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Guest Opinion: AWF is for writers

Lisa A. Consiglio and Dennis VaughnAspen CO, Colorado

Andy Stones recent column regarding the merger between the Aspen Writers Foundation (AWF) and the Aspen Institute (AI) has us a bit perplexed (Are all writers bums and winos? Well, not exactly, Feb. 18). We have searched Mr. Stones column, in vain, for specific examples as to what led him to proclaim that supporting writers in their craft has, magically, disappeared from the mission of the AWF. Following are some facts, examples and stories that might shed light on his concerns: The mission of the Aspen Writers Foundation, as it has been for decades, is to bring readers and writers together to explore and celebrate the literary arts. Half of our programs and projects are designed for writers, including: the Aspen Summer Words Writing Retreat, Scribes & Scribblers youth writing camps, Story Swap, the Weekly Writers Groups, the international Words Away fiction workshop, the Teen Poetry contest, and the writing component of our Writers in the Schools program, the NEPSAmerge literary magazine, which we fund and support. Half of our programs are designed for readers and writers (its important to be mutually inclusive here as most writers do, in fact, read), including: Winter Words, Lyrically Speaking, the Aspen Summer Words Literary Festival, AWF Reads, Writers in the School, and The Big Read (an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts). The AWF board not only mirrors our community, it also reflects the literary arts in general. Comprised of an emerging novelist, a poet, a science writer and biographer, a music journalist, a freelance writer, a contributor to The New York Times, an international best-selling novelist, a former mayor, an antique book dealer, a former president of ACRA, an aspiring novelist, a local lawyer for a movie company, a surgeon and an events planner, all of them are avid and enthusiastic readers, and most of them are writers. The AWFs ticket prices and tuition fees are, and will continue to be, some of the lowest to be found anywhere. In fact, thanks to the generous support of a variety of benefactors, we have decreased our fees in recent years. Students and educators may buy a discounted ticket to a reading and talk by a world-renowned author for $10, others for $15. For $40 you may attend the event plus a reception with the author and enjoy some of the best food and wine to be found in the valley. Last year, we added a fifth full workshop day to our Summer Words Writing Retreat and, thanks to a donation from a well-connected person, did not charge our students a dime for the extra day. Members and patrons of the AWF help to defray all of our costs, and in the past five years, we have offered more Summer Words and Scribers & Scribblers scholarships than in the entire history of the organization.A majority of those scholarships went to local writers. Another patron has underwritten scholarships for international students, and yet another presents an annual scholarship for literary excellence to an Aspen High School senior. When the NEA funded our local Big Read program, we received an anonymous gift that enabled us to give away more than 4,000 English and Spanish copies of our chosen book, Bless Me, Ultima. Our month-long celebration of Rudolfo Anayas classic novel included more than 50 events that were free and open to the public.All of this is possible because of the enormous support of our local community, including organizations with which we have collaborated in the past. One such organization is the Aspen Institute.The AI has made it very clear that they appreciate our programs, work ethic and leaders, and expect us to exercise a high degree of programmatic and operational autonomy. Our community is looking for wise investments, and during a time of economic uncertainty, it feels quite natural to pool our most precious resources: time, talent and funds. We are flattered to be a part of the Diamond Standard nonprofit, as Mr. Stone puts it. We see this merger as mutually beneficial and one that will enhance our programs and identity, not eliminate them.The Aspen Institute is run by smart, strategic and efficient individuals who appreciate and nurture success. Our guess is that they are able to recognize a diamond in the rough.

Lisa A. Consiglio is the executive director of the Aspen Writers Foundation. Dennis Vaughn is the president of the board of directors for the nonprofit.


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