The International Women's Writing Guild, founded in 1976, is a network for the personal and professional empowerment of women through writing. As such, it has established a remarkable record of achievement in the publishing world, as well as in circles where life-long learning and personal transformation are valued for their own sake. The Guild nurtures and supports holistic thinking by recognizing the logic of the heart—the ability to perceive the subtle interconnections between people, events and emotions—alongside conventional logic. No portfolio necessary.
International Women's Writing GuildWhat Is This Thing Called "Guild?"
ByHannelore Hahn, Founder and Executive Director of IWWG
We have spoken of this being the Guild's 20th Anniversary Year, but we may not have mentioned that the actual Anniversary falls in the month of October. If my memory serves me, I was sitting at Vicki Heland's kitchen table on October 26, 1976 when the Guild was first named. Now, twenty years later, and in the very month of its birth, as I turn through back issues of Network-well over one hundred of them -- and revisit its linchpins, building blocks and cornerstones, I would like to illuminate this entity which has informed and transformed so many of us.
Well, right off, linchpins, building blocks and cornerstones are not entirely appropriate words for an organization that did not come out of a tool kit and never had a blueprint. Better to say: The Guild gestated in a primordial loam, possibly somewhere in Iceland, with mist and haze to shroud it, and she was mute at that. For it is a historical fact that it took the Guild thirteen years to talk. Then, in perfect timing with the moment on our calendars for confirmations, bat/bar mitzvahs and puberty rites, the Guild spoke these words: "I am," it said, "a network for the personal and professional empowerment of women through writing."
Now, I ask, how is it that a writing organization could be so mute that it took thirteen years to define itself?
Because the Guild is process. The Guild is chrysalis. Furthermore, it engenders this state of becoming in others, who eventually turn into butterflies.
And that, my friends, is true. I have seen this take place over and over again. And I also include myself in the weaving of the gossamer threads that make for the cocoon and the emergence. Nor does it matter one whit what age she is, or how disadvantaged or privileged - or whatever, whatever. It happens to her in time, with or without portfolio, and it happens for good. Blessed be.
Of course, we know the Guild is about writing. But that is its outer manifestation. That is its work in the world. The writing work brings structure to that other part the Guild is about. And what is that? It is being in silent partnership with the spiritual, with the sacred. And without doctrine. Just awareness of a dimension which deepens and ennobles the work - though it is work in itself.
Already the very first essay I ever wrote about the Guild and writing carried a glimmer of that dimension. "I think a writer catches fish," I said in one of its paragraphs. "A writer catches thoughts and impressions quickly before they swim back into the deep ocean. In this way, the writer is a collector of data...which fills the unbearable void. Yes, a catcher of fish, a knotter of nets, a spinner of yarn. And also a weaver...our thoughts dart back and forth like shuttles, but they are invisible shuttles. And our looms are invisible, too. To passionately pursue and nurture the invisible requires faith."
Ah, there it is, that allusion to something more, always more than what we see and know. The quest to make the invisible manifest.
And how does the Guild go about doing this? Well, for one thing, we break bread with that silent partnership by writing about the self. This mantra, this daily practice, is an essential exercise. It cleans the instrument and creates resonance.
Through awareness, we learn to speak our lines with - and also contrapuntally against - something. And this syncopation brings rhythm into our lives. When we move in rhythm, we also sense that there is something moving us.
Of course, the Guild takes care of business - the business of writing, its craft, its styles and genres, and its marketplace. But it is the awareness of another dimension which infuses daily work and makes for a more supportive and sometimes miraculous atmosphere - regardless of whether one chooses to pursue this dimension or not.
And then there is that "knotted skein of wool," which is a Guild metaphor to describe life; any individual's life.
We have said that "writing involves finding that little tail (in the knotted skein), that little end which leads to the beginning. Thus, writing about the self is a process that involves untying the knots, freeing the thread and reconnecting the energies."
But this freeing of threads from lifelong knots is not a "Little Women's" pastime. The knots adhere to live tissue. Pain is inevitable. "Even if we begin fancifully, there is a part of this journey where old business is coughed up and ejected. It is a phlegm stage. And it is here where the Guild differs from other writing and literary organizations - by encouraging this stage, which by its very nature, cannot already be literary."
Actually, the Guild goes further than that. It provides a safe haven for this lancing - without therapy and without loathsome pity. When something painful comes up in our workshops and during the open readings at our conferences, particularly at our annual summer conference at Skidmore College, we form a mindful circle of supportive witnesses. All of us have been there and if some have yet to gather up the courage to speak, that other woman's breakthrough, that other woman's courage, helps to ready each of us to do the same for ourselves. And this makes for bonding. This makes for community - a community based on shared experience. That's where the magic can happen - and does.
No doubt, this is our version of the fraternal bonding of men. We women birth and rebirth each other in a supportive and mindful circle, and out of this bonding also come the cheers for "sisters" we read about in Network for their writing debuts and publishing successes. Good fortune to one gives hope to all.
Thus, we have identified the chrysalis; the silent partnership with the spiritual; the skein of wool and the writing of the self; the open readings; the circle of mindful witnesses and the bonding. Still, there is one more Guild component... and that is its exuberance, bravado and irrepressible surges of energy. This happens particularly during seven days of the year at our annual "Remember the Magic" summer conference, which has been held since 1978 at Skidmore College. For there, you will see the Guild's groaning board, its horn of plenty, its movable feast. There, more than anywhere else, the Guild sets a bountiful table, where everything is discovered, opened, displayed, exchanged, discarded, renewed, recycled, rearranged, invented, reclaimed - all under the guise of a writing conference.
Yes, the Guild knows how to set a bountiful table, and throw a hell of a party; a party whose exuberance. based on serious learning from wholeness, makes for lasting changes, both within ourselves and throughout the world.
P.O. Box 810, Gracie Station
New York, NY 10028-0082
http://www.iwwg.com/IWWG Telephone (212) 737-7536
IWWG Fax (212) 737-9469
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