I’ve been on the job as executive director of the National Writers Series for three months now, and as I tell everyone, it simultaneously feels like three years and three days.

Much of that feeling comes from the ever-changing rules of COVID-19, and let me tell you, this type-A planner does not care for uncertainty.

But even though it’s hard to predict what the rest of the year will bring, I know what we’ve accomplished so far. In February, we had our first sell-out Zoom event with 1,000 registrants. In March, we put on a record-breaking Battle of the Books. In April, we edited work from dozens of student writers for our 2021 Literary Journal. And in May, we’ll be celebrating four scholarship winners whose writing earned them each a $1,000 prize.

Through it all, we’ve put on engaging and unique author events for our Zoom audience in northern Michigan and across the country. Since January, we’ve helped sell nearly 1,000 books with our partner, Horizon Books, and seen more than 5,000 registrations for our events.

All of that, in this strange and unexpected year. I don’t have a crystal ball, but I have hope for the next three months to come. Here’s what I know is coming next:

  • NWS is gearing up to announce our virtual summer season next week, which will be more fun than ever with community partnerships that bring together curious minds and literary souls in our region. Be sure to check back here in the Record-Eagle to see the next slate of authors. (Spoiler: one of them is mentioned below!)
  • We’re offering our first-ever virtual author masterclass for students throughout the state of Michigan. On May 18 at 7 p.m., Robin Wall Kimmerer, bestselling author of “Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants,” will put on a FREE one-hour class for high schoolers about the art of environmental writing and crafting powerful personal essays. Head to NationalWritersSeries.org to sign up your student!
  • Two amazing events remain in our spring line-up. On May 13, we’ll be joined by Rochelle Riley, director of arts and culture for the City of Detroit, to talk about her book “That They Lived: African Americans Who Changed the World.” Two weeks later, on May 26, Mary Doria Russell will take the stage to discuss “The Women of Copper Country,” the historical novel set in the U.P. that was just named the 2021-22 Michigan Humanities’ Great Michigan Read.
  • A new class of Front Street Writers will graduate from the TBAISD Career Tech Center this June. Having read the work of these students, I can tell you, it’s an incredibly talented bunch. I can’t wait to see what they go on to do next.
  • We are planning — with hope in our hearts and the pandemic on our minds — to be back at our beloved City Opera House this fall. NWS will continue to follow all CDC and state guidelines to make sure our audience is safe, and we’ll keep you posted every step of the way.

Writing all of that down makes me proud, and not just of the small but mighty staff that keeps NWS turning or the wonderful board members who offer guidance and endless volunteer hours. I’m also proud knowing that our community made everything I just mentioned possible.

We haven’t had a live event in over a year, which means a whole year without ticket sales, a huge source of funding for our programs. It is only through the generosity of our donors, sponsors, and grantors that we’ve been able to continue with our passion for great books and great conversations.

Thank you to everyone who has supported us, watched an event, or just sent an encouraging note telling us to keep going. We do this for you, and we’re so honored to do this with you, too.

Jillian Manning is a local author and the executive director of the National Writers Series.

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