By Mark Alpert
Wow, I had a fantastic time last weekend at the annual conference of the Oklahoma Writers’ Federation Inc. (OWFI) in Oklahoma City. The experience was so much fun that I’ve started to wonder: Which states have the best organizations for supporting and nurturing their writers?
I’m not qualified to make that judgment because I don’t go to many writers’ conferences outside New York City. My travels are limited by economic considerations; although I can promote my novels at this kind of event, the total royalties from any resulting sales will be far less than my travel costs, so I usually can’t afford to do it. But in the case of the OWFI conference, the organization offered to pay my airfare and hotel bills, so I gladly agreed to deliver a couple of presentations to the group’s aspiring writers.
More than 300 people attended the conference, and there was a full schedule of workshops, classes, pitch sessions, buzz sessions, luncheons, and banquets. OWFI has a deep bench of volunteers to ensure that everything runs smoothly, and the organization has succeeded in attracting sponsors to defray many of the costs and minimize the fees for conference attendees. Perhaps the best indication of the group’s success is that many writers from outside Oklahoma came to the event, traveling north from Texas, south from Kansas, and west from Arkansas.
It’s enough to make a New Yorker jealous. Writers in NYC have the advantage of living in the hub of the U.S. publishing industry, close to the majority of literary agents and traditional publishers, and many national and international writers’ organizations (such as the Mystery Writers of America and International Thriller Writers) hold their events here. But at the grassroots level, the network of local support and critique groups is patchy. There are nonprofits that offer subsidized workspaces for writers (such as the Writers Room on Astor Place, where I was a member for several years) and many groups for journalists (such as Science Writers in New York, which I also belonged to for a while), but writing fiction in NYC can often feel like a lonely, dog-eat-dog struggle.
So now I’m wondering about the rest of the country. Perhaps all the TKZ-ers out there can help me with this survey; in your neck of the woods, are there strong regional, state or local organizations that help fiction writers enhance their craft and develop their careers? Which are the best states for writers?