Sunday, April 18, 2010

Andromeda: On Transparency and the Writing Center Vision

When Deb and I started researching the viability of an Alaska writing center several months ago, we wanted to aim for thoroughness. From the beginning -- and always knowing these ideas would evolve as we get input from more Alaska writers, and learning all along the way -- we considered things like our starting rationale and possible approaches, a budget, a business plan, a mission statement, and some initial strategic planning, including where we might see this thing going in one, three, and five years.

We also started talking about values -- including concepts like transparency.

Have you ever attended a conference, or taken a class, and wondered how the writers who were invited to speak got invited -- and how the teachers who were teaching got hired? Have you ever heard rumbles of some new literary opportunity unfolding, but felt there was no way to break into the process -- or even get an update about what was being planned?

Lack of transparency usually isn't a conspiracy. It's just a lack of communications.

But we're pretty lucky, having this blog. You heard us starting to ask about a writing center last December. You may know that Deb and I began to do our research, earnestly, in early 2010. You may have followed our research as it continued over the last few weeks. And if you're as excited as we are, you'll not only keep reading, but you'll also add your voice -- especially in May, when we run a survey about a future Alaska writing center. We'll be adding a newsletter to interested parties, updating you on fundraising strategies, our incorporation as a nonprofit, and other events as they unfold.

How does transparency continue to be a value in existing writing centers? Consider the simple proposal process that some centers and conferences use when they are hiring presenters or instructors. If a writer wants to give a talk or teach a class, he/she makes a proposal following basic, fair guidelines. It's not about who you know, or if the organizers happen to think of you in a given year, or if you've worked your way into the clique. There is a way in -- always -- for everyone who has something to contribute. (Some centers do have standards about education or level of publication, but some don't -- and even the strictest center has much more flexible standards than academia allows.) The final hiring is still selective, of course, but it's neither apparently random nor obscure. We think that's a great idea.

Do you have other ideas or values that belong at the top of a writing center priority list?

7 comments:

Ann Dixon said...

"Do you have other ideas or values that belong at the top of a writing center priority list?"

This is an important question and one that warrants some serious rumination (love that word but it always makes me think of goats!).

Initially, value-oriented words that spring to mind include: creativity; responsiveness to community needs/interests; flexibility; and accountability.

I totally support the idea of transparency as a core value. An excellent foundation to build upon.

cindy said...

Synergy... but I may be simply reiterating a point already eluded to in your previous posts when you mention working with the more rural areas of Alaska, pairing of mentor and beginning writer, communicating with other writing centers, etc.

cindy said...

and I can't spell... sometimes the anonymous feature looks even better -- I meant alluded.

Erin said...

This post, as well as Vivian's, reminded me of one of the thoughts I had about the Writing Center.
Vivian brought up the idea of a mentor/mentee relationship as part of the Writing Center, but instead of using an apprenticeship structure, what about using an equal power structure, like a "penpal" system. I think one of the hardest things to find as a writer is fulfilling critique and commentary on work, the kind of response that you get from a writer's workshop.
I know that writing in small-town Alaska can sometimes feel like writing in a blackhole and having a member-group that creates a system of feedback would be great. I know that I would definitely use it.

Deb Vanasse said...

Wonderful ideas from all. We're gathering and synthesizing. Keep your thoughts coming!

Anonymous said...

Hopefully there will be "desks" for writers to come and work- this is a great model which encourages writers to come and work- parallel writing is incredibly satisfying!

Lynn Lovegreen said...

All good priorities. I also like the idea of Alaskan writers as peers--we all have things to share at different levels, different aspects of our careers. A beginning writer might have some expertise in Alaska history that I need to research my book, and a veteran writer might share how to publicize on the Internet. We all have valuable things to offer.