In the Spotlight
President, Straw Dog Writers Guild
Easthampton, MA Member Since: 2011
About: Ellen Meeropol is the author of three novels: House Arrest, On Hurricane Island, and Kinship of Clover. Her essays and short fiction publications include Guernica, Necessary Fiction, and The Writer’s Chronicle. She is a founding member and the current president of the Straw Dog Writers Guild.
Photo credit: Jamie Clifford
Who encouraged you to be a writer?
Marnie Mueller encouraged me more than any other single person. I met Marnie at a bookstore reading for her second novel, The Climate of the Country. I had read and loved the book and admired how elegantly she balanced the social justice themes with a compelling story. Avoiding didacticism while evoking political engagement—that was my challenge as a beginning fiction writer and I hoped to learn something from Marnie. In the Q&A period, I asked a question that revealed that I was trying to write “political fiction” and floundering more than a little. When she signed my book, she handed me her card and offered to take a look at my work when I was ready.
Her card was taped to my computer for many months as I struggled with my first draft, astonished that she would make such an offer and certain I would never contact her. But I did. Marnie read and made extensive comments, comments that were both incisive and supportive. She wrote me long critiques and we talked at length on the phone—and all this for a beginner, a stranger. Since then I've had other teachers and mentors, but I have never forgotten what Marnie shared with me—her insight and editorial expertise, but most importantly her unspoken and powerful message: that I was a writer and my novel was worth writing.
How have your outreach efforts changed over the last five to ten years?
Our newest outreach effort involves hiring a part-time administrative director. As an all-volunteer organization for seven years we have accomplished a lot, but in order to grow and expand our work we decided on this step. Our AD will help us secure additional funding in order to be able to extend our programming to underserved populations.
What does your office look like?
We've never had an office before, but we recently joined a co-working space. We use their meeting rooms for programs, and our new staff person works in the common space. It's not exactly an office, but it is a home, and we love the community aspect of it.
What is your organization’s mission?
We are a nonprofit volunteer organization dedicated to the craft and transformative power of writing, dedicated to serve writers throughout our region by connecting, engaging, and nurturing writers at all stages of development. We offer craft programs in multiple genres, roundtable discussions about the literary life, and a welcoming space for writers to gather and network.
Do you offer any free events to your community members?
All Straw Dog events are free. We want our programs to be available to any writer, regardless of financial situation. We support our work through memberships, donations, and small grants.
What does your community seem to want the most from your organization?
Our area is rich in literary life—independent bookstores, colleges and universities, conferences, writing centers, and workshops. What Straw Dog Writers Guild brings to the mix is short craft programs that are free and open to all, and many opportunities for writers to network with other writers, outside their usual paths.
What project(s) are you currently working on?
Our biggest new project now is developing a reading/lecture in memory of Abel Meeropol, the man who wrote the song “Strange Fruit.” Straw Dog Writers Guild received a donation from the royalties of that important song, and plan to use the funds for a community program celebrating the power of literature in promoting social justice.
Why did you decide to join AWP?
I joined AWP to lessen the isolation I felt as a writer not associated with a university program. I can't describe the amazing sense of belonging I experience every year at the conference. I stand in the middle of the bookfair and grin. This is my tribe.
How has AWP helped you in your career and/or creative endeavors?
AWP has challenged me in many areas. I'm inspired by the lectures and panels. I connect with other writers, find magazines to read and submit to, and in general feel a part of this glorious work we do together.