In the Spotlight
Executive Director, Aspen Words
New York City Member Since: 2007
About: Adrienne Brodeur, an award-winning editor and published author, currently serves as the Executive Director of Aspen Words, a literary nonprofit and program of the Aspen Institute. She worked as a consulting editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and co-founded the award-winning literary magazine Zoetrope: All-Story with filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola. In 2013, Adrienne established the Aspen Words Emerging Writer Fellowship, which now awards ten scholarships annually for writers to attend the Aspen Summer Words writing conference, and this year is launching the Aspen Words Literary Prize, which will award $35,000 annually for an influential work of fiction that illuminates a vital contemporary issue.
Photo Credit: John Curry
What is the best writing advice that you dispense to your students?
Read, read, read. Write every day. Writing is a muscle and needs to be exercised. Reading great books is like having a private tutor. Read like a writer; pay attention to what makes great books great.
If you could require every student in your program to read only one book, which would it be?
Picking just one is difficult. The Great Gatsby comes to mind. Fitzgerald navigates cynicism, class mobility, and prisms of deception with a compelling story that truly brings that era to life. It is one of a handful of books that I have enjoyed reading several times throughout my life.
What is the best career advice that you dispense to your students (information about the query process, publishing, finding an agent, etc.)?
Do your homework and don't send your work out before it's ready. I can empathize with the urge to show your work and get published, but I also know when writing isn’t ready for a public viewing. Also, know where you are sending your work. Read the publications you are submitting to. Make sure that the agent you’re interested in handles the type of material you are writing. Get involved in the writing community and be proactive. Remember that writers today have to wear a lot of hats. I used to think: writers write, editors edit, publishers publish. The fact is, in today’s world, writers must actively participate in all these things.
What has been the best experience of building or sustaining a creative writing program?
Bringing the right instructors to the Summer Words Conference so participants are not just in the presence of great talent, but also exposed to authors who really want to teach and nurture writers. We have been able to bring in amazing authors who bridge the gap between a traditional literary conference and the intensive MFA programs. It is incredibly satisfying to see the difference a week can make for students working in our intimate and rigorous workshops. Also, creating the Emerging Writer Fellowship program has been incredibly rewarding as it has allowed us to provide exceptional new voices with a full scholarship to attend the conference.
What is the greatest compliment that you could ever receive about your writing?
That it moved someone on an emotional level, whether it was by making them laugh, feel a certain truth, or it helped shift their perspective in a meaningful way.
Why did you decide to join AWP?
Becoming a member of AWP is a must for anyone interested in writing. I refer to it regularly to help keep up with what's happening in the literary world.
What would be your advice to new AWP members on how to make the most of their membership?
Visit the AWP website regularly; it's an invaluable resource for networking, keeping up with industry news, keeping track of literary events and industry jobs, and connecting with other writers. Attend the conference and sit in on as many panels as possible, while also making time to bump into old friends and connect with new people in the industry.
How have your outreach efforts changed over the last five to ten years?
In the last five years, we have developed a more robust Writer in Residence program, providing space and time in a beautiful retreat setting for numerous talented authors to make significant leaps forward on writing projects. These writers have included a remarkable array of National Book Award finalists, New York Times bestsellers, award winning novelists, and poets.
How does your organization work on behalf of its members, constituents, or clients?
We keep literature and its creators accessible to our community. Our community has access to their favorite authors through our Winter Words and Summer Words events, which provide opportunities for dialog during receptions, book signings, and Q&As. Our members receive discounted tickets and special events with authors, literary agents and editors, and other working writers.
In keeping with Aspen Words’ commitment to the local community, the Aspen Writer's Network was formed to provide mutual support and networking opportunities for writers and aspiring writers in the Roaring Fork Valley. AWN is geared towards advanced writers seeking to take the next step in their writing and/or to further their professional careers. It also provides a networking group for encouragement, support, camaraderie, and inspiration. Recently AW made a strategic decision to spend more time and energy working in the Roaring Fork Valley schools. We have brought in extraordinary teaching artists who have mentored and inspired students, bringing the written and spoken arts alive for young people.
What project(s) are you currently working on?
Though we continue to work on our long-time programs such as the Summer Words conference and the Winter Words author series, a major focus this year has been the launch of the Aspen Words Literary Prize, a $35,000 annual award for an influential work of fiction that illuminates a vital contemporary issue and demonstrates the transformative power of literature on thought and culture. Through this award, we hope to reach all sorts of new audiences on a national scale, including people who might not see literature as a way to explore and understand some of society's greatest challenges. It has been exciting to see the books delivered to our offices, select an esteemed jury to read the submissions, and prepare for events that will be held in celebration of the finalists and the winner next year.