A selection of photos from recent National Writers Series Events.
Susan Wilcox Olson
A New Year’s Message from Doug Stanton:
“..all of us have created something special here.”
Thank you from the entire NWS staff, Jill Tewsley and I for making 2012 our third successful year at the National Writers Series! As we forge ahead into the new year, it is a great time to thank everyone from around the state and the US — families, merchants, students, teachers, booksellers, authors, and publishers — who’ve helped make NWS a success.
Traverse City and NWS have become a must-stop on authors’ national tours. This year-round book festival meets at the historic City Opera House. For 120 years, the Opera House has been our town’s meeting place. If the gold-leaf and frescoed walls could talk, they would echo back to us spirited debates, nineteenth century operettas, basketball games, Olympic sporting events, classical music concerts, weddings — the thrum of daily life throughout a century in the town in which I’m proud to have grown up. Authors from across the country are bowled over when they walk into the Opera House. They tell us that being at NWS was one of the best and most successful experiences of their book tours. According to Kristi Dockter, Director of Operations and Marketing for the Opera House, “the Opera House is a vibrant community gathering place that hosted 120 events with 50,000 attendees during fiscal year 2011/12.”
2013 is shaping up to be an even bigger year, and we can’t wait to unveil our new programming of arts and literary events. We are doing other great things, too. We are expanding our list of guests. We are growing our new Front Street Writers Studio, in a welcome partnership with Traverse Area Public Schools. We are working with libraries to promote their invaluable worth to our community. And, we are working with writers living locally to build more workshop opportunities.
Front Street Writers is a new, one of a kind writing workshop, and it’s a culmination of a long-time desire I had to create first-class creative writing instruction for public high school students, such as I’d wished for growing up in Traverse City. The classes are free, they’re demanding, and we don’t know of many other programs like this in the US. We are proud partners with TCAPS, its school board and administration, in this new venture. If you don’t yet know about Front Street Writers you can read more about it here.
Throughout the past year, we set attendance records, selling out the Opera House with amazing, book-loving audiences who ask the best questions! “We heard all about you in Chicago,” said one author on tour when he and his publicist arrived here in Traverse City. In three short years, in the words of Poets and Writers and Publishing Perspectives, two of publishing’s must-read publications, the National Writers Series has become one of the US’s “premier literary events.” We want to thank the publishers and writers around the country, and here in Traverse City, who’ve also helped make this happen in Traverse City. “It’s so cool,” recent guest Michael Connelly remarked, “that this is organized by writers.”
It’s true. In the early going, most of the writers who came here were friends, and today that remains true, with the addition of new authors who’ve heard of us through the grapevine and from their publishers — those authors are enchanted by Traverse City and leave as new friends. We are not run by a for-profit business. We are a 501c3 nonprofit, and most of us (including me) don’t draw a salary, and the salaries that are drawn are small compared to other area arts non-profits. Most of what we have accomplished has been done with a true volunteer work force. And yet, we are putting on book events that happen only in cities like New York, LA, Seattle, and great book stores across the country like Mitch Kaplan’s Books & Books in Miami, the Tattered Cover in Denver, City Lights in San Francisco, and Powell’s in Portland, OR.
I know I’m missing other places, but my point is that all of us have created something special here in Michigan. As a result, Traverse City audiences get to hear, meet, and talk to authors who typically only visit major metropolitan areas. On a Monday an author like Lee Child was on CBS This Morning, and just three days later he was in Traverse City at our new Front Street Writers studio teaching a master class to area public school students — something that no other high school student outside of Traverse City experienced during Child’s entire international book tour.
I say all of this because we’ve grown to national stature on a shoestring budget, and we need your help in 2013. The monies earned at our events help to support Front Street Writers and our scholarship program, which has awarded nearly $20,000 to area college-bound students. Your financial support is critical to our success. One dollar, ten dollars, or more, whatever you can give– it makes a difference. Your generosity goes directly back into our educational programs and into the evenings of conversation onstage.
Since 2009, we’ve brought thousands of people downtown, hosted 60 plus authors and hundreds of hours of amazing conversation, and we’ve promoted these events — and the message that Traverse City is a readers’ and writers’ haven — to millions of people. And, on our weekly TV segment on NBC, Writers Minute, we have promoted more than 100 authors, book stores and book-related events.
I was in Ann Arbor this past year when a member of the creative writing faculty at University of Michigan paid the compliment that NWS has fundamentally changed the way people meet writers and that others had taken notice of this. Just last year, Publishers Weekly said this, “Some observers believe that Traverse City’s growing reputation as a city of book lovers can also be attributed to the National Writers Series, founded in 2009.” It was the winter of 2009, in fact, around this time of the year, that NWS started at our kitchen table on Madison Street, with a simple idea. I thought we all would respond to talk — passionate talk — about books, writing, places, people– art. Just a few days ago, on NPR’s “Studio 360,” I heard a fascinating show called “Culture Shock, 1913,” which reports on this in fascinating detail.
There was a time when people didn’t make icons of entertainers/politicians and anoint them as our wayfarers and arbiters. Artists really are our society’s agents of change. If you listen to the radio show “Culture Shock, 1913,” you may be surprised, as I was, by how audiences reacted to the performance of Stravinsky’s Rite Of Spring. What I would say is this: cancel your favorite pundit’s/activist’s Twitter Feed and listen to Stravinsky, and try to imagine the feelings that this piece of art stirred in people almost 100 years ago. “Poetry is news that stays news,” said poet William Carlos Williams. I once heard someone explain that if he wrote something and broadcast it, it had to be true– because so many people would read it and believe it because he had published it. This, unfortunately, is the world we are in. Art is an antidote to this kind of self-loving heart. How can you say that “The Grapes of Wrath” is true or not true? That an Alice Munro story is not real? These portraits mystify, confuse, and, ultimately, clarify our condition. “The thing about a story,” writes Tim O’Brien in The Things They Carried, “is that you dream it as you tell it, hoping that others might then dream along with you…” Stories really do make us human.
Thank you from all of us for your support. I hope to see you downtown at the Opera House and at the Front Street Writers Studio, at 123 West Front Street, in 2013.
Happy New Year,