Leadership shuffle at Aspen Words puts longtime staffer on top
When Aspen Words Executive Director Maurice LaMee announced earlier this summer that he was leaving the literary nonprofit to run the theater department at Colorado Mesa University, the organization didn’t have to look far to find a qualified successor.
Jamie Kravitz, a longtime staffer with Aspen Words, had done just about every job in its ranks over the past 13 years. Her time there began, as she put it, “one step up from an intern,” and over the years she’s headed its marketing and development and, most recently, been its program manager.
Beginning Monday, Kravitz will be the managing director of the nonprofit that was founded in 1976 as the Aspen Writers’ Conference. She’ll work in tandem at the helm with its New York-based Executive Director Adrienne Brodeur, who has served as creative director since 2013. The Aspen Institute, with which the literary nonprofit merged in 2009, announced the new leadership team in June.
“Jamie is one of the most confident and talented people I know,” Brodeur said in a telephone interview last week. “She is the eminently most qualified human for this job — she knows the people, she knows the talent and the board, she has this familiarity with the town and with the organization.”
Brodeur noted that along with her extensive institutional knowledge and varied experience at Aspen Words, Kravitz has mentored young staffers at the nonprofit in recent years, preparing them to take on more responsibility during this leadership shuffle.
Kravitz first came to Aspen in 1999, earning her ski bum street cred with initial jobs in ski shops and with Blazing Adventures. She began working with Aspen Words — then known as the Aspen Writers’ Foundation — in 2003. She’s been with the organization since then, including a period as a part-time consultant when her two young sons were babies.
Under the new management structure, she’ll run the Aspen office as Brodeur represents the nonprofit at the center of the literary world universe in Manhattan.
“We work really well together and have similar visions in terms of what matters for a nonprofit,” Kravitz said recently over tea on the Cooper Avenue pedestrian mall. “We’re aligned in caring deeply about the kinds of writers we bring to the program and how we’re representing ourselves to the larger literary world.”
A voracious reader and a writer, Kravitz last year won a fellowship with the Mill House Residency in Oregon to work on a novel. She said her belief in the Aspen Words’ mission — “to encourage writers, inspire readers and connect people through the power of stories” — comes at least in part from how it’s impacted her own creative pursuits.
“I don’t think I would even believe I could write a novel without all the years of doing this job and seeing so many people attempt it,” she said.
Running a nonprofit that fosters writers’ work — through the writers-in-residence program, workshops at Aspen Summer Words and readings at Winter Words — is a way of giving back to literature, she said, pointing to a piece of advice from novelist Hannah Tinti: “The writing community is a community, and if you want something out of it, you have to give something to it.”
Under LaMee and Brodeur’s leadership, Aspen Words revamped its writer residencies and education programs like the poets-in-schools initiative and focused its flagship event — Aspen Summer Words — on students and faculty, while trimming the Summer Words public events and programs like Story Swap.
“We tested everything against our mission and put things in sharper focus,” Brodeur said.
After a few years of austere budgeting and strategic planning, Kravitz said, the organization is in an ideal position now to grow programs and launch initiatives that align with the Aspen Words mission.
“We’re at that tipping point,” she said. “We’re solidifying long-term funding that makes us feel comfortable with growth.”
Added Brodeur: “We want to hone the vision, stick to our mission — we can do a lot of things within that framework and make (Aspen Words) into one of the most prominent, prestigious literary organizations in the country.”
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