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Mississippi Valley Writer's Guild

Community members attend a reading hosted by Women Writers Ink, which is being relaunched as the Mississippi Valley Writers Guild and will now be open to writers of all genders. A Spring Reading and Mixer and introduction to the rebranded organization will be held 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Franciscan Spirituality Center.

After 20 years and countless pages, Women Writers Ink is hitting refresh.

Formerly La Crosse Area Women Writers, founded in 1998 by a trio of local writers, the organization is rebranding this month as Mississippi Valley Writers Guild, open for the first time to poets, novelists and essayists of all genders.

“We saw there was a need to grow,” says MVWG co-president and five-year member Jess Witkins. “It’s time to be more inclusive.”

A kickoff Spring Reading and Mixer will be held from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Thursday at the Franciscan Spirituality Center, 920 Market St., with wine and desserts, meet-and-greet, book sale and member readings of original works. Free-will donations are requested and will support MVWG, which gained nonprofit status two months ago and hosts author visits, book fairs and literary events.

The organization, which has 26 members ranging in age from 25 to 75, including professional, aspiring and hobby writers, is divided into three groups in two time brackets, and a fourth group, meeting at 7 p.m. Mondays at JavaVino, will start March 18. Group numbers will be limited to allow for adequate reading and critique time, and professionalism will be emphasized with improved structure guidelines and materials. A membership fee of $10 a month is charged for the first year, with a sliding fee scale available. Membership costs increase slightly the second year.

“Women Writers, the original group, gave me the support I needed to think of myself as a true writer, encouraging me to learn and grow in an incredibly safe environment,” said Heidi Blanke. “Now, 15 years later, I am beyond proud to be part of this masterful group open to all adults.”

While membership is growing and diversifying, the hallmarks of Women Writers Ink will be carried through, “first and foremost being a safe, supportive place” for nurturing creativity, celebrating talents, developing and refining skills, networking and gaining valuable, constructive feedback. Writing is often a solitary act, Witkins notes, and the observations, encouragement and advice of fellow literary lovers is invaluable.

“(The group) has given me a grand opportunity to meet, work with and learn from other writers who inspire me to grow in my writing and to try different genres,” said Bonnie Pickett. “And it’s fun. I’ve learned so much and I’m a better writer because of (the group).”

Each session is presided over by a facilitator, who provides challenging prompts before members have a chance to read each other’s work and offer critiques. For many, the feedback pushes them to be their best.

“As a poet, it is rare to find others who truly appreciate this written form of writing,” said Joanne Adragna Shird. “(My group) has shone among the rare and supported me in countless ways both with deep appreciation for my work and with astute critiques that have made me a better writer.”

More information is available on the Mississippi Valley Writers Guild Facebook page.

“Women Writers ... gave me the support I needed to think of myself as a true writer, encouraging me to learn and grow in an incredibly safe environment. Now, 15 years later, I am beyond proud to be part of this masterful group open to all adults.” Heidi Blanke

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Emily Pyrek can be reached at emily.pyrek@lee.net.

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General assignment reporter

Emily Pyrek covers human interest stories, local events and anything involving dogs for the La Crosse Tribune. She is always interested in story ideas and can be contacted at emily.pyrek@lee.net.

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