An Open Letter to KWA

As a former president and current member of the Kansas Writers Association, is it incumbent on me (as it is all members) to state my feelings regarding the forthcoming changes to the organization.

It is noble to recognize that an organization in existence for over 16 years which has not ostensibly changed since that time is no longer serving the needs of its members. Change can be painful, especially to those of the “Old School” who constantly repeat the mantra “This is not how we used to do it”. Those are naysayers. The individuals in KWA who have recognized a need for dramatic change are to be commended.

However, both the recent newsletter and web page article, “The Future of KWA”, send mixed messages which require clear and precise clarification.

From the article: We had several Board meetings in July to discuss how to make KWA relevant. We kept several questions in mind: What would best serve our membership? How do we offer our members even more opportunities to interact? How do we promote our members – and help them learn how to promote themselves? How do we best utilize our resources? We took a hard look at all of our offerings to decide what to focus on for our future.

This is followed immediately by the declaration that there will no longer be an Adult Contest nor a Scene Conference. However, a Youth Conference will still be offered. Unless the age demographic has changed dramatically since my departure from the Board in April of this year, I do not see how this serves the membership, which is made up largely of adults. Youth writers will not attend monthly meetings, will not have the time available to commit to such an organization, and will not be the focal point of networking with adult writers. I feel this focus serves the need of Board members more than general membership.

From the article: “Gordon Kessler, our current Ambassador and founding member of KWA, is going to start an affiliate program in the Kansas City area. We’re not quite sure what that entails just yet, but we are excited to be able to reach more of Kansas.

If the intention is to downsize the organization to a manageable level, how can an affiliate program in another city serve the current membership? Additionally, for the current Board to be uncertain of the details is disturbing as it appears to be more of a whim than a concrete idea, serving the interests of a one individual member and, once again, have no relevant bearing or usefulness for the general membership.

There are many members of KWA who do not come regularly to meetings and some who have never attended a meeting. The aspects of networking to them is more significant. If such members are not on Facebook, their only viable connectivity is via a monthly newsletter, which can include pictures and links. From the August newsletter: ” We don’t live in a society that waits by the mailbox for a monthly volume of news to arrive. News is happening right now and anything from last hour is old, so why hang onto an aging format?” As the current membership has an older demographic, there are still individuals who do not share this digital vision. Nevertheless, this notion was broached nearly a year ago and it was rejected under the premise of respect for the older members. Does this change indicate that respect is lost or simply that it is too difficult to put together a viable monthly newsletter?

Rather than focus of platforms and query letters and marketing and agents and e-publishing, the focus should be on the craft of writing. The indication that regular write-ins will be conducted and critique groups will be encouraged is definitely a step in the right direction. However, I still sense that the Board is considering its needs over that of the general membership. Politics still play a part in an artistic group. Whereas the popular response to that is “That’s just the way things are”, I reject the notion entirely. There is no room for this type of attitude when the goal is to help others develop their skills. What purpose does it serve to denigrate the speakers at a conference…on the morning of the conference, yet never having lifted a finger to provide meaningful input, assistance, or support? The Board does not need to be filled with warm bodies but rather scintillating minds.

Beyond looking at the organization as a whole, the Board needs to look at themselves. Anything short of a completely altruistic attitude does not belong. Change can be painful. But in order to move into the future, KWA needs to break with the past and not simply in terms of presentations and newsletters. Active recruitment of new membership from all writing genres and styles. Community involvement to seek out the fringe artists who do not have a unified organization to connect with. “Cross pollinating” with other art forms and other artists within Wichita and the surrounding area.

In the end, the organization will follow the dictates of the Board unless the general membership speaks up loudly and proclaims “This is MY organization and I want you to speak to MY concerns.” Otherwise, a great notion will become a memory.

[Some may question why I chose this forum, my blog, to make these comments. I know that some of my followers are nowhere near Kansas. Perhaps they are interested in joining a writing group in their own area and will use this as a cautionary tale.

However, it was done as much for a sense of free speech. When I posted on the KWA Facebook Page my resignation from the presidency, the post was taken down the next day with the commentary that I was airing dirty laundry. The irony can not be overlooked: a writers group censoring a writer.

This was meant as an open letter and, as such, invites open civil commentary. Perhaps I will be ignored. That will be more telling than any retort. My honest hope is that the organization will survive for the betterment of the general membership. I wish you well.]

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5 Comments

  1. H.B. Berlow said,

    August 15, 2013 at 8:28 pm

    My sole intention was to provide feedback. Your emotional response chose to denigrate me for not being at the special meeting. My comments were viable and did not name any names. Your response was directed at me. So before I tell you where I have been for the last four months, allow me to refresh your memory for the benefit of anyone who may read this.

