After a year co-helming the Aspen Writers’ Foundation, Adrienne Brodeur has helped reinvigorate the valley’s premier literary organization to inspire new talent.
In June 2012 Adrienne Brodeur visited here for the first time to attend Aspen Summer Words, the Aspen Writers’ Foundation’s flagship event. The New York-based editor and writer had been invited to speak on a panel about publishing and meet with aspiring authors, as well as launch The Editing Room, a service that pairs authors with industry pros who give editorial feedback. In addition, in a rather informal way, she interviewed for the job she now holds: creative director of the AWF.
“I knew immediately that Aspen was an extraordinary place,” recalls Brodeur. “It was a place conducive to this kind of work.”
The “kind of work” she’s referring to is elevating AWF to even greater national prominence. Already, the Summer Words conference is well-known, and the winter author series enjoys robust popularity among locals. But that initial summer revealed to Brodeur an opportunity to land Aspen on the literary landscape at a level never before reached.
“There is something so shockingly beautiful about the location,” says Brodeur. “Your physical environment as an artist or a writer is very transformational, and in Aspen I found a tremendous energy in the place and the people.”
In Brodeur, AWF’s board found a woman with almost 20 years of professional experience as an editor, author and magazine publisher. Her network includes myriad prize-winning writers whose careers she helped launch, as well as agents and editors. Perhaps most importantly, she brought to Aspen a vision of creating a more practical writing experience for budding authors.
Put simply, Brodeur hoped to partner with an organization to bring to fruition a new type of literary experience, one that would bridge the gap between a traditional literary conference and the intensive pursuit of a master of fine arts in creative writing. She envisioned a program that would incubate new talent, nurture mentorships and deliver skilled craft workshops, with the goal of launching writers who would go on to have thriving literary careers.
Less than a year after that first visit, Brodeur joined the staff of the AWF, along with Mo LaMee (who was named the new director). It has given her the opportunity to bring her parts of her proposal to life, as well as enhance the organization’s community outreach.
The team revamped the Writer in Residence program so that it now has a formal nomination process and a monthlong format. The program also includes an element known as Catch and Release, designed, says Brodeur, “to inspire a love of reading”: Writers-in-residence give a public reading or event, and donated copies of their books are distributed throughout the valley. The Aspen Writers Network, inspired by a board member, is a new program for local working writers to meet monthly and also critique each other’s pieces.
Brodeur and LaMee invited prominent authors and poets to teach at the 2014 Summer Words. Faculty included former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins, novelists Andre Dubus III and Meg Wolitzer, and essayist Meghan Daum, among others. Not only are these artists masters of their craft, says Brodeur, they are also kind. “My job is to bring the right instructors to the conference so participants are not just in the presence of great writers, but in the presence of people who really want to work with them to improve,” she says.
Already the conference’s profile is on the rise, with a three-fold increase in applicants (despite an increase in tuition) and the establishment of emerging writer fellowships, awarded to applicants of exceptional talent, who receive full tuition and housing during Summer Words.
Building that momentum, says Brodeur, has been relatively easy. “The absolute advantage Aspen has is that, well, it’s Aspen,” she says. “Part of the hard work is done in front of a computer, and the rest of the day, you’re breathing this air and walking through these mountains. It’s amazing, and it’s why we’re so well-positioned to be one of the premier literary organizations in the country.”
TOP SUMMER TOMES
What are some of Adrienne Brodeur’s top summer reading picks? We asked, and she shared. Mix up a tall glass of ice tea; sink into a chair; and crack open one of these recommended reads. –RW
We Are Called to Rise ($25, Simon and Schuster), by Laura McBride: “The jacket copy of this debut novel says it all: ‘This is a book that will break your heart—and then put it back together again.’”
Wonderland ($22, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), by Stacey D’Erasmo: “A bittersweet song of a novel about getting a second chance.”
My Salinger Year ($26, Knopf), by Joanna Rakoff: “A witty and beguiling memoir that captures a bygone era in publishing and sheds light on a fascinating and reclusive writer.”
The Accident ($26, Crown Publishers), by Chris Pavone: “What could be better for summer than a totally gripping thriller!”
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