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Saturday, January 19, 2008

 

Mississippi Writers Guild: An Inspiring Story

To coincide with our annual reader’s issue, “Watch Less, Read More,” I’d like to introduce you to a vibrant new writers guild that’s breaking ground and creating a stir in the state of Mississippi. The Mississippi Writers Guild, (http://www.mississippiwritersguild.com), is a non-profit corporation formed in 2005, and has steadily worked towards building its membership and community involvement in arts and education.

Recently, I had a chance to talk with Anne McKee, the Executive Director of MWG and a founding board member. Anne’s enthusiasm is contagious. “We are a fun organization and in addition we are a grass-roots nonprofit where we meet the people, encourage all writers, published or not, and always, always seek out the little intimidated creative hearts who feel as if what they have to put on paper is of no consequence.”

Kudos to Anne and MWG! I love their mission, and all the fantastic events that they put on. If you are in the area, or simply would like to attend one of their conferences, please find out more by visiting their website: http://www.mississippiwritersguild.com

Anne was kind enough to share part of a recent interview she conducted with MWG founder, Richelle Putnam. So dig in and learn more about the guild, and what benefits it has to writers everywhere.

***

INTERVIEW WITH MWG FOUNDER, RICHELLE PUTNAM

By Anne McKee


Mississippian, Richelle Putnam, is a multi-published/award winning poet, songwriter, musician, playwright, and writer for children, but more importantly, Richelle extends her talented hands, the hands of an artist, to fellow Mississippians whom also have creative writing dreams.

It was in 2005 that Richelle felt the burden to establish a writing organization for the state of Mississippi as the result of her efforts to locate a writers support group in the state. She had attended writing conferences, workshops, and retreats sponsored by the states of Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, New York, and Georgia, but she yearned for a Mississippi group.

Thus, Mississippi Writers Guild (MWG) was born, and through the dreams of a writer who longed to join with others, and to learn and promote the craft of creative writing, the Guild has grown rapidly throughout the state.

ANNE: Has there been great excitement with Mississippi Writers Guild?

RICHELLE: It's been absolutely excitement from day one to now and the excitement never wanes. There's always something new and there's always something going on. It has been a long, tiresome journey, but it's the kind of journey, that say, a marathon runner does. You may get tired on the journey, but you're always looking at the goal, the ultimate goal, and so you just keep going. As we (the original board) got together and started coming up with our bylaws and going through all of the legal aspects, which is not fun, but is just part of it, we were all willing to take the time out of our schedules to take all of the proper steps, form a corporation, board of directors, and file for our 501c3, which is a journey in its self, because it's not easy to obtain one of those.

ANNE: How did you attract people to become part of Mississippi Writers Guild?

RICHELLE: Actually, I contacted the founder of Florida Writers Association, Glenda Ivey, and that's where I got all of the information on steps that I would need to do, and then I began searching for Mississippi writers who would be interested with partnering with me in this venture. The very first one I ever talked to was Keetha Reed. She had already seen the need for this type organization in Mississippi and she and I began to email. She found two other writers out of Jackson Mississippi who had also expressed the same desire to have a writers’ organization in Mississippi, and we began meeting in Jackson and talking about forming Mississippi Writers Guild. But as that went on, like I said, it really is a long tiresome journey and some of the people did not have the time to put forth, at that time, and two of our first members of that little group had to drop off. Then I met Anne McKee in Meridian Mississippi and she was so excited. She and I were able to meet all of the time and finally it left Keetha, Anne and I as the basic foundation people.

ANNE: Can you relive the excitement of the first event?

RICHELLE: Oh, gosh, it was exciting. It was in Nov of 2005 and we had two events planned for that day. Our first early event was at a beautiful, historic home in Meridian Mississippi, Merrehope, and we had so many people that the entire place was filled with writers anxious to come out and share their work. We had every kind of writing that you can possibly imagine and that excitement carried over to the night event of Literary Artists on Stage at The Daily Grind, a coffee shop in Meridian Mississippi. It was from Literary Artists on Stage we grabbed Ralph Gordon and Daniel Lee and from there we formed our foundation executive board for Mississippi Writers Guild.

ANNE: In order to be a member of Mississippi Writers Guild, does one need to be published?