    At my first board meeting as president of KWA in June 2012, I sought recommendations for speakers at a conference. The next meeting in July you recommended your husband and then withdrew the recommendation two months later. The morning of the conference itself, nine months after I became president, you were privy to a conversation with another board member who denounced the speakers and the conference itself. This board member did not lift one finger to assist in the planning of the conference. Where were you?

    At the first general meeting of 2013, I proudly announced to membership that we had a stable board, committed to following through with dynamic new ideas. The very next day, I received an email chain indicating that you had been at odds with another board member, thereby causing that person to resign and leave the board in disarray. Where were you?

    You comment proudly how so many people stepped up in the wake of my resignation. Do you realize the previous president dropped out after realizing that I was willing to take over six months later and left me with a board in disarray? Do you recall my seeking out other individuals to be an Electronic Communications Advisor and a Newsletter Editor? Are you aware the new Newsletter Editor stepped up when no one else would and became a de facto Promotions Director, acquiring sponsors, door prizes, and bag stuffers for the conference, without even being asked to do so? Where were you?

    I hope we can put to rest the discussion of where I was for the last four months. The eleven months prior I was there–body, mind, and soul—and gave everything I had until I had nothing left to give. You want me to show up to the meetings and voice my opinions. I did…for eleven months. You have no right to castigate me for not being there for you.

    You state that your focus on youth is being enhanced because it is something that KAC doesn’t do. Yet, you are allowing the creation of a satellite KWA in Kansas City which is something that KAC does do. The organization obviously has an identity crisis. Will the leader of your satellite office promote youth writing in Kansas City as much as you do here?

    You claim I have no knowledge of the turnout for the contest or the awards meeting. You assume my physical presence is my only form of knowledge. Well, KWA has a Facebook page and a website and I am still in communication with many members. Your presumption is erroneous. However, you never responded to my claim that the youth participation will wane. If it doesn’t, you will lose your adult members. What is it that you have to offer that a qualified Creative Writing program in the various USDs can not do better?

    The organization is the Kansas Writers Association. Check out the middle word. You have Barry Pagel who is a screenwriter. You have Diane Wahto who is a poet. You have resources within the organization that you have not mentioned tapping. You have Rae Cuda and Wes Brummer who showed up about the time I was president, became inspired, and published books. Those are the successes.

    My prediction is that many KWA members will join KAC, largely because you have nothing left to offer. I say that based on your response in which you speak for KWA. An attack on me and my evaluation marks you as desperate and uncertain. Right now, I am writing, something I had not done once in eleven months. I have surrounded myself with supportive writers who relish the craft of writing. I no longer need to be a mentor nor an administrator. I am a writer.

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  2. Jennifer said,

    August 16, 2013 at 10:23 am

    As far as I remember, it wasn’t Samantha that we has a problem with. But after this, I had to say wow and walk away with a very slow clap.

    Like

  3. H.B. Berlow said,

    August 16, 2013 at 12:28 pm

    This is more of a response and an explanation. Whereas I still stand by my original comments (and do not feel the need to engage in personal histrionics), at the very least I appreciate the method my which you chose your words.
    If only that was done originally then others might have recognized the organization for what it is attempting to become. Sadly that was not the case.
    I am still a member, still a writer, still an advocate. I have not left as has been previously and erroneously suggested. I hope to still be a resource.

    Like

  4. G. Teal said,

    August 26, 2013 at 6:47 pm

    Just my two cents. I am a writer in Kansas and was looking for an association to join. Mostly what I was hoping to find was the camaraderie of people who shared a passion. Though I haven’t made up my mind, the KWA doesn’t appear to be what I’m looking for.

    I found it via a blog post about writing marathons that had piqued my interest. I didn’t find mention of future plans for those. I was disappointed to see the conference was no longer going to be held and the Adult contest was being removed. Two of the things that looked of value to me when checking out what membership had to offer.

    The newsletter becoming electronic is fine for me. Doing both to suit all the membership seems even better, especially because there is funds to do so given that membership cost is higher with a paper subscription.

    The one caveat, for me, is that if you are doing an email newsletter, it should be readable in its entirety in the email. It’s not well done if I have to follow links back to the website to get the articles.

    Last thing, as I was browsing through the website, it occurred to me that before I made a decision I would email someone and see what the age range of membership really was. A mix is good, but I don’t want a group that is largely older or largely younger than myself. I’m 39.

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