An important and long-running chapter of my life came to a final final end this past week. After 33 years of stellar programming, the venerable Antioch Writers’ Workshop has closed its doors. I (and a few others) were all but certain at the end of the July 2018 summer session that the event wouldn’t happen again, and that entire week was filled with bittersweet “last” moments. The March 22, 2019, announcement simply made it public, and official.
Since I first started writing seriously, right about the time AWW came into being (1986), I dreamed of joining the family of writers who gathered every summer just 3 hours south of my home in Northwest Ohio. But young children and work and responsibilities meant that that didn’t happen until a few years after Hubby and I moved to the Dayton area. With AWW in my backyard, my excuses dwindled.
I was able to fold the summer session into my grad school curriculum at Antioch McGregor in 2009, and that week in July became the focal point of my year: my time with my tribe. I was honored to be a First Book speaker in 2010, and then became a volunteer workfellow in 2011. When Sharon Short asked me to come aboard as her Assistant Director in 2015, I was beyond thrilled. She’s become one of my closest friends, who still laughs every time I called her “Boss.”
The array of talent shared by AWW over the years is truly astonishing for a workshop from tiny Yellow Springs, Ohio. While I missed hearing my idol Sue Grafton at either of her AWW keynote appearances (1995, 2005), I still quote Zakes Mda (2009), Andre Dubus III (2014), and Roxane Gay (2016). I’m friends/social-media connections with former faculty members Hallie Ephron, Lori Rader-Day, Lee Martin, Dinty W. Moore, Cathy Day, John Grogan, David B. Coe, Laraine Herring, Chris Tebbetts, Jyotsna Sreenivasan…and so many more.
The sadness at seeing AWW end will linger for a long, long time, but warm memories temper the grief. Like a true church is not a building, AWW is more than just a place or an event. The AWW “magic” was and always will be in the people. That AWW family – the Board, the faculty, the attendees – have helped make me the writer I am today. My first true writers’ group came from the 2009 gathering: Tami Absi, Jim Brooks, Lori Fetters Lopez. Many of the workfellows I shared chores and drinks with remain close friends: Jan Irvin, Joanne Smith, Matt Garrett. I even met my first monk at AWW; Fr. Augustine was a beta reader for my last novel.
The hardest part of last week’s public notice has been the post-mortems – the Monday-morning quarterbacks who want to rehash everything. I keep reminding myself that while I’ve had months to process my grief, other AWW faithful are just beginning.
Yet it’s difficult to hear “Did you try…?” “Why did you…?” “What about..?” “What if…?” The decision to finally close the program, to leave on the high note that was a successful summer 2018 session, wasn’t made lightly, or overnight. It came after many painful months of seeking other options, other avenues to continue in a variety of different formats. And while I wasn’t privy to all the Board discussions, I was involved enough to know they did all they could at this stage.
Unfortunately, this day has been in the offing for some time, and the current iteration of the Board was forced to make the hard call. I applaud their dedication to the spirit of AWW and remain eternally grateful for the opportunity to work for such an exemplary program.
All of us in the AWW family share a bond that will linger far past any formal 501(c)3 organization’s demise. We’re writers; we’re friends; we’re a literary community. And we’ll keep writing…together across the miles.