creative Writing Program at Indiana University, where he held the Ruth Lilly Chair of Poetry. Other recognition for his writing includes the Midland Poetry Award, the John Ben Snow Award for Clear pond, his work of nonfiction, two fellowships each from the Indiana Arts Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts, the River Styx International Poetry Award, and others. He was a 2005 Fellow in Poetry from the New York Foundation for the Arts.
…sitting in the audience, taking notes.
“All writers are beginners,” Alice Friman said.
She’s right. And it made me really, really happy to watch close to a hundred writers spend a whole day beginning together.