At Midwest Writers, we have long believed in treating everyone with kindness, decency, and respect.
This truth is why it pains me as director of this organization to acknowledge that we screwed up. That I screwed up.
We screwed up in a way that has landed Midwest Writers in the middle of a social media maelstrom, and we owe all of our friends, faculty and alumni an explanation.
But first, we owe someone dear to us a public apology.
Sarah Hollowell has been a close friend of our conference for years. She is an alumnus who has assisted our agents and faculty, mentored our college interns, and advocated the benefits of attending our annual workshop time and again. She is also an accomplished writer whose fiction, poetry, and essays exploring weight and femininity have been published in multiple online publications and literary journals.
My appreciation and love for Sarah is why it pains me to acknowledge that this organization has hurt her. Now I need to set the record straight about the role I played in allowing that pain to happen:
Last fall, during a meeting with my executive planning committee, we discussed inviting new members to the committee. During that conversation, a committee member made an insensitive comment about Sarah. One I knew was flawed, but did not believe was an accurate representation of her true feelings about Sarah or this committee member’s longstanding commitment to inclusivity and diversity at our workshop.
In that moment, I accepted the apology she made. I also chose to move the group by casting an informal vote inviting Sarah to join our committee. The unanimous answer from everyone, including this chagrined committee member, was yes.
My mistakes that afternoon were in not formalizing that vote, deciding to postpone adding all new members suggested, and in not taking further immediate action to address the misgivings caused by what was said in the room that day. This I should have done not just with every member of the committee, but with Sarah personally.
I cannot change the judgment call I made that afternoon. All I can do now is acknowledge that I am doing everything I can to make things right.
First and foremost, I care about making things right with Sarah. We have reached out to her with an apology on behalf of the committee. My hope is she accepts this apology, along with our invitation to help us define what “making this right” looks like to her.
What making this right looks like for the current make-up of our committee is under review. We are examining all options. I have fired the member in question from the executive committee and will meet with the board to consider my own standing.
We are also committed to establishing new scholarships for diverse voices and hiring a consultant to help us establish guidelines for welcoming and voting on committee members.
As we work to address this matter swiftly, I ask our faculty, friends and alumni to understand that the mistakes that were made do not change Midwest Writers’s core mission to welcome everyone—attendees and faculty alike—to our conference and as members of our committee. And by everyone, I mean all people, regardless of their weight or appearance, gender or sexual preference, age, race, or whether they show up in the same model of wheelchair in which I sit.
Please consider what you have known of us for these past 45 years. We have operated from an open-arms policy for more than four decades now and we have no intention of turning back from that any time soon.