RICHELLE: No, in fact you don't really have to consider yourself a writer. We have so many who come to Literary Artists on Stage only to listen. There are a lot of readers who appreciate the craft of writing, and without writers we would not have communication anywhere. In every area of communication there first has to be a writer.

I do believe that people can learn to write better. You can teach a person to be a creative writer and learning the craft is a very, very important aspect.

Anyone can be a member of Mississippi Writers Guild and can be a lover of reading or a respecter of writers to enjoy the journey with us, and never even have put a letter on a piece of paper.

ANNE: Is the event, Literary Artists on Stage, unique only to Mississippi Writers Guild?

RICHELLE: Literary Artists on Stage was, of course, the opening event for the Guild. It was to draw writers. What is different and unique about Literary Artists on Stage is that it's not just a Poetry Slam or it's not just a reading. All writers of every walk in life are invited to share their work. You may be a poet, or an essayist. We've had skits, and songs.

We want all writers to be able to come together for the love of their craft and not only recognize each others talents in their specific genre or category of writing, but to get excited about all categories of writing. You may not realize what you might want to pursue next. I know when I hear poetry even though that was actually not a category that I pursued as a writer, I got excited about that category, and I decided I would love to write poetry. It really urged me and prodded me to learn more about poetry, and I started journaling in poetry. I realized that learning poetry not only helped me in my rhythmic writing, but it also helped me in my writing of fiction. I think any writing enhances the other writing.

ANNE: Mississippi Writers Guild is busy with chapters throughout the state and each chapter is making their contribution to literary events. Each group is styled by the needs of their individual chapter, and the Guild comes together at certain times of the year, one of which is the annual writing conference. Could you tell the readers about the first writing conference?

RICHELLE: Our very first writers conference was at Eagle Ridge Conference Center, August 3, 4 2007 and we had an awesome slate of speakers. We had as our keynote, Joshilyn Jackson, author of, Gods in Alabama and Between Georgia and her coming book, The Girl who Stopped Swimming. She had earned many awards for her first two books, and she delivered the keynote address on Friday evening. We also had for our Saturday workshops, our all day workshops, Joshilyn Jackson, Barbara Garshman, Garshman Productions, author of Create and Sell a TV Series, was the Saturday keynote speaker. Barbara is an Emmy nominated producer of the daytime soap, Guiding Light. John Rawl from Y'all Magazine. Charles Tolbert, New York City literary agent/attorney. Rebecca Jernigan, playwright, poet and member of Mississippi and Southern Artist Roster. John Floyd has published over 500 short stories and winner of 2007 Derringer Award for mystery fiction. C. Hope Clark of Funds for Writers. I think Hope presented one of the best workshops I attended at the conference where we learned of funds available to help writers financially.

ANNE: Could you tell the readers about the 2008 writing conference?

RICHELLE: It's going to be at The Battlefield Conference Center in Vicksburg Mississippi on August 15, 16. We already have three wonderful speakers lined up. We have Tom B. Sawyer, who was the head writer from Murder, She Wrote, and he is excited about coming to Mississippi. Cheryl Sloan Ray who is a freelance writer and specializes in magazine writing. Sue B. Walker, the Poet Laureate for Alabama, and her resume is outstanding. We already have other speakers who we are still waiting to hear from, in fact, two that could not come this year, Regina Brooks from Serendipity Literary Agency, and Jennifer Pooley from William Morrow Books both had conflicts for 2008, and have asked to be able to be speakers for our 2009 conference, so we already have two speakers for the 2009 conference. People are excited about Mississippi and the conference. I think that each year is going to get better and better.

ANNE: Please tell the readers about the 2008 MWG Spring Retreat for membership.

RICHELLE: The MWG Spring Retreat will be on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 2008, April 5. Our Gulf Coast Chapter affiliate, Gulf Coast Writers Association, Philip Levin, is the President, and they are hosting our very first Spring Retreat.

I know everyone has burned in his or her memory Katrina and that Katrina ravaged the Mississippi Gulf Coast. We are hoping to bring some life to the Coast, and to have our first event there after that tragic event. They (the Gulf Coast) are still rebuilding, and we are excited about being able to go there. John Floyd, who was one of our conference speakers, from Jackson Mississippi will be the facilitator for the Spring Retreat.

ANNE: If someone would want to support Mississippi Writers Guild but did not want to become a member, what are the opportunities?

