“The Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop is about both honoring Erma’s legacy as a writer and person and about paying that forward to other writers. In an interview she once did at University of Dayton, she shared that her English professor, Brother Tom Price, said three words to her that would prove to be inspiring throughout her long, extraordinary career: ‘You can write!’” says Teri Rizvi, founder and co-director of the workshop, and Executive Director of Strategic Communications at University of Dayton.
Registration for next year’s workshop opens in just a few days, at noon on Wednesday, Dec. 4. (Visit www.humorwriters.org.) The workshop will be April 10-12, 2014, at the University of Dayton, Erma’s alma mater. This year’s headliner is Emmy Award-winning talk show host Phil Donahue, who lived across the street from the Bombeck family in Centerville when both were starting their media careers. (Donahue is credited with changing the face of television by pioneering the daytime audience-participation talk format.)
Other keynoters include New York Times best-selling novelist Lisa Scottoline and writer-daughter Francesca Serritella; author Mary Lou Quinlan, whose latest book, “The God Box,” became a New York Times bestseller in just three weeks; and author/producer Bruce Ferber whose sitcom credits include e “Home Improvement,” “Sabrina, The Teenage Witch” and more. Sessions over the three-day workshop will focus on helping writers improve craft and understand the publishing business.
A new feature this year will be “Pitchapalooza” described as the “American Idol for books, only kinder and gentler,” and led by creators Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry, who are writers and agents. Their “Pitchapalooza” has garnered major national media attention and will give writers an opportunity to give a one-minute pitch for a book idea before a panel; the judges pick a winner who will receive an introduction to an agent or publisher. In all, a slate of 25 published and experienced writers and publishing professionals will lead informative, helpful sessions.
Erma graduated from the university in 1949 with a degree in English and is among its most famous graduates. After spending several years rearing her and her husband’s children, Erma began writing a column in 1964 for the Kettering-Oakwood Times; in 1965, she started writing a column for the Dayton Journal Herald and just three weeks later the column went into national syndication under the title “At Wit’s End,” capturing with humor and grace and honesty the day-to-day comedy and poignancy of family life. Her career bloomed and she became a well-loved humorist, with her column ultimately appearing in more than 900 newspapers and being anthologized in a dozen books. She also was a regular commentator on Good Morning America for more than 10 years (1975 -1986) and in the 1970s was an advocate for the Equal Rights Amendment movement. Erma passed away in 1996 due to kidney disease.
Throughout her life, Erma was a strong advocate for her alma mater. The writing workshop in her name began in 2000. “Erma’s family began donating her papers to University of Dayton that year,” Teri explains. “I thought, why not have a weekend workshop in conjunction with that, celebrating her connection to the university, her writing career, and carrying forward the spirit behind Brother Tom Price’s words that so inspired her. Frankly, I thought it would be one time and local.”
“But it was so popular and so much fun, that we said, well, why not hold the workshop one more time,” Teri continues. “We thought we’d hold it again in 2002 to give us time to plan, since this was really a project from the heart that we were doing in addition to our regular duties.” She credits several workshop directors since, including Time Bete, who initiated a popular web-site and e-newsletter for the workshop, with helping the workshop grow and continue. Teri has resumed the duties of managing the workshop along with co-director Annette Taylor.
Since then, University of Dayton has been hosting the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop every-other-year, just “one more time.” It’s become so popular that it has sold out (attendance is capped at 350) every year, in a matter of days-to-weeks.
“The workshop is a mix of spending three days laughing — the focus is, after all, writing humor, along with writing human interest stories—but it’s also become known for providing inspiration as practical how-tos,” says Teri.
Erma is remembered not just for her work, but for many popular quotes, including “It takes a lot of courage to show your dreams to someone else.”
No doubt Erma would be proud that part of her legacy is the workshop in her name that makes it safe to share, and grow, writing dreams. Learn more at www.humorwriters.org.
Upcoming Literary Events
• Monday, Dec. 2, 7 p.m., Books & Co. at The Greene: Joshilyn Jackson, author of many popular novels including “Gods in Alabama,” will introduce her new novel, “Someone Else’s Love Story.”
WHAT ARE YOU FAVORITE BOOKS TO GIVE/RECEIVE?
Do you have a book recommendation you’d like to share with fellow Literary Life readers? Email me with a title or two you’re hoping to get/give this holiday season—and a few thoughts about why it makes your list—by December 5, at firstname.lastname@example.org.