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Presentation to
Wisconsin Regional Writers Conference
, Wausau, WI, September 27, 2008
Maryo Gard Ewell
[NOTE:  “X” and “Y” are readers seated with scripts, simply joining in, conversationally, on cue].
Maryo: The year was 1948.  My phone rang.  Wakelin McNeil, 4-H Ranger, was on the
X: There are 9 people from rural Wisconsin who took up my offer for 4-H leaders to
 learn creative writing.
Y:  I wish I’d known they were coming today.  I’m pretty busy.
X: One of the women has 13 children.
Y: A farm woman with 13 children has time to come to Madison and talk about
X: She’s here
Y: All right, I’ll see them right now. Where?
Maryo: I found the 9 people in a hot room that looked out on the slope down to Lake Mendota.  There were 8 woman and one boy. They waited for me to say something, and as I   paused a moment looking at them I  forgot that they had come to Madison to talk about the technical processes of creative writing.  They became, instead, a symbol of people I had      encountered in my wanderings, people who knew a wordless appreciation of the theater that was life.
Y: You are like a group of my neighbors when I was a kid down in Kansas.
X: You remind me a little bit of a neighbor of mine up in Manitowoc County.  He’s a farmer.  Not really a very good farmer.
Y: Why did you come?
X: I don’t know exactly.  Except that we’ve heard that you want people to write about their own places and the folks they know well.  I think I could do that.
Y: Tell me about yourselves.  Where did you come from and what kind of places are they?’
Maryo: And then began one of the most incredible experiences I ever had.  These 9 persons stayed at the University for three days; and every day about 9:00 in the morning we would start talking together.  And as we talked our lives and the struggle in them emerged to lie against the whole fabric of our native places; and as we talked, hour after hour, a kind of fantastic play that was like life itself began to emerge and to encompass us all within its spaceless and formless self.  There were times when we would speak, not as ourselves, but as imaginary characters that grew from our talk of people and events that were as real as the earth itself.  The whole affair was a kind of dramatic ecstasy in which we were both the actors and the audience, the dancers and the music.
When the three days were over, it was as though a kind of dream had ended, with no more explanation than that with which it had begun.  Then we awoke suddenly and realized that we had hardly mentioned the processes of writing at all and that, instead of a partly completed      manuscript tucked in pocket or purse, we had only a confused but terribly exhilarating sense of  something that had stirred our lives.
Y: I have met with hundreds of groups like this one, and I have seen hundreds of plays, but I have never had a deeper sense of theater than we have had together.
X:   I think it was because we all had something to express, and we did express it, and      maybe the memory of it is somehow better than the written play.
Y: I wish there were more persons like yourselves.
X: Mr. Gard, there are hundreds and thousands of rural men and women who live on the land and love the land and who understand the true meaning of the seasons and man’s relationship to man and to his God.
Y: If that is so, the plays they send to me don’t reflect such an appreciation.
Maryo: She replied that she thought one reason the plays reflected little poetic appreciation of the area was because everything was made to seem too complex, too technical, too difficult.  She said there must be a great, free expression. 
X:  If the people of Wisconsin knew that someone would encourage them  to express  themselves in any way they chose, if they knew that they were free of scenery and stages and pettiness that plays we do seem so full of, if they knew that someone would back them and help them when they wanted help, it is my opinion that there would be such a rising of creative expression as is yet unheard of in Wisconsin, and it would really all be a part of the kind of theater we had had these past three days, for the whole expression would be of and about ourselves.   [this was from Gard, Grassroots Theater: A Search for Regional Arts in America]
“Of and about ourselves.” 
This moment was when the Wisconsin Regional Writers – originally, the Wisconsin Rural Writers – was conceived.
Why do I go back 60 years to this moment?
Well, first, to say congratulations.  You have a proud history of longevity, and I am sure that my father, Bob Gard, even with his vision of what Wisconsin's writers were capable of producing, would be stunned to see the number of poems, stories, plays, novels, articles, and essays that have been written and so often published by the members of the WRWA.  Indeed, congratulations.  What you do is both wonderful, exhilarating – and of paramount importance.
Importance to whom, you ask?
I say: important to the future of the United States as we know it, and as it can be.  I mean that.  I am not being nice, not being fluffy here.  I believe that your creative work may be important to the future of our nation.  Bear with me for a while:
Why Does History Matter?
I firmly believe that things go in cycles.  A lot of people say, “If you don't know where you have come from, how can you know where you are going?”  A more modern, hip way to say this would be, “If you can't tell Mapquest where your starting point is, and just type in a destination, you will get an error message.
I would like to look at some things from the past, using Bob Gard as my central character, or central metaphor, and then show you why, to me, these things are so important to our future.
Who Was Bob Gard?
