Column: Love of writing is the only requirement for club

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 16, 2003

Oh, it was a grand party entirely! The one we had Oct. 7, marking the second birthday of the Washington Avenue Writers. Actually the organization was formed in September of 2001. We had planned to celebrate in September, but there were conflicts and we wanted all the members present.

We celebrated a year ago in September, our first anniversary, by simply going out together for a pizza, followed by our regular meeting. Ah, but this year!

Rachelle Fliehman, a recent member, proved that in addition to her considerable talent for writing, she has other gifts. She planned our birthday party, organized it and raised it high, high above our simple little gatherings.

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It started with dinner at a posh restaurant in Owatonna. Instructed in advance, each of us wore a hat or cap related to our favorite nursery rhyme. There were two Mary, Marys quite Contrary, in brimmed hats trimmed in shells and silver bells; one Jack Sprat’s wife with a sign on her cap announcing that she liked fat meat; a hat with a bird nest on it from which Elizabeth, Elsbeth, Betsy and Bess, had each taken one of five eggs and &uot;left four in it.&uot; Three little kittens crowned one hat. By written vote Nancy Jenson and Kim Barr tied for having the most outstanding hats. Nancy’s hat brim featured the five little pigs and Kim’s beautifully constructed silver crown was broken in recollection of the unfortunate Jack, who, in pursuit of a pail of water, fell down and broke his crown.

Dustin Peterson organized the writers and another of the members, Gilbert Johnson, opened his restaurant, Gos-sip, on north Broadway as a meeting place. It is a great loss to the group that both men, under press of other activities, eventually dropped out.

When the restaurant changed hands and was no longer available to us, we held our meeting at my house on South Washington, hence the name &uot;South Washington Writers.&uot;

Properly speaking, we are not a club. There are no membership requirements, no officers, no dues. Everyone, though, is expected to show up with a piece of original writing at every meeting. Anyone who fails to do so is fined a quarter.

There is no restriction on length or type of writing. Participants bring chapters from novels in progress; short stories; excerpts from diaries and journals; poetry; book reviews; and autobiographical sketches.

Each writer reads aloud what she has brought and the meeting is open for comments and suggestions. The purpose is to provide a sounding board and offer support and encouragement.

The group does not pretend to be a writing class. Once in a while we lose a member on the grounds that she is not learning anything. From our beginning, though, we have usually had about 10 members. There is some turnover, some members lost, new members joining us. Of the present 10 members, six have been with the group from its beginning.

Except when the weather makes it impossible for out-of-town members to get through, or when Christmas or New Year falls on or is close to the time for the meeting, we meet at 7 p.m. every Tuesday.

Anyone having something to read and wishing an audience is free to drop in either as a guest or a member. Although it is generally discouraged, we have had children present, and once, a dog.

One of the children, a little girl, read a quite well-written composition of her own. The dog was well behaved.

(Love Cruikshank is an Albert Lea resident. Her column appears Thursdays.)