100 years later, Atlanta club keeps passion for writing fresh

In 1914, an elite society of Atlanta writers who had firmly established themselves in the literary world formed a very exclusive, invitation-only club.

Their numbers included editors of local newspapers, poets laureate, playwrights and professors who came together to network in early 20th-century style. For years, they met over formal dinners where black ties and evening gowns were required.

One hundred years later, the Atlanta Writers Club has evolved into a more egalitarian group, requiring no more than a $40 membership fee and a love of writing to join. The rolls list more than 700 members from across the metro area, many of whom participate in critique circles, social events, monthly meetings and conferences. They are a mix of ages, from teens to octogenarians, for whom writing is more than a hobby; it’s a passion.

“I write on the weekends, on holidays, during my vacation — any chance I can get,” said Valerie Connors, the club’s president who works as an operations manager for a Marietta architectural firm. “Writing gives me great joy.”

Connors self-published her first novel, a historical memoir, “Give Me Liberty,” before joining the club, which she discovered at a Decatur Book Festival booth in 2010. Her second book, “In Her Keeping,” was traditionally published, and she’s working on a third.

“The Writers Club helped me get my second book published,” Connors said. “And it has changed my life. I’ve made hundreds of new friends and learned so much about writing.”

Past President George Weinstein of Roswell joined the club in 2001 and immediately became involved in ways to make the group more diverse.

“For the longest time, the club was exclusively white, and members were mostly 40 to 70 (years old); it didn’t encourage young people and certainly didn’t encourage minorities,” he said. “It became a little more egalitarian in the 1980s, but it wasn’t until 1992 that we had our first black members. Now, we have every ethnicity represented.”

Weinstein also broke the long tradition of Thursday night dinners in Midtown or downtown. Meetings moved to Saturday afternoons to accommodate working members’ schedules and were held at the Sandy Springs library. Today, the club meets on the third Saturday of the month at Georgia Perimeter College, where the 175-seat auditorium is often filled to hear guest speakers such as U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey and “The Help” author Kathryn Stockett.

Meetings feature two speakers, one who usually discusses a specific genre and a second who offers tips on the business side of the craft — working with an editor or finding an agent, for instance.

Weinstein also initiated critique groups, and he’s run one in Roswell for 10 years.

“It’s totally open; I don’t discourage anyone from coming,” he said. “Sometimes we go until 11 o’clock so everyone gets to read. Sometimes there are six people, sometimes 14. But the feedback is always great.”

The club also hosts two major conferences that bring writing experts to town and give members a chance to pitch ideas to publishers, meet agents and make business connections. That sort of networking appealed to Roswell’s Lee Gimenez, a full-time writer and author of nine novels, including the mystery thriller “The Washington Ultimatum.”

“I joined four years ago to meet fellow authors in the Atlanta area,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity to network and learn from others. I also joined to take part in the many activities. I’ve learned quite a bit about writing from (other) authors. I also take part in a critique group, which is very beneficial in improving my craft.”

To mark its long history, the club is planning a gala celebration April 19 at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center in Midtown. The dinner will feature speaker Augusten Burroughs, author of the memoir “Running With Scissors.” A historical retrospective booklet is being produced that highlights many of its stellar members and traces the club’s roots.

The group’s longevity alone is what Connors finds “completely amazing.”

“I often wonder if the founding members ever thought in 1914 that we would still be around 100 years later,” she said. “I hope it will be here for another hundred.”

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