Over the past week I’ve heard that the National Writers Series is described as a book club, school, bookstore, and lecture series.
I’m pretty sure any nonprofit wears more than one hat. (I have at least three on at any given time.) But through these conversations, I realized that while NWS has been around for 11 years, not everyone knows what we are doing, especially those new to the area. In fact, the phone game has gone around the world thanks to our virtual events. The change of seasons seems like a good time to talk about the what and why of NWS.
So … what are we doing?
Well, first and foremost, we are a bunch of book lovers hoping to single-handedly increase the oft-quoted statistic that most Americans only read four books a year. (The horror!) We want to connect people to great stories like “Cloud Cuckoo Land” by Pulitzer Prize winner Anthony Doerr, which The Guardian has hailed as “a dazzling epic of love, war and the joy of books.” Or books like Alex Michaelides’ world bestseller “The Maidens”, in which you turn the page so quickly that you want to miss a day reading so you don’t stay up at night.
Second, we want to have good conversations. Conversations with writers like Mary Roach, whose new book is Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law, is all about living together with the creatures that call this earth home. We know Mary is going to make a hilarious and unique shot; After all, she has been called “America’s funniest science writer” by the Washington Post. And judging from the encounters I’ve had with deer, mice, skunks, and even a bear in my own yard, she will prepare at least one TC resident for this conversation.
When it comes to conversation, part of our mission is to “create a deeper understanding of problems and ways of life both inside and outside our rural boundaries”. We know that TC is a relatively isolated community and we pride ourselves on bringing different voices and perspectives. For the next three months we’ll be speaking to Angeline Boulley, Ojibwe writer of the thriller Firekeeper’s Daughter; Jason Reynolds, National Ambassador for Youth Literature and author of “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You”; and Omar El Akkad, bestselling author of “American War” and “What Strange Paradise”.
This “what we do” list includes many hats. But there’s an even more important reason we’re doing all of this – a special hat to wear.
We do our job to fund our Raising Writers programs, which provide reading and writing opportunities for grades 4-12 students across northern Michigan. There’s Battle of the Books, the spectacular quiz competition that hits the city every winter. There’s the brand new Front Street Writers who offer free creative writing classes, the ability to publish in our annual literary journal, and connections with guest authors through online master classes. There is a scholarship competition that awards $ 56,000 to local students. And there are poetry workshops held in schools where children most desperately need encouragement to express themselves and share their stories.
So what is the National Writers Series? I think we’re part book club, part school and part lecture series. (We’re not a bookstore. We leave that to the professionals.) And why do we do what we do? So that we can raise the next generation of readers and writers … and so we can all connect here and now – and in the future – to the magic of books.
For everyone who comes to us virtually or to the city opera, I take off every single one of my hats. For those who are new, we look forward to sharing our book magic with you soon.
Jillian Manning is a local writer and executive director of the National Writers Series.