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Meet Terry Wolverton of Writers At Work

Today we’d like to introduce you to Terry Wolverton.

Terry, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I had never been to California I moved to Los Angeles at the age of 22. I didn’t know anyone here, but I had heard about The Woman’s Building, a public center for women’s culture, and I decided I needed to be part of it.

I enrolled in the Feminist Studio Workshop, a two-year educational program in the arts, and joined a community of women who believed that women’s lives and perspectives should be the focus of art. This was back in the 1970s, and the major art historical textbook, Janson’s HISTORY OF ART, contained not one woman. I focused on creative writing and on performance art—I had been involved in theatre in Detroit, where I came from.

I ended up spending 13 years at the Woman’s Building, as a student and then an instructor, as well as working for the organization; I became its development director and then its executive director. During that time I produced by individual and collaborative performances and readings and was involved in exhibitions and video productions, as well as a number of activist art projects (what would now be called “social practice”), including the Incest Awareness Project and the Lesbian Art Project.

After the Woman’s Building closed its doors in 1991, I have continued to work as a member of the Board of Directors to preserve its legacy and that of the artists who practice there. In 2003 I published INSURGENT MUSE: LIFE AND ART AT THE WOMAN’S BUILDING, a memoir from City Lights Press.

In the late 1980s, I was chosen to serve as Artist in Residence at the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center. I created a creative writing program, funded in part by the California Arts Council, serving the community, including a workshop for people with HIV/AIDS. This program ran for nine years, concluding in 1996.

Wanting to continue working with other writers, I founded Writers At Work in 1997. WAW offers ongoing and short-term creative writing workshops, coaching for writers, manuscript review and special publication projects. In our early years, we also sponsored writing workshops in France, Italy and Spain.

In our nearly 21 years, thousands of writers have found inspiration, encouragement and new skills at Writers At Work; dozens have successfully published books. Working with writers for so many years has certainly nurtured my own creativity; I have authored 11 books and edited 15 compilations.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
The arts and literary worlds are not set up to encourage and reward the voices and perspectives of women, LGBTQ people and people of color. We struggle to make our voices heard, to be taken seriously, to gain recognition and to be fairly compensated for our work. This is an ongoing struggle, but identifying it and consciously engaging with it was a phenomenal turning point; we can realize that it is not just that an individual is not good enough, but that there are structural sexism, racism and homophobia to contend with.

The existence of these factors sometimes makes us hard for us to feel like our voices deserve to be in the world, or that our stories are interesting, or that our craft is sufficient. All creative people wrestle with self-doubt, and the competitive structure of mainstream publishing and exhibition venues only heighten these fears, but for people on the margins, the self-doubt can be crippling. This is where a good instructor or mentor or writing group can really assist by interrupting the doubts and making it safe to take risks.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Writers At Work story. Tell us more about the business.
Writers At Work exists to inspire, encourage and empower writers by providing ongoing and short-term workshops, one-on-one consultations, manuscript review, readings and special publication projects. We value each writer’s unique voice and perspective and assist them to craft their work into the best version of itself. When we give public readings, we often receive the comment, “Everyone’s voice is so different” and I feel great satisfaction about that.

We offer opportunities for writers to find a community and, through the ongoing nature of many of the workshops, to remain there for as long as they want or need. This allows a writer to develop a longer-term project or to deepen their work over time.

At WAW we understand that the development of the writer often involves the development of the individual, and there is always space to explore the personal issues that are driving or obstructing the writing process.

We also encourage writers to reach an audience, whether through giving public readings, Internet publishing, submitting to journals, or seeking publication of a book-length work or marketing that book; we’re always looking for new models to assist writers to connect with their readers. Writers At Work participants have published over 40 books, and we’re always cheering for the next one.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
Every day is an opportunity to grow more, to dig deeper, to serve more effectively. If we keep this in mind, that is our luck.

Contact Info:

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Image Credit:
Yvonne M. Estrada, Angela Brinskele

Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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