In the Spotlight
Executive Director: The Muse Writer’s Center
Norfolk, VA Member Since: 2010
About: Michael Khandelwal is an award-winning writer and teacher. He contributes editorials, profiles, and feature articles to Coastal Virginia Magazine, teaches poetry and fiction workshops for the Norfolk-area literary center, The Muse Writers Center (for which he is a founder and serves as executive director), is a past web content management specialist for The American Council of Education, and is the past president of the 2008 Electoral College of Virginia.
What is the biggest challenge you face in promoting writing?
While most of our students clearly want to write and hone their craft, some very talented writers have been discouraged in some way—perhaps by a bad teacher or critical parent as a young person. For those, it’s important to provide an encouraging space. It’s important to let people know that creative expression is an amazing gift that can be nurtured, and should be.
Do you feel influenced by your peers to produce a certain type of creative work, or do you feel free to follow your own interests and passions?
I feel free. That’s one thing we stress at The Muse Writers Center, that individual voice is what should be developed. It would be a tragedy if everything read the same. Unique voices are what give the universal writing community vitality.
What does your community seem to want the most from your organization?
Great, quality classes, workshops, and seminars. A lot of people here have an urge to write, whether it’s poetry, fiction, memoir, nonfiction, screenwriting, etc. And, we take seriously giving them the best craft education we can along with quality critiques.
Do you offer any free events to your community members?
Absolutely. At the end of each of our class sessions, we hold free, public readings for our students. It’s a way of celebrating them and also getting them used to giving readings. The events are well attended (60-90 people each time), and they serve as a small fundraiser for our tuition assistance program (donations are not required to attend). We also host several community events with our friends in the neighborhood. At these, we have an open house, and we invite local authors and literary journals to set up and display their work to the community. We also have music, food, and drinks, which always makes for a festive atmosphere. I’m proud to say that since we moved into our current neighborhood, these parties have grown from being just our event to a combined event featuring a dozen or more local businesses and organizations. We also host a weekly writers’ happy hour, which rotates around the area bars. This gives our students and teachers, as well as local writers and non-writers, the opportunity to network, share ideas, and just make new friends. We also host a monthly writers’ coffee break with the same goals as the happy hours for those who are morning people.
What is the greatest compliment that you could ever receive about your writing?
“That moved me.”
What would be your advice to new AWP members on how to make the most of their membership?
If you are a writers’ center or a conference, please join AWP’s Writers’ Conferences & Centers (WC&C). Many emerging centers and conferences start out in a bit of a vacuum, but networking with others makes everything much easier. I’ll speak of my perspective as a director of a center. We now have affiliations with other centers around the country. WC&C members often call each other to see how others handled an unexpected situation; we share ideas on classes, our students, our programs, and more. There’s a lot we can learn from each other, and AWP has helped The Muse Writer’s Center connect to the larger community of centers. We all have similar missions, and it seems like we have all evolved in similar ways. My connections to the other centers have brought me a lot of joy. Because we constantly share ideas, none of us has to continually reinvent the wheel.