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Literary Arts

A page turns for Antioch Writers’ Workshop

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The page has turned for a beloved local literary institution with deep roots in Yellow Springs.

In a March 22 press release, the board of trustees for Antioch Writers’ Workshop  announced the workshop’s closure after 33 years.

“The workshop has a tremendous legacy, but it’s no longer financially sustainable,” TJ Turner, president of the all-volunteer board of trustees, stated in the release.

The release cited enrollment declines in the nonprofit organization’s flagship summer program as a reason for closure. Private support and grants haven’t made up the difference, according to Turner in the release.

By phone this week, Turner said the lingering impact of the economic downturn of 2008 and more online options for writers have challenged an organization whose centerpiece remained its weeklong summer workshop. That program brought together distinguished faculty from around the country to work with new and aspiring writers in a series of classes, talks, craft workshops and social events held until recently at locations around Yellow Springs.

Joyce Carol Oates, Andre Dubus III, Nikki Giovanni and Roxane Gay are just a few of the literary greats who headlined the summer workshop over the years.

“It was the gemstone of the whole program, but that format passed us by,” Turner said. 

Many more options are now available for writers starting out in their craft, according to novelist and poet Ed Davis, who attended the very first workshop in 1986 and subsequently served as an assistant director and board member.

“A person can now create his or her own Antioch Writers’ Workshop,” he said of proliferating events and advice geared to writers.

Antioch Writers’ Workshop began in 1986 as a summer program at Antioch College, serving writers of poetry, fiction and nonfiction. It became an independent nonprofit in 1991. After years in the village, including in partnership with Antioch University Midwest, AWW relocated its base of operations to the University of Dayton in 2017. 

“It was hard to re-create what we had in Yellow Springs,” Turner acknowledged.

Turner has been involved with AWW since 2006, when he first attended the workshop on a scholarship based on the strength of his manuscript submission. He has since gone on to write three novels of historical fiction. He credits mentors and colleagues at AWW in the acknowledgments of each one.

“The workshop was a great resource. People could find their voice there. I found my voice there,” he said.

In response to financial pressures and writers’ changing preferences, AWW has diversified its programming in recent years to offer different types of events throughout the year. Two free writing mini-seminars at Books & Co. at The Greene are still scheduled to take place this spring. On Sunday, April 14, at 2 p.m., poet Lori Gravley will present “From Another Voice: Reading and Writing the Persona Poem,” while on Sunday, May 19, at 2 p.m., novelist Rebecca Morean will discuss “Finding 3-D Characters.”

Though many forms of literary connection and inspiration endure, area writers expressed shock and grief over the loss of AWW.

“I was really shocked at first. The model may not work, but so many writers need to see a face,” Davis said.

AWW assistant director and author Cyndi Pauwels reflected on the change on her personal blog this week.

“The sadness at seeing AWW end will linger for a long, long time … . The AWW ‘magic’ was and always will be the people,” she wrote.

AWW director and author Sharon Short believes the workshop will continue to have an impact in our area and beyond.

“Though I know many writers in the area will miss the workshop, the strong and amazing legacy of the workshop lives on in relationships between writers and writers’ groups that came into existence because of the workshop,” she wrote in an email this week.

“We’re writers; we’re friends; we’re a literary community. And we’ll keep writing … together across the miles,” Pauwels affirmed on her blog. 

While the nonprofit is closing its doors for good, Turner did not rule out some aspect of the organization returning in another form.

“We may try to come back to something different in this new environment,” Turner said. “The door is a little open.” 

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