The Midwest Writing Center was founded in 1973 and incorporated in 1980, by Illinois writers David R. Collins and Evelyn Witter. The founders worked to raise funds to support an annual writing conference (the Mississippi Valley Writers Conference) and a national poetry contest (the Mississippi Valley Poetry Contest). The goal was also to have a permanent home which would be a place of retreat for writers; a reception place for book signings and workshops; a meeting place for book clubs, writing groups, and readings of both established and emerging writers; a display area for local writing collections; a reference library with reference books and computers available for use; and special project book publication. This goal was reached in 2002 when the Center found a home in Rock Island’s downtown Arts and Entertainment District.
In its first year at this location, the Center hosted book signings, a seminar for children’s writers, a mystery writing workshop, and a series of poetry readings. These events were organized by volunteers and offered when funding and personnel were available.
In January of 2003, the Board of Directors held its first strategic planning retreat, streamlining committees and shaping the organization of the Center. In June 2003, the first (part-time) executive director, Leslie Thompson, was hired.
As a result of having paid staff, we have been able to offer regular, consistent programming, including monthly writing workshops, contests, readings, books signings, and discussions. Specifically, we have nurtured the annually-held Mississippi Valley Poetry Contest, Susan K. Collins Chapbook Contest, Great River Writers Retreat, Poetry Residency, and Children’s Literature Festival. We also hold poetry readings, book signings, open book discussions, critique groups, and mentoring sessions. Periodically, we publish local writers’ work, including via our chapbook contest, Out Loud Open Mic Readings, and Young Emerging Writers Interns’ The Atlas anthology.
Our bi-annual/tri-annual literary awards banquet allows local writing groups to recognize outstanding members and celebrate the literary arts. At this event, we honor local writers and teachers for their work in fostering appreciation of the written word and supporting and educating its creators. Guest speakers have included Beverly Van Hook, Marilynne Robinson, Cecil Murphey, and Randy Wayne White (all connected to the local area). At the banquet, we present the David R. Collins Literary Achievement Award to a published author nominated for their work in creating the written word and their support of other writers. Past recipients have included Julie Jensen McDonald, Mike McCarty, Connie Corcoran Wilson, and Robin Throne.
Since July of 2006, the David R. Collins Writers Conference held in June each year has expanded, attracting participants from all over the country.
Our website receives hundreds of hits per month; circulates a monthly e-newsletter to over 750 people, and publishes an annual e-magazine for members, The Writer’s Block. We’re also expanding our reach into local media, including through our Blog, Facebook page, Linked In group, Pinterest page, and Twitter account.
The Midwest Writing Center is managed by a 15-member Board of Directors; we hold an annual meeting in May of each year for our membership; our annual report is distributed at the annual meeting. Since the fall of 2005, we have been located in the Bucktown Center for the Arts in downtown Davenport. Our condo office space was purchased with a grant received by the Riverboat Development Authority. We also share a large conference space where we can hold our workshops and other events.
Our current Executive Director is Ryan Collins. We have over 100 volunteers who contribute over 4,500 hours of service each year in the areas of fundraising, program development, office maintenance, web design, administrative assistance, and much more.