by Amy Lutz, MCWC Executive Assistant
MCWC 2019 registration closed with record numbers, making this year’s conference our largest yet! We are thrilled so many people will be joining us for our 30th year.
Of course, thirty years of MCWC would not be possible without the support of our returning participants, our generous donors, and our dedicated board. We spoke with a few of our board members this month to learn more about the history of MCWC and celebrate its future.
MCWC started in 1989 when Marlis Boardhead, a creative writing teacher at College of the Redwoods, decided to bring a few published authors to speak at the college. By the time MCWC President Ginny Rorby started volunteering in 1996, the event had blossomed into a full weekend conference. After Marlis moved out of state in 1997, Ginny and her friend Suzanne Byerley led the conference, with the support of College of the Redwoods Dean, Dr. Leslie Lawson.
In 2004, Ginny and Suzanne turned the directorship of conference over to Charlotte Gullick (who is returning this year as faculty for the MCWC 2019 Emerging Writers’ workshop). When Charlotte left for a full-time teaching job in Texas, leadership passed to Maureen Eppstein and Katherine Brown. The conference then separated from College of the Redwoods and become an independent non-profit. Maureen continued as the Executive Director for a number of years, followed by Karen Lewis for two years, and then Shirin Bridges for two years. Shirin passed the torch to our current director, Lisa Locascio, after the MCWC 2018 conference.
MCWC has survived the changing tides of thirty years thanks to the dedication of its all-volunteer board. “We have a 12 member committee,” Ginny explained, “some of whom have been a part of this conference since 1998. MCWC would have been a failed endeavor without those committee members. Three have passed away, and, tragically, Suzanne was killed in a car accident in 2014.”
MCWC Secretary Norma Watkins has been an integral part of MCWC’s development since she started working with Ginny and Suzanne in 1997. Norma remembered one year in particular, when the board decided to throw a Thai-themed closing dinner, including special decorations and catering. The board even served the dinner themselves, a testament to their dedication. “The exhausted board voted it the greatest closing dinner ever and swore never to do it again,” Norma said. The board does still maintain the long-standing tradition of cooking for and serving at the Thursday Welcome Mixer.
The years of hard work have been more than worth it for Susan Bono, another long-serving board member and the editor of MCWC’s literary magazine, the Noyo River Review. “MCWC has been essential to my life as a writer and small press publisher,” she said. “From the beginning, which for me was more than twenty years ago, I was welcomed, respected, and taken seriously. The encouragement I found helped shape my identity and build community. I’m not the only one. In my time with MCWC, I’ve seen many new writers take root and blossom. Like me, they return again and again.”
Nona Smith has served eight years on the board, spending three of them as president. She said the highlights of her time at MCWC have been watching participants grow as writers over the years. She shared a fond memory of one of MCWC 2018’s participants: “The story he brought to his workshop was a unique one for him to write. It was about his experiences during the Vietnam War, something he’d never written about before. He was so enthused by the reception his work received in his morning workshop, that he read it in an afternoon open mic session. Noyo River Review editor Susan Bono attended that session and encouraged the participant to submit the story for publication in the Review…which now makes him a published author.”
One of our newer board members, Kara Vernor, started first as a participant at MCWC. “I had been feeling somewhat isolated as a writer before attending my first MCWC conference, where I ended up making lasting connections both years I was a participant,” she said. Kara taught at MCWC 2017 and was then invited to join the board by past director Shirin Bridges. “I jumped at the chance to contribute,” Kara said. “The conference is a rare blend of friendly, affordable, and effective—our faculty is consistently excellent. MCWC continues to be a rich and incredibly generative community.”
Looking forward, Norma hopes MCWC can continue to become more accessible to a wider range of participants. “We live in a remote and beautiful place. It’s difficult to get here and expensive to stay. It’s an ongoing challenge for the conference—how to spread the word about the unique beauty of the place and, at the same time, provide affordable options for the diverse and younger writers we hope to attract.”
This year, MCWC has made strides towards becoming more accessible by offering seventeen scholarships, all of which were funded through donations. We are so grateful for the wonderful arts community of the Mendocino Coast, including the hosts, donors, volunteers and local participants who have supported this conference for thirty years.
We hope to share MCWC with the community through our list of public events this year, including a Paths to Publishing panel on Thursday and Open Mics on Friday and Saturday (all of which start at 1pm at the Mendocino K-8 School). We also have two faculty readings: one on Thursday evening at St Anthony’s Hall and one on Friday at Cotton Auditorium, both beginning at 6:30pm. For full details about events open to the public, please visit mcwc.org/afternoon-events.