I drove to the Detroit Public Library yesterday where I met a fellow writer and long-time member of Detroit Working Writers, Iris Lee Underwood. That’s because I’m writing an article about this 117-year-old organization and Iris, as a past president and currently serves as a board member, has the literary keys to their archives.
We sat in the Burton Historical Collection and she showed me how the archives are filed and the procedure to request them. With over two-dozen boxes belonging to DWW, we asked for three of them to start our research. Then, as the librarian went to retrieve the boxes, Iris took me on a tour of the library, and I had the wonderful opportunity to see where DWW formerly held their board meetings – in the Rutzen Room, located in the newer part of the library which opened in 1963. Detroit Public Library opened in 1865.
After our tour, we returned to the Burton Historical Collection where the stacks of archived files awaited us. The scent of over a hundred years of history, achievements, correspondences, conferences, and other literary activities filled our hearts and minds as we went through the documents, a few decorated with coffee or tea stains and others so old and frail you had to hold them with extra gentleness.
To help in my research, Iris handed me the book Centuries of Voices: Detroit Women Writers Anthology (1900-2000). At home, I went to bed early so I could read the book. It includes pieces by 87 members of the Detroit Women Writers beginning with the first president Alice Bartlett in 1900.
DWW, originally called Detroit Press Club, was established on June 5, 1900 by 13 professional women journalists and literary writers. From 1914 to 1966, the group was known as the Detroit Women Writer’s Club and from 1966 to 2004 as Detroit Women Writers. When men showed interest in joining, the group expanded to include men and women writers and once again the name was changed. Today it’s known as Detroit Working Writers. Past and current members include Joyce Carol Oates, Judith Guest, Naomi Long Madgett, Gloria Whelan, and many more.
Since becoming vice president of DWW, I’ve been intrigued by the history of this organization. After looking through some of its archives yesterday, then reading the stories written by its former and current members, I’m impressed and inspired by the talent and progressive women and men who have helped sustain it through collaborative efforts and creativity. I can only imagine what I’ll discover in my next visit to the Burton Historical Collection because obviously one visit is not enough and I’m glad that that’s the case. The over 150-year-old Detroit Public Library is worth many revisits.