Driftless Gems

By Erin Malone

As a writer, I find that carving out time and space to work on my craft can feel like a daunting — and lonely — task. So much so that for years I’d been in the habit of bringing my laptop to a local café when I needed to buckle down and focus. 

But when the pandemic hit, that avenue I’d relied on was no longer an option.

Fortunately, about that same time, I joined the board of the Viroqua-based Driftless Writing Center and began helping out with a program that would become a panacea for my writing woes: Connect & Write.

Connect & Write is the DWC’s virtual writing lab — where writers can drop into a Zoom meeting room, state a writing intention for the day to the other writers gathered, and then spend an hour working in parallel with them. It’s a great way to connect with fellow creatives and stay on track with your writing goals. The lab is offered several times per week at staggered hours, and because it is run by volunteers such as myself and other DWC board members, it is free to join. And all skill levels are welcome.

But Connect & Write is just one of the many ways that the DWC supports writers in our region. DWC also provides a platform for authors to share their work and knowledge with the local community through readings and workshops. Last fall, we spearheaded an initiative to bring U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo to UW-La Crosse for a free performance of her poetry and music. And the DWC regularly hosts virtual writing workshops on such topics as how to publish one’s work or how to harness the power of place in one’s writing. 

Other projects that the DWC has proudly produced include a print anthology, “Contours,” featuring original work of area writers, and “Stories From the Flood,” an oral history community service program that recorded stories of people affected by flooding in the Driftless region. 

This year we will expand our offerings by organizing additional virtual open mic events for writers to share their work, hosting more regional authors, and adding a diverse slate of workshop facilitators.

What makes the DWC able to offer such rich and varied programming are two things: donations and volunteers. Donations help cover the cost of workshops and events, making them affordable to our community. Our all-volunteer board keeps administrative costs to a minimum. As a result, almost all workshop tuition can go directly to compensating our expert instructors.

It is worthwhile work, and particularly needed in rural areas such as ours — where it can be difficult to draw authors for readings due to the remoteness of our location and where fewer resources for writers exist. But the DWC believes firmly that everyone has a story to tell, and they are committed to making sure that the people of the Driftless region have the tools and support they need to tell them.

To learn more about the Driftless Writing Center, our programs, and how to donate, visit DriftlessWritingCenter.org.

Driftless Gems is a new monthly column celebrating the nonprofit arts, culture, humanities and nature organizations that make our region unique. If you would like to showcase other Driftless Gems, email info@voiceoftherivervalley.com.