Our Story

At the National Writers Series, we love to tell stories.

This one began in 2009 when around our small kitchen table, Anne and Doug Stanton, along with attorney friend Grant Parsons asked the question: What if?

What if America’s bestselling and literary authors came on their book tour to the City Opera House to talk about their lives, ideas, history, politics and the books they write. We dreamed of readers flocking to the City Opera House and listening to meaningful conversations that would create a deeper understanding in our community of issues and ways of life that exist outside of our northern Michigan boundaries.

This crazy dream came true, thanks to a hugely supportive community. In 2010, we formed a nonprofit, the National Writers Series of Traverse City, and invited authors Tom Brokaw, James Bradley and Peter Matthiessen. They said yes early on, thanks to their friendship with Doug. Since our founding, thousands of people have arrived at the City Opera House year-round to be inspired, educated and entertained by great conversations with our most entertaining and provocative writers.

And then in 2012, we asked another question. What if we created a really excellent and challenging creative writing program for public school students. In an age that focuses so heavily on the hard sciences, we thought there should also be a place for young students to write and think creatively. Literacy is vitally important. And clarity in writing and thought is a number one requisite for any graduate seeking employment.

As we created our program, we looked to the Interlochen Arts Academy, where Doug attended high school as a scholarship student. Having been raised in a blue-collar family, he credited his success, in part, to the intensive creative writing instruction at Interlochen. (He also remained grateful to his scholarship benefactor Helen Osterlin, which is why he continues to “give back” to the community.)

So, like Interlochen, we hire only teachers who are published writers and possess a Master of Fine Arts degree. Early on, we partnered with the public school system to offer creative writing classes during the school day. Students learned how to workshop their writing in a safe and supportive environment. And authors speaking on the NWS mainstage—most recently Hampton Sides, Anna Quindlen, and CNN legal analyst Barbara McQuade—have taken the time to visit these students and share advice on the craft of writing and their own personal journey.

After our early years of partnering with a high school to offer these classes, we realized the importance of nurturing creative writing skills early on. In 2017, we created a poetry workshop series for Traverse Heights and Blair elementary schools, where many students qualify for the free lunch program.

We were also inspired to create Battle of the Books after wondering, What if young children were able to read fun, well-written books that stretched their minds and imaginations. What if we created a competition—a battle of sorts-where teams would read a set of books together and then compete in a trivia contest to show their book smarts. Two years ago, we added creative elements to honor those with big imaginations: kids now create a board game and write skits based on a battle book of their choosing.

Our final what if, is what would happen if we took creative writing classes to where students live—in distant corners of northern Michigan. We now offer after-school classes so that students no longer have to drive or get bused into a Traverse City classroom. In the last two years, our Raising Writers after-school, creative writing classes have extended to Antrim and Manistee counties with a wonderful response.

For years, NWS operated on a shoestring budget, but in late 2022, thanks to the generosity of grantors and donors, we were able to hire Ari Mokdad as our part-time education manager. She became full-time this year and has exploded Raising Writers into a multi-faceted program that now engages 1,200 students and offers classes in six counties: Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Leelanau and Manistee.

With this growth has come new expenses to pay teachers and buy materials, including laptops that are loaned to students who lack them.

We hope you can help support our continually exciting and significant venture!

Thanks to all!
The NWS staff and Board of Trustees