Alabama Writers Conclave
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History

About the AWC


Panelists at AWC Conference 2018 in Orange Beach.

Panelists at AWC Conference 2018 in Orange Beach.

AWC (originally the Alabama Writer's Conclave) was organized in 1923 and has been in continuing existence since. Through the years, AWC has moved its conferences around the state to provide writers everywhere better access to its resources.

AWC is today one of the oldest continuing writers' organization in the United States. Writers, aspiring writers, publishers, and members of the literary community are welcome to join. Sharing information, developing ideas, honing skills, and receiving practical advice are hallmarks of the annual meeting.

AWC is responsible for nominating, for the governor’s appointment, Alabama's Poet Laureate. Most of our members mostly hail from Alabama, although many states are represented. Members include fiction and non-fiction writers, novelists and short story writers, poets, writers of business and scientific works, freelance journalists, romance writers, publishers, patrons, and teachers.

AWC supports the development of fine writers. You can help by joining the AWC or making a tax-deductible donation by selecting the Donate option below.

AWC is a 501(c)3. Your donation is tax-deductible.


A note from AWC historian, Dean Bonner

The history of Alabama Writers’ Conclave (AWC) is a patchwork mirroring Alabama’s literary history, which has worn places you can see skin through, and loose threads that ravel and rend if you tug at them. It is tattered and unwashed, neither whole cloth nor linear – there was a pre-history that colored our history, with odd overlaps in places. We regress, digress, and hope not to repress in the telling. 

In that pre-history, Alabama (Mississippi Territory or Louisiana then) was written about before very much was written within it. In the 1700s, Englishmen traveled the region describing the residents’ activities and cataloging flora and fauna. Their accounts were often unflattering, particularly about the residents of the wild river towns that are now Phenix City and Columbus, Georgia.

Even before the first permanent white settlers trickled in, a small number of hardy souls lived peaceably among the Native American Indians, running trading posts and ferries in what is now Tallapoosa County and in other locales. They had their Bibles and few other books. 

There were notable Alabama writers before the 1923 founding of the Alabama Writers’ Conclave. Dadeville author Johnson J. Hooper claimed Samuel Clemens as a fan and colleague, and Twain drew upon a Hooper story in his telling of the camp meeting in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. 

Poet Sydney Lanier wrote his only novel in Alabama after Northern literary critics lobbed cannon balls into his Macon home on their way to Savannah. Because of his accomplishments, a high school in Montgomery was named for Lanier.

Conclave: “A private or secret meeting with special authority or influence,” based on Latin “with a key.” When the first Conclave gathering occurred in 1923, it was a poorly kept “secret.” It was an EVENT, one celebrating literature and The Old South – replete with porters, runners and breeze makers fanning the guests, while Southern belles in hoop skirts graced the festivities. More than a hundred writers attended, and many universities participated. 

Although the first convention had an Old South theme, many participants were there because they had heard of it via a new technology: radio. They were at once forward and backward-looking the first few years. This dichotomy is reflected in Conclave Vice President J. A. Olin’s daring bobbing of her snow-white hair in 1925. Despite an initial tendency to glorify the past, the group continued to embrace new technology as soon as it developed: radio, movies, television, and computers.

The Conclave has always included a gathering to share ideas and opportunities, as well as writing competitions open to writers within and beyond the state borders. Unlike many other writing organizations, the Conclave did not see adding music to good poetry as a detractor. Songwriting was a regular activity and a part of the annual writing competition. 

The Conclave began at the suggestion of Alabama College President Dr. Thomas Waverly Palmer, who joined with writers Katherine Hopkins Chapman and Mary Staten Gilmore to form the group. Alabama College, now the co-ed University of Montevallo, was a state college for women at that time. Chapman was already considering such a group, and Palmer offered the college as a perfect place to host it. Many of the writers were already members of other writing organizations, such as The Scribblers and the National League of American Pen Women. Several early members were noted newspaperwomen.

Men were allowed to join in 1924, and the Conclave was given the task of recommending the state Poet Laureate when that position was created in 1931, an honor and responsibility that the Conclave continues to this day. Though the Conclave began at Alabama College in Montevallo, which was its home for decades, the group has met at other places, including Florence during the bustle of dam building, Samford University, Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, Huntsville, Fairhope, Auburn, and Gadsden.

The Conclave and Montevallo have been mutually supportive. The college gave freely of its facilities and housed Conclave history, while a portion of book fair sales bolstered the college library, as did the donation of member books. In 1928, the Conclave published its first anthology, Flowers of Verse. In 1975, an annual anthology, The Alalitcom, was established and continues today under the new name of the Awarded Writers Collection

From the earliest days, the Conclave embraced the future. Some of the first workshops focused on getting one’s writing onto the silent screen and on radio. As mentioned, the 1923 inaugural gathering was well attended because of radio advertising. WAPI did an experimental television broadcast at the 1929 Conclave. Then, as now, youth were a part of the organization through attendance and contests. The first awkward tale of a youthful writer might become a treasure once that writer is a Poet Laureate or best-selling author. We all start somewhere.

The Conclave has always been a comfortable place that promotes originality and creativity, focusing on stretching talents, sharing ideas and opportunities, and developing new writers. Creative nonfiction and experimental writing styles are encouraged. The group is steadfast but not stodgy: workshops in humor writing have been a part since the earliest days. The legends of fisticuffs over prose versus poetry were largely exaggerated, though several members did earn a black belt in haiku. 

Original member Mary B. Ward helped organize a 50th anniversary Conclave that was a feast of pageantry, but by1973, the Conclave had indeed “come a long way, baby.” In 1994, the Conclave established a writer’s retreat. As early as 1996, the Conclave had workshops in self-publishing.  

According to Raecile Gwaltney Davis in her 1923-1946 Conclave history book Giant Sages of the Pen, a tree on the Montevallo campus is planted for every Conclave President, and the visual and written archives are maintained at the University of Alabama Tuscaloosa and in the State Archives in Montgomery to preserve our history. 

Today’s AWC supports a diverse community of writers. As in 1923, it welcomes new and established writers of every genre, including playwrights, screenwriters, songwriters, journalists, academic and technical writers, as well as those with no publishing credits who have an interest in writing. By and large, members are a humble lot – even the best-selling authors and leading academic writers with awards too numerous to mention. The AWC was – and is – a success because it is informative, stimulating, and fun.