Concerning Midwest Writers Workshop

The time has come to put together my thoughts and feelings on the recent conflict that has surrounded the Midwest Writers Workshop (MWW). I have allowed myself a good deal of time to absorb and process all of the news, and it has not been easy. To say the least.

It’s no secret that I’ve been a devoted fan of MWW, and have attended every year since 2012. I’ve encouraged other writers to check out MWW. I have made so many good friends at MWW over the years, and it has come to be my “home” writers conference. I always felt it to be a warm and welcoming conference, and a very friendly and welcoming group of people–which only makes it all the harder to realize that this may not have been completely true. I am not exaggerating when I say that the recent revelations have been heart-breaking, and difficult to work through. I haven’t always known how to feel, as what I read seemed so contrary to what I had experienced personally. It’s really hard to look behind a beautiful façade at the ugliness that is hidden from view, which I am sad to say is exactly what has happened. The truth has brought me close to tears several times.

For those who are unaware, here is a brief recap:

Sometime last fall, a young woman who has been a dedicated and hard-working intern at MWW for five years was nominated for the planning committee, along with another individual. Someone on the Board of Directors made the comment that MWW shouldn’t have someone who looked like her representing them; and for clarification, specified that he/she meant someone “fat.” Apparently only one person challenged this, and the intern in question was voted onto the planning committee, along with the other individual. She was never offered the seat, however; the other individual was.

Word of this got out on Twitter on January 9th. The intern in question had been informed about what happened by her friend on the Board who had spoken up. She vented to another writer friend, Roxanne Gay, who called MWW out publically in a twitter thread. It went viral. Writers, agents, and editors who were slated to be on the 2018 faculty pulled out (some publicly, others quietly). Much of the response was ugly. The call-out was completely justified, but as often happens on social media, the vitriol of the response was not entirely warranted. MWW at first attempted lame half-apologies that were later deleted, only making matters worse, and finally posted a lengthy and–I thought–sincere and heart-felt apology on Facebook and Twitter the next day (1/10/2018).

Like many fans of MWW, I was relieved. They offered to work with the victimized intern to make things right, and issued her an “invitation to help us define what ‘making this right’ looks like for her.” I had hope that things could heal.

Fast forward one week. The Board member who had informed the intern of the issue (someone I ‘ve known since 2012) was fired from the board on January 17th for “betrayal of trust.” I was shocked. Any hope that MWW could “make things right” disappeared when they fired the whistle-blower. Many of my friends had already said that they would not attend MWW this year, and our group had on-going discussions about alternatives–but I had still held hope that MWW could make corrections and move on. Now, that hope had been shattered in one stupid move.  It was heart-breaking.

On Friday (1/19/2018), MWW announced that they were cancelling the 2018 conference while they “put together a board and planning committee that are more representative of the population of writers we have been honored to serve.” Much about their statement was good–admitting fault, taking concrete steps to address the underlying issue of lack of diversity on the Board–but they screwed up yet again by focusing in part on how hard this was for their “all volunteer” board and committee. They also failed to address the firing of the whistle-blower.

With all of this considered, I have to say that at this point I can’t see myself participating in MWW in the future. I hate having to write that. I can’t describe how much I hate it. MWW still has a LOT of work to do to regain the trust they have lost in the writing community. The best thing about writers, something I love about most writers, is how supportive we are of one another. To find out that my beloved “home” writers conference does not actually support all writers, is just heart-breaking. I know I’ve used that term “heart-breaking” a lot in this post, but I have no better word to describe how this all feels.

I will be fine. The other writers I know and love will also be just fine. There are a lot of good writers conferences out there, and this has prompted me to spend time investigating more of them. I hope and pray that someday, Midwest Writers Workshop can regain our trust. With what we’ve seen this month, however, I am not going to hold my breath.