Friday, April 23, 2010

The Writers’ Workshop Watch: New partnerships, new programs, a bigger better AWW

Villagers and participants attended the Keynote Speech by novelist Zakes Mda in the lecture hall at Antioch McGregor in 2009. (Photo by Virgil Hervey)

Ten years ago, I quit my law practice in New York City and moved my family to the Yellow Springs area to devote more time to writing. I figured Yellow Springs was a writer friendly town. I was right.

We were living down the road in Xenia that first year while looking for the right house in Yellow Springs, when I read an announcement in the newspaper that the Antioch Writers’ Workshop (AWW) was taking applications for its workfellow program. I wasn’t sure I was eligible. Besides, I reasoned, I was too busy working on a novel. No time for workshopping…

I couldn’t have been more wrong. The next spring, I applied for a workfellowship and got it. I was so gung ho that I was soon hired on as an assistant director. I took the position with one stipulation: that I would be allowed to attend the seminars and participate in the afternoon intensive fiction section in which I had already enrolled. They said okay.

It was that first summer at the Writers’ Workshop that I realized that I had wasted a year working on my novel without the benefit of all I came to learn from Clint McCown’s fiction seminars and Tim Waggoner’s fiction intensive sessions. I enjoyed the experience so much; I signed on for a second year. Between those two summers, I was nominated for a Pushcart Prize for a short story I wrote using some of what I had learned at the Writers’ Workshop. I had taken my writing to a new level.

Grateful for the experience and the friendships I made, I stayed close to the Workshop over the next few years, attending evening events; covering it for the local newspaper where I had landed a reporter job and, later, for my blog; putting up a workfellow in our guestroom; and even holding a faculty cookout on my deck one year. The Writers’ Workshop has that magnetic effect on people. Participants return year-after-year. My friend Wendy Beckman has been a workfellow since long before I first worked there. She will be back again this year. One year, she gave the first book talk. I was there to root her on.

As the Antioch Writers’ Workshop celebrates its 25th anniversary, I am prompted to reflect on the ten years I have been keeping watch on it. In its early days, it was held wholly on campus at Antioch College. By the time I became involved, we were using the dining hall for meals and holding the keynote speeches in Kelly Hall. Everything else was centered in the village. The now defunct Center Stage was “workshop central” and the venue for the morning seminars and evening programs. The afternoon intensive sessions were held at a variety of locations around town.

Participants taking advantage of the outdoors at the Glen Building in 2008. (Photo by Virgil Hervey)

Later, the Workshop was centered in the Glen Helen Building. A couple years ago it started the move to Antioch McGregor where, due to a new partnership with the college that involves McGregor students taking the workshop for credit, it has taken up permanent residence.

The afternoon sessions, however, are still held at locations all around the village. Both the writers and the villagers like it that way. In part, it's the “Yellow Springs experience” that makes the Antioch Writers’ Workshop unique.

What does year 25 have in store for participants? If I hadn’t been keeping an eye on what they were doing, I might not have recognized the new AWW and its revamped programs.

One new program is aimed at young writers. According to AWW Director Sharon Short in a recent interview, the idea of bringing young writers into the fold arose from a situation where a young man who had received a scholarship through a competition jointly sponsored by AWW and the Dayton Daily News performed particularly well at the workshop. AWW had not been accepting participants under the age of eighteen. When informed that a high school student had won the scholarship, the board was in a bit of a quandary, Short said. The situation resolved itself, however, when it was learned that the young writer had reached eighteen. As it turned out he was one of the participants chosen to read his work at the close of the workshop.

“He was such a great reader that we realized we had been missing out,” Short said.

Due to their blossoming partnership with Antioch University McGregor, there was available space to take on a young writers section of up to 15 participants. With help from grants, including one from the Yellow Springs Community Foundation, part of their tuition will be underwritten by AWW. The program will be open to high school students ages 15-18 from Greene and its contiguous counties.

Noteworthy is the fact that not only has the young writers program been a byproduct of the scholarship competition, but a formal partnership between the Dayton Daily News and AWW has also developed in the running of the contest.

Another change that will be implemented in year 25 is an accommodation to those writers “for whom a full week is a bit overwhelming,” Short said. This year for the first time there will be a one-day workshop on the opening Saturday.

“This is an opportunity to get a taste of the workshop without having to do the full week,” she said.

In yet another change, AWW will also be offering morning-only classes or afternoon-only focus on form seminars at a reduced price. They are calling these their “a la carte offerings.”

As a thank you to the community and to Antioch McGregor, which has donated year-round office space and use of its classrooms, lecture hall and all purpose room during the week of the workshop, AWW will be donating a book by each of its keynote speakers for the past 25 years to both the Yellow Springs Library and the McGregor library. On May 1, at 2:00 p.m. there will be a public celebration of AWW’s 25th anniversary at Books and Co. in Kettering with book signings by past and present faculty.

This year the Antioch Writers’ Workshop will be held from July 10 – 16. The keynote speaker will be Sigrid Nunez, the New York-based author of five novels including A Feather on the Breath of God and Naked Sleeper.

More information about this year’s workshop and its new programs can be found at

Related posts:

Writers’ Workshop and McGregor: Forging a lasting collaboration

Writers’ Workshop Info Session/Book Signing at Books & Co.

Calling all writers ages 15-18 interested in creative writing!

Antioch Writers' Workshop announces new programs, 2010 faculty

Writers' Workshop - revamped Website and offerings

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