Well, Gard was a storyteller.  So, it seems only fitting that I tell you some little stories.  Each is, of course, an illustration of something very important that I believe he stood for.  Each is a metaphor.
First, let me tell you about my tenth birthday. I had four friends over and my folks were very mysterious about what was going to happen. When my friends arrived, we were led to the back yard.  Three large pieces of cardboard had been propped up against trees – they read, Act One, Act Two, Act Three.  We were told that the name of the play was to be “The Diamond in the Corn.”  We were provided with a big piece of quartz.  We were provided with a box of old clothes.  We were told that we had one hour, and that all of our parents would be over to watch the play at 4:00. Of course, we invented and produced and performed a play. (To wild applause, I might add.)
Next, let me tell you that he was rarely home.  Perhaps that's one reason I'm a community arts person by heart and by profession today: to see my dad, I had to accompany him on some of his trips, and I did.  He was utterly driven by the Wisconsin Idea.  You know, that grand and brilliant idea, conceived by Governor Fighting Bob LaFollette, and University of Wisconsin President Charles Van Hise, that the boundaries of the University of Wisconsin campus are the boundaries of the state of Wisconsin.  They believed that the University's mission was to deliver an education to anyone, whether they could get to Madison or not. And that was the impetus behind the creation of WHA Radio – to deliver distance-learning classes to people. That was the impetus behind correspondence courses which were invented in Wisconsin; and the mandate to professors to be off campus, in Wisconsin's communities, helping people learn.  LaFollette and Van Hise believed that if everyone's passion to learn were fulfilled, if everyone's talents were fulfilled, then the university would have justified public funding. But also, Wisconsin and its communities, economics and government would be healthy and strong, for people would be working at what they loved, and participating in civic affairs.  In fact, Van Hise said:
X: I would have no mute, inglorious Milton in this state; I would have everybody who has a talent have an opportunity to find his way so far as his talent will carry him. [quoted in Howe, Wisconsin, An Experiment in Democracy]
Later, in 1925, President Glenn Frank said,
X: There’s a gap somewhere in the soul of the people that troops into the theater but never produces a folk drama… The arts are vital, if in the years ahead we are to master instead of being mastered by the vast, complex and swiftly moving technical civilization. [quoted in Grassroots Theater]
Bob Gard was totally bitten by this bug.  He was determined that there would be no mute Miltons in Wisconsin.  If someone wanted to write, well then he would help them write.  He was determined that there should never be unproduced plays.   If there were such plays, especially plays which were about a local place, which ascribed meaning to a locale, well then he would do what he could to help ensure that they were produced. 
Driven by this vision, he became a Knight of the Wisconsin Idea, working backstage at the University, which he has described in his book Grassroots Theater.  (I do have some copies of it for sale – and by the way, the earlier story of the birth of the Wisconsin Rural Writers Association came from that, as well. Here's a challenge: if I sell all 25 copies of Grassroots Theater, whose proceeds go to the Gard Foundation to continue these ideas, I will personally donate $100 to WRWA.)  Now about the Knights of the Wisconsin Idea:
Y: The backstage of the University of Wisconsin exists in a converted monument works, in a side of the football stadium, and in huts and basements.  In the warrens of these places is the material of tremendous educational schemes in almost every subject.  Here are Great Books programs, citizen's forums, leadership courses, vast schemes of audio-visual development, hundreds of correspondence courses taught by green-eye-shaded men and women who read manuscripts and mark papers in the warrens and never see the students they correspond with.  Here is a department that answers questions about any subject.  Here, in special institutes, is professional education for mail carriers, firemen, preachers...factory foremen, recreational leaders, district attorneys... Here are fleets of cars, oiled, gassed, ready for the road.  And here are drivers, many with PhD's, to hurl the cars about the state, crossing and crisscrossing, holding the steering wheels like the reins of chargers, carrying out missions, leading a new kind of crusade... In Madison, in many modest homes, wives wait for their men, their Knights of the Wisconsin Idea, and wish guiltily at times for quiet professorships in tiny colleges.  Travel, speed, and sometimes death are all part of the backstage of the Wisconsin Idea.  Fog, slippery roads, deep snow, perpetual colds, hotel rooms and lonely beds are the commonplace items.  The Knights are sober men, basically good family men, and they have a tremendous belief that what they are doing is important. [Grassroots Theater]
A third vignette.  I am now, maybe, 13 years old.  Often, during dessert, eating my mother's unbelievably delicious cherry pie, my father and I would get into punning contests.  But no ordinary puns.  No, the rule was, the pun had to be on a Wisconsin place name.  The dumber, the better.
X:  Who was that girl I saw you with last night?
Maryo:  Oh, Claire?        [Eau Claire]
X:  Hey, hiker!  Did you go on the luxury walk?
Maryo:  No, I went on the uhconomuh- walk.   [Oconomowoc]
X: Hey, waitress!  Where's my soup?
