“It doesn’t matter who you are, what kind of career you have; everybody needs to know how to write,” says Margaret Meleney. The CPA and nonprofit association executive took the helm of the Bethesda-based Writer’s Center six months ago.
Founded in 1976 by a group of avid literature enthusiasts – writers, poets, editors and publishers — Meleney said, “The Writer’s Center supports writers and those who want to write.” And with more than 2,000 students and 300 classes and workshops covering genres from poetry to memoir to the novel and playwriting, The Writer’s Center is the go-to place for the literary set and those who aspire to be.
Although she is a numbers person, Meleney said she has been surrounded by writers her entire life. Her grandmother published a book about her life. “It was a little book called ‘The Sun and the Golden Cup,’” Meleney said. “She was a real storyteller. When I read that book, I hear my grandmother talking to me.”
Learning to write stories to enhance her career in association management initially brought Meleney to The Writer’s Center. She explained: “Being in the accounting world, I discovered that I had to tell that financial story and I always struggled with that.” She signed up for a class. Next thing she knew, she was hooked and joined the organization’s board.
Now as the center’s new executive director, she plans to continue to increase programming by offering more convenient online course opportunities, a redesigned website and, one of the group’s little-known offerings, Write Who You Are, which teaches creative writing to recent adult immigrants. At the end of each nine-month Write Who You Are session, essays and memoirs selected from the approximately 80 participants are published in a book.
“While they are trying to learn the language, creative writing helps them remember the country they came from,” Meleney explained, “but also it helps them to blend into the community here.”
For all the talk of the region’s government-centric focus, long hours at the office and equally long commutes, The Writer’s Center has no problem attracting experienced instructors and committed students. The teachers, who offer everything from one- and two-hour introductory workshops to a year-long novel writing course, are all published authors and many have advanced degrees in creative writing or other relevant areas.
One aspect of The Writer’s Center that Meleney loves is that it literally offers something for anyone who wants to write, from beginners unsure of where to start to experienced authors who seek collegial writers’ forums – akin to support groups — and publishing outlets like Poet Lore, the biannual print journal featuring poetry, essays and reviews. Founded more than a century ago in 1889, it is now published under the auspices of the center. Editors Jody Bolz and E. Ethelbert Miller read every submission and aim to make each edition broadly inclusive, introducing new literary voices to the local literary scene.
With the new year, a new series of classes begins in January. Among Meleney’s favorites are “Writing as a Path to Healing,” “Writing With the Five Senses,” “The Art of Gratitude,” and the masterclass “Novel Year,” where participants spend an entire year working on their individual novels. Other topics include travel writing, mystery writing, blogging, writing for radio and various courses in essay and memoir writing.
Don’t know where to start but want to write or improve your writing? Meleney advises checking the schedule for a one-day or even half-day class on a topic or genre of interest “just to test the waters.” For those tight on time, some classes meet during the day, others on evenings and weekends, and with a re-vamped website, she sees a growth in online classes, where participants can log in and contribute to the discussion and hand in assignments any time during the week. It’s a perfect solution, she said, for all the busy high-achievers in region who have inspiration for a novel, a memoir or other idea that they want to get down on paper. A writing class or two, with built-in deadlines and supportive teachers and fellow students, is a great way to get started.
And, as Meleney said, returning to her own reason for seeking out writing courses to enhance her business storytelling skills, “Everybody has a story to tell. Yes, we’re all writers in some degree.”
For further information on The Writer’s Center and a schedule of its latest course and workshop offerings, visit: www.writer.org.