A writer often faces a solo journey filled with uncertainty, self-doubt and even frustration. Sometimes the right words or necessary inspiration are not readily at her fingertips. Fortunately at James River Writers there are people who understand and are there to help, and one of those has been Anne Westrick. Anne has been an integral part of this organization for seven years. Her career at JRW went from volunteer to Conference Chair to her last role as Administrative Director, from which she resigned in January 2013.
Anne is a published author, wife, mother, and–as many people have testified–an invaluable contributor to this organization. “James River Writers has a great reputation in the Richmond community, and I think one of the reasons is because we have had Anne’s smiling face making each person who comes into contact with JRW feel valued and appreciated,” said Katharine Herndon, Executive Director of JRW.
During her lunch break, Anne graciously shared her thoughts about JRW and life in general. Every inch of space in her office seemed to be filled. There was a tall, stuffed bookcase, a table too big for the area, and a tiny desk with a large computer which, from the looks of things, Anne used for outreach in addition to her administrative tasks. She gave a wide smile and then suggested we move to a place in the building less crowded.
Anne occasionally tilted her head back slightly as she laughed and talked eagerly. She shared little-known facts about herself, such as how she didn’t like to shop and how she once wore a hairstyle her sister told her was completely outdated. Anne said she had been clueless about it all! This mother of four adult children–two girls and two boys–mentioned she volunteered in many activities her children were involved in as they were growing up. She said when the oldest, who is now 27, started college she took a paid job, because “there was a need to help along the way.”
An obvious sense of pride came over Anne when she spoke about her book Brotherhood, scheduled to be released Fall 2013. Although the interview and her stint at JRW have concluded, Anne’s enthusiasm will not be dimmed.
To her delight, many JRW members raised their glasses in her honor at the January Writers Wednesday held at Capital Ale House in Midlothian. As Anne begins a new chapter in her life, she shared some thoughts on her past, her writing life, her inspirations and her plans for the future.
You graduated from Yale Divinity School. What impact has that training had in your writing career as well as your personal life?
Anne: That was a great school. That was really cool. . . . I was actually training to become a Presbyterian minister, and I ended up saying, “This is not really what I was called to do.” But I loved the training. Part of the training is counseling and listening. I had an undergraduate degree in psychology, and I was doing a little counseling there on campus . . so I have a background in counseling and listening, and sometimes that’s important. Sometimes you just have to hold somebody’s hand in writing, and that’s ok.
How did you first get involved with James River Writers?
Anne: My husband saw an ad or an article in the newspaper for the very first James River Writers Conference in 2003, and he knew. I was already writing at that point and getting rejected all over the place, but I was working very hard on a novel and trying to learn the craft. He saw there was this conference . . . right here in Richmond. . . . It was an excellent conference, and I put myself on the list of people willing to volunteer. . . . So the second conference I volunteered. It was 2004 and 2005. I was behind the scenes just helping to plan the conference. Then in 2006 I came on board as a staff person.
Why do you think the James River Writers organization sees itself as such a strong vehicle for connecting writers and readers in one great community in the Richmond area and beyond?
Anne: I think we inspire people to believe in themselves. Writing is a profession where you get rejected a lot, by publishers, editors, agents. It’s a really tough profession, and you have to develop skills. You have to raise your craft to a level that is high in order to get published. And we inspire people with a message that they can do it. [If they] believe in themselves and are willing to work hard, revise and learn, [they] can do it. Perseverance is huge!
During your tenure at JRW, what do you think has been one your greatest accomplishments?
Anne: Continuity because it is a largely volunteer-run organization. People come and people go. Our board of directors changes, and it changes in part every single year. So there has been a lot of very healthy turnover. Lots of people [have been] involved in lots of ways, but I’ve been the continuity factor for many years and in lots of ways.
What truly inspires you to write, knowing how difficult the process can be?
Anne: It took me a while to realize that I have to write for my sanity. Somewhere along the way I realized that if I started my day writing– anything, just writing–I had a better day than if I didn’t. Some people have to exercise, go jogging, I have to write, and then my day is a good day. Then I went from there, and I said, “If I’m going to write anyway, why don’t I write for a publication? Why don’t I try to figure out what it means to write so well that your writing resonates in a national paper or venue? How can I elevate my writing to that level?”
What is your life’s plan?
Anne: Big question–at this stage, to keep writing and publishing books. To be able to write more books and get them out. When I hit 50 I felt like I was entering into the second phase of my life. In other words, I’ve been through half a century, I have a half of a century to go. So I looked at everything I had accomplished in my first 50 years and thought . . . I’ll turn my next 50 years into writing books. That’s where I am. The second half is beginning.
Is there one person who has had the biggest influence on your life?
Anne: My husband. He and I have just celebrated our 30th anniversary. He has always encouraged me to follow my dreams.
One person can truly make a difference. Thanks, Anne, for being that one!
Here is what others have said about Anne:
Virginia Pye, author of RIVER OF DUST
“Anne, always a pleasure to work with, was fantastic at juggling three plates in the air at once, and she never lost track of what mattered most: that people be welcomed into the writing fold, treated as equals, and encouraged to be the best informed and strongest writers they could hope to become.”
Katharine Herndon, JRW Executive Director
“I have known Anne for several years through James River Writers, but I first really got to work with her when I was Conference Chair in 2011. All I can say is, ‘Thank goodness for Anne!’ She knew when everything needed to happen and kept everything running smoothly.
“She is always smiling and pleasant, even when you’re messing things up and making more work for her. She never has a cross word for anyone, and she is always willing to help you understand what needs to be done and how to do it.”
Lee Gimpel, freelance writer
“Anne was probably the first official contact I had with the organization before I got involved with the group; I met her at a book reading/signing back in 2005 or 2006. I remember her being very enthusiastic and welcoming; really a great ambassador for JRW. I am just now stepping off the active board after serving five years, including stints as treasurer, vice chair and chair. Needless to say, I’ve had Anne on speed dial for all of that time.
“Anne is a great, great resource and a wonderful person. I think JRW has been really lucky to have had her for as long as we have, and I think her own evolution as a writer is an outstanding testament in and of itself. I’d say one of my favorite moments as chair of the board was announcing that Anne got a book deal. The support, excitement and enthusiasm for her from the membership at large was really neat to see. After all, it’s great that for as much as Anne has helped grow and sustain the writing community in the greater Richmond area, she made the leap herself to having an agent and getting a publishing contract. In the end, Anne isn’t just someone who clocked in and ran programs, but is someone who actively cares about reading and writing.
“Anne possesses a really great balance of qualities: she is exceptionally warm and welcoming, she is an amazing repository of information and she is amazingly competent. It will undoubtedly be an adjustment to not have her in the office, but she really helped create a strong foundation for us to build on, to keep the wheels turning so to speak.”
Maya Payne Smart, past JRW Chair
“She has made great contributions to JRW. For the last seven years, Anne has been an extraordinary administrator for JRW’s varied programs, most notably The Writing Show and the annual conference.
“Anne’s chipper disposition and attention to detail have made her a treasured member of the JRW team for many years. The organization has been led by a rotating cast of board chairs so Anne’s continued presence in the office over several years has provided much needed continuity and institutional memory. ‘When in doubt, ask Anne’ has long been a mantra of the board.
“We wish Anne great success as she pursues life as a full-time writer and we eagerly anticipate the publication of her debut novel later this year. JRW is a better organization because of her longstanding support.”
— Jennifer Drummond