Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The State of the IWC

Janine Harrison
NOTE: With the beginning of a new year, IWC looks back on its accomplishments in 2013 and forward to its plans for 2014. We are already working on several 2014 events, including a creative writing workshop in partnership with Books, Brushes, and Bands for Education; the spring Eat & Exchange series; and the 2014 banquet, which will be paired with an afternoon conference. While the text below refers to a Saturday luncheon, we are excited to announce that the 2014 banquet will be held on a Saturday evening, following the conference, rather than as a luncheon. Be sure to reserve October 11, 2014 for that event.
What follows is President Janine Harrison’s 2013 banquet speech, which highlights IWC’s accomplishments and promise. That banquet—with Indiana Poet Laureate Karen Kovacik as its keynote speaker—was another example of IWC’s success.
* * * * *
     Within the past two weeks, I was asked, “What is your vision for the IWC?”  As the organization began, the collective response of Indiana Writers’ Consortium Officers and Board of Directors might have been, “To achieve 501c3 status” and later, something akin to “get the group off of the ground.”  We have since achieved those objectives and, in considering our goals, I would now have to answer, “It is to become increasingly relevant not only to creative writers and writing organizations throughout Indiana but also in the context of the global community of writers in the 21st century.”
     My best friend, Jackie, came over for dinner and a movie on Saturday night.  Just as I was about to press the play button on the remote control, she recounted a quick story about a post-apocalyptic British TV series entitled “Outcasts” that she’d recently watched. In it, representatives of the Earth, the best of the best— nuclear physicists, Nobel Prize Winners, child prodigies, and the like—had been saved, transported to another planet, so that humankind could carry on.  One character introduces these geniuses one by one to a newcomer and when a poet laureate is introduced, the newcomer responds, “Oh.  I didn’t know that anyone still wrote poetry.” 
     Granted, this is sci-fi, but it does make one pause for thought.
     Purdue University Calumet began hosting a yearlong One Book/One University event last academic year, and this year’s selection is Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows, in which he discusses how the Internet is affecting our brains.  Carr argues that the Internet is causing users to become increasingly distracted and that, in turn, we are less able to concentrate on serious reading.  He posits that someday, we will live in a “post-literary society” in which only an elite few read books in print.  He predicts that someday e-books will have social media integrated on a page-by-page level and that instead of reading being a solitary and reflective experience, it will be an activity that people do to fulfill belonging needs.   Oh, the horror!
     It seems, folks, that we writers are becoming increasingly marginalized.  Goodness knows that with government cuts to arts funding over the past decade, and with emphasis on informational texts in lieu of literary texts in grades 6 through 12 in the Common Core curriculum, that sidelining is being reinforced in very real and tangible ways.  It may lead some writers to wonder:  How are we to remain vital in this changing world?
     We creative writers know that in a global environment entailing mass economic disparity and strife—only exacerbated by such events as government shutdown, civil war in which a government drops chemical bombs on its own people, the ever-present threat of Al-Qaeda-related terrorism, and other universal and personal atrocities—that writing is needed, possibly more than ever before. Needed to give voice, to help readers feel less alone and less afraid amidst the daily chaos, whether through confirmation of experience and connection or escapism and disconnection.  And even if the Indiana Writers’ Consortium can contribute only to fostering a community of wordsmiths and to maintaining literature’s significance at a grassroots level, then at least we have done something to assist the creative writing discipline as a whole.  And isn’t that what life, in part, is about?  Striving for betterment however possible?
     This year, the IWC has not only become increasingly active, but we have also laid groundwork for the future.  We have continued to host three annual events.  First, the networking picnic, which was held at the Spencer House in Lowell.  Second, the dinner that you are currently attending.  Both events have reached their fifth anniversary.  The third, the Power of Poetry Project, in its fourth year, involves bringing poetry into select Indiana elementary schools in the form of poetry lessons and a contest, culminating in an awards ceremony and journal of winning entries.  A representative of the Legacy Foundation, an organization from which we have received mentorship in multiple forms as well as a grant specific to this project, announced to other not-for-profit executive directors at a recent First Friday Coffee, “The IWC does so much good work with so little money!”  It was wonderful to hear!
In addition to these projects, we have accomplished the following:
1.     We established an Eat & Exchange Series to be run annually each spring, involving roundtable discussions of different writing topics—ranging from sub-genre specific to business of writing—facilitated by members for both members and non-members at café venues, twice per month.
2.     We added a member benefit that will allow qualified writers to run creative writing workshops through the IWC at various locations throughout Northwest Indiana.  The IWC will be responsible for facility rental and advertising.  Applications for this benefit are accepted quarterly.
3.     We partnered with Purdue University Calumet to lead a creative writing event on campus in conjunction with One Book/One University.
4.     We formed a Strategic Plan Committee and drafted a Three-Year Strategic Plan, recently approved, in which membership recruitment, fundraising, member benefits, increased activity and visibility, professional development, and professionalism are highlighted. 
5.     We formed a Membership Recruitment Committee and completed phase one of annual recruitment, and are now in the throes of planning phase two. 
6.     We partnered with the Chesterton Public Library and held a book fair in combination with their end-of-summer reading event at the European Farmers Market.
7.     We gained our first intern, a Purdue University Calumet student, who has worked fifteen hours per week this semester and proven invaluable in the area of public relations.
8.     We developed a Bylaws Review Committee and have worked to revise our bylaws, created in 2008, so that they are more reflective of our needs as a now established and growing entity. 
Looking to the future, we are:
1.     Applying for a grant that would allow us to hire a fundraising consultant.
2.     Partnering with Books, Brushes, and Bands for Education to produce an annual adult creative writing workshop, targeting adults in need of a creative outlet, adults who yearn to give voice to their ideas and experiences.
3.     Beginning a twice-annual members-only reading event to allow our members increased public exposure.
4.     And, possibly our largest endeavor to date, in the beginning stages of planning a half-day Saturday creative writing conference with a keynote luncheon speaker for October 2014 with the goal of extending it to a full-day conference in two years’ time.
Finally, within the past week, we elected new officers and board members whose terms of service will begin on January 1st of 2014.  They are:
Julie Larson, our new vice president
Judy Whitcomb, our new treasurer
And Jackie Huppenthal and Katherine Flotz, both former officers, as directors. 
A hearty congratulations to all of them, and a sincere thank you to the officers and board members who volunteer their time and work tirelessly, without whom the Indiana Writers’ Consortium could not exist! 
     If you are an Indiana Writers’ Consortium member, thank you very much for your support.  I hope that you see value in your membership and will continue to support us and perhaps even take a more active role.  All Board meetings and committees are open to members.  If you are not currently a member, then I hope that you will see us as “up and coming,” and consider giving us a chance.  Our group is valuable in that we not only provide benefits to our members, but also strive, as a service organization, to benefit the community, which, in turn, benefits members in often unexpected and gratifying ways.

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