Mad Anthony Writer’s Workshop: A Well-Kept Secret

by Ed Davis on April 13, 2011

Getting the Call
At the risk of giving away a writer’s secret the equivalent of divulging a really good fishing hole, I’d like to steer your boat toward a workshop you might not have heard of yet. The fish are definitely biting; I took a couple of bass and a few trout there myself.

Recommended by a friend, I attended the sixth annual Mad Anthony Writer’s Workshop on April 9, where I taught a workshop on Scene. Only a half hour’s drive from Dayton down I-75, the conference is held on the lovely Hamilton campus of Miami University. Compact as a coffeeshop, this little powerhouse had about everything I want in a conference: great people, excellent location and a friendly yet serious atmosphere. Whether you go to teach or to learn (and you certainly can do both), you should consider attending next year.

It’s a benefit!
Since I was filling in for someone who had to cancel on short notice—plus I’d never heard of the workshop—I needed an incentive. The fact that all the proceeds from tuition go to support literacy at the Boys and Girls Hamilton YMCA was what sold me. I didn’t mind that I wasn’t getting paid, nor did it apparently matter to the other ten or so teacher-writers, agents and editors who offered their expertise on a rainy April Saturday to a serious group of 75 or so student writers. The workshop has raised an impressive $25,000 for literacy during its short tenure.
The People

Co-chairs Jane Biddinger, Vickie Ryan and Kelli Johnson run a tight ship, keeping their oars in the water and rowing. With the conference only a week or so away, they took care of all my needs—and, I assume, the other faculty and participants’. Great communication, directions, design, as if they’ve been doing this as long as, say, Antioch Writers’ Workshop, which just celebrated its 25-year anniversary.

The tone is friendly with a Zen-like calm. No sooner had Vickie announced, at Saturday’s opening ceremony, that the poet Christine Lavin had had to cancel due to car trouble, than another faculty member raised her hand and said, “I’ll be glad to offer another session in her slots.”  It’s a can-do, will-get atmosphere.
The Place

Hamilton, Ohio, like the conference, is a city with a very human scale, easy to find and navigate. The compact size of the Harry T. Wilks Conference Center fits the workshop perfectly. When you walk in the door, everything is right there: information desk, classrooms, restrooms, author tables, food. And the facilities are state of the art: I requested a document camera  in my classroom to project examples of student writing and got it!

Our continental breakfast was sitting right in the middle of the lobby and that’s where our noon buffet was catered as well (both meals excellent, by the way!). Loved the tender turkey smothered in gravy.  Desserts were yummy, too, and the coffee flowed.

The Program
I assume the meet and greet on Friday night was a lot of fun—and while it would’ve been a good opportunity to schmooze as well as maybe sell books, I declined to drive that distance twice (even though I was kindly reimbursed for mileage). Friday’s program, “Murder & Mayhem,” focused on crime writing and looked interesting and useful. I’ll have to ask whether the Friday part of the workshop is always themed every year.

Things kicked off early on Saturday morning, and the administration made every effort to stay on time. In addition to my own session, I attended six classes, including those taught by Agent Christine Witthohn, Nancy Pinard (“Getting Emotion onto the Page”), Peggy Barnes (“Writing Your Life:  Memoir”), plus a panel of agents and editors. All sessions were high-quality, professional and a lot of fun, combining lecture and inter-activity—with good handouts (a must!).  Agent pitches and manuscript evaluations were also going on behind the scenes.

The day was packed and fast-paced without seeming frantic: a mixture of craft and business as well as several genres (suspense, mystery, memoir, children’s, literary). The tone was upbeat but honest; sincere and substantive. And there were no big guns, excluding maybe Hallie Ephron who taught several classes and delivered the keynote during lunch; however, her sisters are much better known writers than Hallie, who, admitted that she came late to writing. Since the keynote speech didn’t occur until we were mostly finished eating, it was enjoyable and not a deterrent to the literary conversations taking place.

The Pitch

From a student’s perspective, the Mad Anthony appears to be a good deal, quite affordable and accessible, friendly and substantive. From a faculty member’s point of view, it’s a laid-back, low-key venue to share ideas with polite, receptive listeners, sell some books and help out a great cause. After all, what could be better than helping prepare future readers?  Either visit the website or contact for further details. You won’t be sorry.
Writers Who Teach
Lots of writers need to teach to pay the mortgage, put food on the table and gas in the car. They’re equivalent callings, teaching and writing. Some of us are teachers who write and others are writers who teach; regardless of which side of the hyphen we place the most passion (if we can even choose), most of us love, even need, to share what we know. It’s a way of giving back to our craft.
Even if I hadn’t been motivated by the chance to strike a blow for literacy, I’d have worked for kudos like these, offered in my workshop presenter packet:  “We thank you sincerely for giving of yourself so generously to teach and inspire our conference attendees. You may never know how you touched the life of someone in need of encouragement, but please be assured you are a hero in our book.”All images above used with permission of Mad Anthony Writer’s Conference.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

CPatLarge April 13, 2011 at 5:49 pm

A wonderful session, at a wonderful event. If you hadn't told us, we would never have guessed you were a last-minute fill-in. And yes, the hand-outs were awesome.

Thanks, Mad Anthony and Ed –


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