RICHELLE: We have many sponsorship opportunities. We do have people who will give us a little donation after attending one of our events, like attendees at Honoring Historic Mississippi Writers. We are now approaching businesses that would like to partner with different art organizations and educational facilities.

We are in the process of getting up Friends of Mississippi Writers Guild, for those who really admire the writers because they are readers.

ANNE: What is ahead for MWG in the New Year?

RICHELLE: We are really excited about partnering with Michael Garrett who has his own web site and business called, Writing2sell. He teaches, How to be Published Workshops. We have partnered with him to do five writing workshops all over the state of Mississippi during 2008. He (Michael Garrett) does not teach how to write. It's never too early to learn all of the aspects of writing, and he teaches all over the south. (See our web site for a listing of locations, dates and times).

Plus, there are so many talented Guild members. We have Guild sponsored workshops at libraries for children. One member, Daniel Lee, does a wonderful workshop, The Science of Science Fiction, and children love it. Anne McKee and I partner together doing our Mississippi Heritage Program at Head Start Schools and public libraries. I have done writer workshops for several years now, and another member, Sarah Mutziger, a storyteller, is really awesome. Guild member, Virginia Dawkins, is published in several Cup of Comfort books and shares writing from personal experience.

ANNE: It seems as if Mississippi Writers Guild has a story to tell. Why do you think this two year old organization has been nominated for the most prestigious arts award in the state of Mississippi, The Governor's Arts Award for Excellence 2008, and how do you think it came about?

RICHELLE: It came about through the excitement. I think that not only has Mississippi Writers Guild become an organization on paper, it has become an organization as a volunteer organization. MWG is out there all of the time. We volunteer for other arts organizations and other events.

The MWG event, Honoring Historic Mississippi Writers, is not about writing, but about writers. To pull yourself away from your own projects in order to honor a historic writer and to keep them alive through that program and through research by becoming that person shows the caliber of the members of MWG who just aren't about their own work. We are a volunteer organization and we care about Mississippi and we care about our students and we care about people in Mississippi or outside of Mississippi who have a writing dream. We help them to pursue that dream.

We encourage writers to go to our MWG web site and look around to see what things they can find and what avenues they might go down. Also, there is a contact number to contact us and we get questions all of the time. We recommend that you connect with someone first, someone you trust, because so many scams would love to grab a first time writer. Unfortunately scams thrive on writers who don't know what to do.

And a final thought: if you are a new writer and if you are considering writing, don't let it be a flashing thought, because it will come back, and rather than just thinking about it, go on and take that first step. Contact us or another writing organization and get those questions answered that have been nagging you and going on and on in your mind. Don't put it off any longer. Our web site, www.mississippiwritersguild.com.

Anne McKee's closing remarks for WOW readers:

I thank Richelle Putnam for taking time to thoughtfully answer questions about Mississippi Writers Guild. It is my hope that in some way a writer will be inspired and encouraged to continue their quest into the magical world of a creative writer.

***

Anne McKee is the Executive Director of Mississippi Writers Guild and a founding board member. She is an award-winning playwright with three plays produced during the year of 2007. Anne is a humorist, public speaker, newspaper columnist, speechwriter, creative writing workshop facilitator, and has been published in several southern journals. Anne has a passion for encouraging new writers.

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3 Comments:

Anonymous MacMarine said...

Dear WOW & Readers,
My experience with these two fine ladies has led me to a much richer life. Having been taking care of an invalid Mom for the past four years and sometimes that gets depressing. These two fine gals came along and got me off of my rear and both writing and entertaining to produce a much richer life! Barry McMullan

8:37 AM  
Blogger Gulfportdoc said...

MWG has been a fantastic inspiration to writers throughout the stete. Richelle and Anne and the many members have been instrumental in a resurgence of Mississippi writing. All area writers should avail themselves of the opportunities MWG provided. Do check out their website. Do participate!

10:27 AM  
Blogger Hope Clark said...

As a panel participant in the first annual MWG conference, I can say from first-hand experience that it was a touching, phenomenally charged meeting. Even though it was small, the hospitality, the enthusiasm, and the spirit were awesome. I remember the event fondly and suggest it highly. Hey, Richelle, thought about inviting me back??? :) Had such a nice, nice time.

10:31 AM  

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