by Cynthia Kraack
Write On, Door County (WODC) is unique among its peers, the various writing programs strung across this vast country. We are located far away from a metropolitan area, have reached thousands of people with low cost or free programming early in our existence and, at a little over three years old, we made a big debut on the national literary stage by sponsoring a New York Times bestselling author at the 2017 Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) conference in Washington, D.C., Feb. 8-11.
We were backed with a distinctly Door County trade show booth. Featuring an 8’ x 10’ reproduction of a photo by Peninsula Publishing photographer Len Villano, the iconic scene included an outstanding view of the peninsula: towering bluffs and the blue waters of Lake Michigan, topped by green trees.
In a prime conference location, WODC was one of the first booths seen by thousands of attendees entering the AWP Bookfair, the event’s central gathering place. Located in the first row, our booth had the right mix to draw attendees: a national writing contest (the Peninsula Pulse’s Hal Prize), registration for an upcoming poetry conference that will feature internationally acclaimed writer Naomi Shihab Nye, an attractive retreat location for writers seeking a brief writing residency, and free food.
AWP’s conference annually attracts 12,000 or more writers, editors, educators and publishers. For three days, attendees choose from panel presentations, readings and events related to topics as diverse as the craft of writing, teaching writing, the business of writing, the writing life. Jerod Santek, WODC’s executive director, is on AWP’s Board of Directors and has been responsible for helping administer two of AWP’s past conferences.
Students, professional writers, faculty and publishers stopped to talk and ask questions. People from every part of the United States as well as England, Japan and Russia visited. Many introduced themselves with stories familiar to Door County residents: “My grandparents had a place in Fish Creek we visited every summer.” “My parents took us to a place with goats on the roof.”
We spent a lot of time doing the mitten map (“Picture my hand as Wisconsin, with the thumb as the Door Peninsula”) to show those unfamiliar with Wisconsin where Len Villano’s wonderful booth photo had been taken. No one walked away without healthy dried cherries. Most signed up to hear more from us. We handed out thousands of course catalogs with information on upcoming writing classes, how to apply for a writer’s residency, and how to submit stories, poems and photography for Hal Prize consideration.
WODC exposed the Hal Prize to the largest writing community gathering in the nation, and many asked for information about the judges, deadlines, the entry process and awards. Publication, cash, plus a week at WODC’s writing residency retreat sparked definite interest. The Hal Prize reading team and judges will be busy.
In partnership with the New York-based Center for Fiction, WODC presented the New York Times bestselling author Emma Straub and prize-winning novelist Ann Patchett for a reading and discussion. Emma’s family has Door County friends and connections. She and Ann spoke about writing as a craft as well as how writers play an important role during difficult times. The room was packed.
I’ve been to a handful of other AWP conferences but none were as memorable as working the crowd with our WODC contingent to share the news that good writing is highly valued on the beautiful shores of Lake Michigan in Door County, Wisconsin.
Cynthia Kraack is a Midwest author with roots in Luxemburg, Wis. A founding board member of Write On, Door County, she currently splits her time between the Twin Cities and Door County.