In January 2010, Patricia Lee Lewis invited four writer friends – Jacqueline Sheehan, Celia Jeffries, Joan Barberich, and Ellen Meeropol – to dream together about starting a writers’ collective in Western Massachusetts. They would offer free craft programs and salons, would serve as a clearinghouse for writers looking for writers groups and editing services, would reach out to underserved groups. They hoped to provide a welcoming space for writers to gather and network, without duplicating the already rich literary landscape of the Pioneer Valley.
Over the next year, joined by Becky Jones, Carol Bevan-Bogart, and Linda McCullough Moore, they considered structures and missions, membership and coalitions with other writers’ organizations. They surveyed writers about their needs. They celebrated their first birthday with their first public event, a wildly successful salon conversation with Jane Yolen and Corinne Demas, titled “Writing Despite Life’s Interruptions.” The group set out chairs and handouts for 30 people and 90 people showed up!
Other writers joined (Macci Schmidt, Mary Ann Scognamiglio, Doris Atkinson, Terry Johnson, Missy Wick, Kathy Dunn). The group established a program of free monthly events (craft programs and salons about the writing life) publicized by regular e-newsletters and a website. Programs ranged from writing short fiction, poems, and novels, to creating/maintaining writing groups, to selling your work.
Over the next few years, the group applied for and received 501C3 nonprofit tax-exempt status, upgraded the website, started a blog, and developed a membership program. A monthly open mic called Writers Night Out was started. Craft programs and salons flourished, with topics including YA literature and fantasy, creating memorable characters, and writing personal narrative in an impersonal world. Straw Dog members presented at the AWP annual conferences and Berkshire Festival of Women Writers. The Guild partnered with 30 Poems! to benefit the Center for New Americans, and participated in Easthampton Bookfest.
Programs expanded to include grammar, playwriting, meditation as muse, revision, flash fiction, translation, and panels with local publishers and literary magazines. An advisory board was established, with charter members Graham Immerman, Jane Yolen, Elinor Lipman, William Newman, Maggie Baumer, Carol Connare, and Richard Michelson. Annual membership parties and participation in Valley Gives raised funds to pay presenters an honorarium. An annual showcase of member readings from recently published books was introduced in 2014. Twice a year, committee members were invited to participate in a retreat to evaluate the guild’s work and plan for the coming months.
The most recent changes, decided at the July 2016 retreat, were to hire a part-time Administrative Director, Laura Stone, and to join Click Workspace. As Straw Dog Writers Guild moves into 2017, the group hopes to continue to grow and change, and
to collaborate with other writers and artists to strengthen our community.