Dayton has a lot to offer aspiring writers.
German-born poet and novelist Hermann Hesse was once quoted as saying, “Without words, without writing and without books, there would be no history. There could be no concept of humanity.” Thankfully, the Dayton area has more than its fair share of respected and published writers to be sure humanity survives.
According to Sharon Short and Teri Rizvi, organizers of the two most popular writers’ conferences in the region, the Miami Valley has a plethora of published authors who continue to live and work in the region.
“Dayton is a mecca for writers,” says Rizvi. “With the Bombeck Workshop, Antioch Writers’ Workshop, the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, LitFest, Sinclair Community College Writers’ Workshop and the sheer volume of talented authors who routinely come to Books & Co. to introduce their new books we are a literary haven.”
Short, who is a published author and writer of a monthly Dayton Daily News column on local writers, agrees with Rizvi. “Dayton has a very strong and very prolific writing community.”
Which explains how the Dayton community hosts two very popular and well-supported writing conferences—The Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop and the Antioch Writers’ Workshop—both now conducted at the University of Dayton.
The University of Dayton conducted the first Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop in 2000 as a one-time event to commemorate the Bombeck family’s gift of Bombeck’s papers to her alma mater. According to Rizvi, the organizers thought a writers’ workshop in Bombeck’s name would be an outstanding tribute to her legacy. “It proved to be so popular (and so much fun) that we decided to offer it again.”
Today, writers inspired by Bombeck’s humor and humanity gather every other year to laugh and learn from the likes of Dave Barry, Garrison Keillor, Phil Donahue, Nancy Cartwright, Don Novello, Gail Collins, Lisa Scottoline, Alan Zweibel and Leonard Pitts. “The event always sells out,” says Rizvi. “It draws new and established writers from around the nation and is the only workshop in the country devoted to both humor and human-interest writing.”
The Erma is offered every other year with the next one scheduled for April 5-7, 2018. The event includes a mixture of classes, workshops and keynotes covering craft, publishing, humor, writing, marketing and social media. The workshop attracts 350 writers from across the nation, Canada and even beyond.
This year organizers launched A Hotel Room of One’s Own: The Erma Bombeck |Anna Lefler Humorist-in-Residence Program. Two winners will receive free registration, travel and a hotel room for next spring’s Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop at the University of Dayton Marriott, where they will then stay, all expenses paid, for another two weeks. It’s the gift of time to write—plus free room service—with a serious intent of giving emerging humor writers the luxury of time to write.
Rizvi, who has been involved with the workshop since its inception, knew Bombeck when she served on the University of Dayton board of trustees. “Her legacy is what we are building upon through this workshop in her name. In all honesty, I love laughing for three solid days. We need humor today more than ever in our world.”
The seven-day, content-rich Antioch Writers’ Workshop started in 1986 as a way to make use of the Antioch College campus in Yellow Springs during the summer when students were off.
During its more than 30-year history, the conference has grown to include creative writing workshops, seminars and retreats to poetry, fiction and nonfiction writers from across the U.S.
The summer workshop features keynotes, morning classes and seminars led by writers from across the country, including Roxane Gay, Nikki Giovanni, Joyce Carol Oates, Andre Dubus III, John Grogan, Sue Grafton, Ralph Keyes and many more. NPR affiliate WYSO-FM (91.3) airs the workshop’s evening sessions on its online platform.
After taking over as executive director in 2009, Short says she really feels more like a mother hen. “I get to step back and watch as every year two to three new writing groups emerge. It’s neat to see them spawn and to watch how they encourage each other.”
Short is also responsible for the launch of the Young Writers Summer Workshop, which gives an opportunity to 15 young writers to attend a special workshop designed just for them. Acceptance into the program is open to students ages 15-18 who live in Greene, Montgomery, Miami, Clark, Clinton, Fayette, Madison and Warren counties.
“We have had a 50 percent return rate for these students,” says Short. “They love the opportunity to hear from the adult writers, both about their successes and their struggles.”
While the summer workshop is the most popular program, the Antioch workshop has expanded to include a fall retreat, literary salons conducted three times a year and four free events at Books & Co. at The Greene. Short hopes these new programs inspire local writers to find the right community for them.
Encouraging local writers
Both Short and Rizvi agree that Dayton has a large and welcoming community to offer area writers. Whether just starting out or having already self-published a book, writers will find groups of every kind to fit their needs.
“From writing groups offered at Dayton Metro Library, the Wright Library in Oakwood and the Washington Centerville Libraries to visiting author programs offered at the universities and at Books & Co., there are so many ways to get inspired and find the help and encouragement you need,” says Short.
Rizvi adds, “Put your fear of failure aside and put words on paper. Start a blog or journal, write for a newspaper, attend a workshop, take a class—but, most importantly, just write.”
For more information on the Antioch Writers’ Workshop or the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop, visit antiochwritersworkshop.com and humorwriters.org.