The vast majority of writers who attended the 2016 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop are raving about it.
Attendees particularly loved the way writer and comic Leighann Lord “rocked the house” in her closing-night keynote talk. Her humorous, inspirational speech garnered the highest rating for any keynote speaker since the workshop organizers began surveying attendees in 2008. Several offered to rate her “11” or “12” on the 10-point survey scale.
“Leighann Lord was flawless in conveying wit, universal resonance, laughter, profound insight, in short, the spirit of Erma. I didn’t want her talk to end. She is the epitome of grace and a wicked sense of humor,” wrote one attendee.
“Hilarious yet inspirational. A beautifully crafted speech that, amid all the laughs, brought it home at the end to the theme of passion for writing,” another observed. She “knocked it out of the park. So connected to the audience, so in the moment, so authentic,” another attendee wrote.
A record 231 attendees — 66 percent — completed an online survey that rated the workshop. The overall workshop, its cost vs. value, and the networking opportunities all received scores of 9 (out of 10).
A new record: 80 percent said the knowledge and connections they gained at the workshop will cover the full cost of attending or far more than cover the cost of attending.
Half said they would definitely attend again. In all, 86 percent indicated they would definitely come back or highly consider it — another record. The opportunity to network (with other attendees and speakers) also received the highest marks in workshop history.
Approximately 350 writers from all parts of the country converged at the University of Dayton, Bombeck’s alma mater, for the March 31-April 2 biennial workshop that’s become so popular that it sold out in less than six hours. It’s here that Erma first heard the words, “You can write!” from an English professor.
The workshop’s emcee, Barbara Chisholm’s performance of Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End, the inspirational tone of Kathy Kinney and Cindy Ratzlaff’s talk, the quality of the faculty, stand-up comedy night, speed dating for writers and Pitchapalooza all received high marks. Attendees also enjoyed keynoter Amy Ephron’s pitch-perfect reading of one of her essays — and the presence of three former keynoters, Alan Zweibel, Judy Carter and Gina Barreca, on the workshop’s talent-laden faculty.
“Patricia Wynn Brown is the perfect, gracious, funny and friendly emcee,” one attendee wrote. “She infused every emcee gig with joy and enthusiasm,” observed another.
Pitchapalooza, billed as the American Idol for books, only kinder and gentler, “was so entertaining and informative that it could honestly be a reality TV show,” another attendee wrote. “The critiques were clearly given from a loving, respectful, supportive place. I think everyone in the room won.”
A number of attendees said the one-woman show based on Erma’s life and writings surpassed their expectations. “It was top notch, memorable, and there was barely a dry eye in the house,” one commented.
The chemistry between writing partners/lifelong friends Kinney and Ratzlaff touched attendees during their uplifting keynote talk. “These women blew the doors off as far as I’m concerned. Motivating, inspiring, funny, and honest with a REAL message,” one wrote.
The attendee stand-up comedy night ended the workshop with howls of laughter. “Wendy Liebman is a total gem and the attendee comics were great. Supportive crowd, great leader, perfect way to end the conference,” said one attendee.
Other highlights among hundreds of write-in responses include:
• I’m not sure how the staff can top #2016EBWW. It was stellar in every way. Workshops were on trend and helpful for all levels of creative people from novices to professionals. The faculty was incredible.
• I KNOW that Erma is so proud and so honored. This is the best gift that I have ever given myself, life changing!
• An unbelievable experience. The EBWW is unique among all conferences in its ability to foster a culture of support and collaboration, rather than competition, among the writers who attend it and become part of its community. …The EBWW feels less like attending a conference, and more like visiting family.
• Thanks for being the kindle for my spark. xoxoxo
• I love this workshop. Love, love, love. The content was great this year. Please keep offering sessions that focus on craft!
• I’m so glad I came and will stand in line to be sure to get into the next one! The mixture of topics and approaches in the sessions offered seems just right. The spirit of Erma Bombeck is wonderful and the family atmosphere is charming.
• The truth is you can’t put a value on the conference — the cost is one thing, but the connections, information and education I received are invaluable.
• My favorite writers’ workshop, bar none.
• The welcoming warmth of this workshop far exceeds any I have ever attended.
• I thought this was a remarkably well-organized and content-packed conference. The depth of expertise in the workshops was outstanding; people you might expect to be keynoters were workshop presenters. That’s really unusual.
• The spirit of the workshop seems to really carry the spirit of Erma throughout. It’s genuine. It is not contrived.
Writers offered us constructive criticism, too. Attendees continue to want a greater focus on the craft of writing. Several suggested better organized breakfast roundtables, larger rooms for the sessions and healthier snacks (but “keep the lemon cake” at dinner).
The best recommendation: “A marching band to play “Our Love is Here to Stay” in 2018 and the Stones in 2020, although I’d trade them both for Billy Joel :).”
In addition to survey responses, nearly 60 writers tapped out literally thousands of words to capture their experience at the 2016 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. For links to their newspaper and online stories, blogs and podcasts, click here.
Audio recordings of the individual sessions or the complete workshop can be ordered here.
The next Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop will be held April 5-7, 2018. To keep in touch, like our Facebook page, follow us on Twitter and subscribe to our free monthly e-newsletter. To subscribe, visit our blog.
— Teri Rizvi
Teri Rizvi is the founder of the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop and executive director of strategic communications at the University of Dayton.