After I attended the Midwest Writers Workshop this summer, I made a vow to write about it. I had gone to other writing conferences, but this one felt different. Warmer, helpful. Permanent. As a dutiful outreach coordinator whose mission is to offer writers opportunities to publish and improve their craft, I reached out to Jama Kehoe Bigger, the long-term director of the workshop.
Jama didn’t disappoint. The warmth and enthusiasm which will envelop you as you read on is the same whether conveyed in writing, from a podium or in a conversation.
Karol Lagodzki: Jama, please tell our readers, briefly, what the Midwest Writers Workshop is?
Jama Bigger Kehoe: Midwest Writers Workshop was formed in 1973 in the belief that aspiring writers had specific needs for knowledge and inspiration to help them become published authors. MWW seeks to fulfill these needs and remain a leading source for aspiring writers. Through our summer workshop, special events, social media presence, and now our online courses, MWW is especially focused on providing quality instruction and networking support among writers.
Now in its 44th year, Midwest Writers continues to be relevant and innovative, offering more value and better serving the writing community through our outreach and effectiveness and our excellent use of resources. Even as we successfully reach out to new and diverse audiences, we maintain loyal participants who attend year after year because they have developed friendships and know they will receive new information to improve their writing. We are also proud of our ability to provide these important services to writers at an affordable cost.
By focusing on its strengths, its participants, and the ongoing concerns of what writers need, Midwest Writers Workshop develops significant programs, events, and courses, while maintaining a sense of professionalism and dedication to quality.
Our summer workshop attracts participants from across the country, in the last few years from 20+ states, and even international attendees. MWW has grown from averaging 50 participants to now more than 230+, ranging in age from teenagers through retirement. After three years of closing registration six weeks before our July workshop, this year (2016), we moved to a larger facility to accommodate our expanding numbers.
K: How did you come to be involved with the Workshop?
J: I first attended MWW as a 20-year-old college student, majoring in English at Ball State University and a dream of writing a book about the diving accident I had as a teenager that left me a quadriplegic. During the next few years, I attended and met an editor who offered to read my manuscript. His publishing house decided not to publish it, but he mailed my manuscript to another editor who did accept it. So, I became one of the first MWW success stories when my book Then Came A Miracle was published. I was then invited to join planning committee and ultimately became the director in 2000. MWW has been an important part of my life for 40 years!
K: What do you see as the mission of MWW?
J: The mission of MWW is to give all writers the opportunity to improve their craft, to associate with highly credentialed professionals, and to network with other writers.
K: There are so many workshops available to writers; what sets MWW apart?
J: The focus of Midwest Writers is the development of a community of writers, offering support, encouragement, inspiration and instruction to writers of all genres and at all levels. Located in Muncie, Indiana, we ooze Hoosier hospitality. We offer qualified instructors, writers-in-residence, manuscript evaluations, one-on-one interaction with literary agents and editors, and even social media tutoring, in a nurturing environment that emphasizes personal attention and hospitality.
The heart of who we are is our tagline: “Helping writers become published authors.”
K: What are your favorite parts of the annual MWW conference?
J: Since I have been associated with MWW for so many years, my favorite part of the summer workshop is reuniting with so many alumni who have become close friends.
But one unique and fun activity of our workshop that is a tradition and a favorite of all attendees and faculty is Buttonhole the Experts. We have 35 tables with an “expert” (our faculty members) at each one, where participants chat informally with the expert for about 20 minutes. Then at the ring of a bell and it’s like musical chairs (or speed dating!). The participants rise and head to another table of interest for another 20-minute chat. We repeat this process four times. Everyone loves it!
K: Aside from the annual conference, what else does MWW do?
J: MWW has created a year-’round comprehensive and educational program for persons interested in writing for publication. These include mini-conferences, one-day seminars, authors’ showcases, genre-specific day-long workshops. We utilize several tools of communication to give writers a steady stream of professional information: Facebook pages and groups, Twitter, and we recently created MWW Ongoing for online courses (ongoing.midwestwriters.org), and a membership program, MWW Plus.
K: For most writers, not being wealthy comes with the territory. What would you like to say to those who have limited cash and time?
J: MWW offers scholarships for Part II of our summer conference. For those with limited time, our Part I of the conference provides one-day intensive, genre-specific sessions at an affordable registration cost.
K: Does MWW collaborate with other organizations and individuals, and what opportunities do they offer writers?
J: For our first 43 years, we were part of Ball State University (the Department of Journalism, and later the Department of English). This year we have become a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, Midwest Writers Workshop, Inc.
K: Please tell us about your plans for 2017.
J: We now have our faculty for MWW17 (July 20-22, 2017), including 23 authors, six literary agents, four editors, and industry experts. We also have numerous online courses developed and ready to launch.
K: What about 2018 and beyond; is there a longer-term vision you would like to share?
J: Because 2018 will be our 45th annual summer conference, we are planning something special and awesome!
K: Are there any parting words you’d like to leave for our readers?
J: Come join us this summer! Or take a look at our online courses!
To learn more and register for programs, go to http://www.midwestwriters.org/.
Jama Kehoe Bigger is the director of the Midwest Writers Workshop, which offers opportunities for all writers to improve their craft, to associate with highly credentialed professionals, and to network with other writers.
She is the author of an autobiographical book, Then Came A Miracle, and her freelance writing has appeared in newspapers and magazines. A graduate of Ball State University with B.A. and M.A. degrees in English, she taught freshman composition courses there for many years before starting a successful business, Bigger Writing Services, which she operated for twenty years. She now teaches a summer course, Literary Citizenship in a Digital Age, for Ball State English students who then serve as interns and assistants to the literary agents at the workshop.Follow us!
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