Maryo:  Soup?  Here y'are!   [Superior]
A fourth vignette.  Sundays, or Thanksgiving Days, watching the Green Bay Packers with my dad.  As in many Wisconsin homes, the Sunday meal was planned to take kickoff time into account.  My father loved the Packers (as do I; I have my inflatable cheesehead with me on this trip, so that regardless of where I am at kickoff time tomorrow, I can simply inflate my cheesehead, and be ready).  Duh.  I thought this was just about football.  It wasn't, of course.
Next vignette.  My best friend was Becky Herb, and her father was a very prominent physicist.  Over beer one night, I remember my dad asking Mr. Herb, “Well, now, Ray, what do you think about power?”  Ray Herb looked kind of stunned for a moment.  But this drew the humanist and the physicist into a far-reaching, lengthy conversation that plumbed the meaning of what it meant to be a human being, a conversation that lasted long after Becky and I fell asleep in our chairs.
Finally.  My dad kind of looked like Abraham Lincoln.  He really did.  He was cast as Lincoln in at least two plays that I saw him in.  An old friend from grade school contacted me recently and said, “I remember your dad, he looked like Abraham Lincoln.”
Why do I tell you all of these stories?
The birthday party story illustrates his principle that anything, however ordinary, is the raw material for creative response.  Whatever the circumstances – a birthday party, selecting your wardrobe for the day, interacting with your friends, discussing zoning in your community – there is good material there, and it’s our responsibility to see that this situation is taken “through the creative, above the ordinary,” as he said in 1969, which adds a dimension of understanding, of significance, that it did not have before.
I told you about the Knights of the Wisconsin Idea to tell you something of his ideas about the importance of participation. Citizens, creatively fulfilled as Van Hise envisioned, would not merely consume life, but would participate in the making of it (as President Frank envisioned). Then Wisconsin would show the United States what a democracy could truly be – for the people, yes, but of and by the people.  And the Knights of the Wisconsin Idea would enable the dream to be “of” and “by,” not just “for.”
Those dumb puns!  Life growing up was about Wisconsin.  Always, Wisconsin.  Its beauty, its challenges, its government, its history, its people, its places.  Place names.  Places.  The critical importance of a sense of place.  The meaning of where you live.  And how you share that life with your neighbors.
The Packers?  Because the Packers are not just a football team.  Their name, the Packers – we're talking about Meat Packers, you know: the name of the team was an homage to the working man of Green Bay.  And you know that they are not owned by a single rich man: they are owned by stockholders, are governed by a board of directors, and they cannot be dissociated from their place, from Green Bay.  Their charter says that they cannot move to another city.  If they end, they end; and  the proceeds of the sale go the Green Bay Packers Foundation.  Again, the importance of place.  But also, the importance of the people.  The working people of Wisconsin.  The people who own the football team.
The story about Mr. Herb, the physicist?  My father believed that no idea was too big for human beings.  “Power” wasn't something that belonged to scientists or social scientists.  “Power,” like God, or meaning, or humanity, or beauty, is a big idea, worthy of discussion, and he passionately wanted all of us to talk about the biggest of ideas.
And finally, noting his resemblance to Lincoln?  He was proud of that.  Of the people, by the people, for the people, was the hallmark of his life.
About Writing
So I've told you that he believed that even the most ordinary activity of daily life is the material for creative response.  I've told you that he believed passionately in the participation by ordinary people – us – in the making of a community's folk drama, as Glenn Frank might have called it – shifting from being passive consumers of art, to active creators of art.  I've told you that he was passionate about Wisconsin, and its places.  I told you that he believed in the people – the meat packers, the football team's shareholders, the commitment of the Packers to either remain in their place or let the proceeds of their sale benefit the Packers Foundation.  I told you that he believed that people should dream no small dreams, get stuck in no mundane ruts – but rather, envision, live out, and communicate the biggest ideas that they could.  I told you that he looked like Lincoln.
How does this translate into his love of literature and of writing?  Perhaps the first writer he introduced me to was Walt Whitman.  He brought me a biography of Whitman from the library, when I was too young to have my own library card, and he told me he thought I'd be interested.  Oh, man!  What a world that opened up for me.  He loved Whitman: the passionate love of life, the notion that each of us makes up America, the idea of grassroots – leaves of grass – that's who he was.  Indeed, when he was dying, we took turns reading Leaves of Grass to him.
But he didn't stop at loving the work of others.  He wrote himself, and most of that writing had to do with his passion for place, for Wisconsin.  Indeed, here is what he said in the Author's Note to Coming Home To Wisconsin, one of his last books:
Y:  This is a book filled with the present and the past, which achievement and failure, with love for a state which I have made my own.  It is about land and wind and people who came seeking the meaning of their lives; and it is about me who also came seeking the meaning of mine.  I hope that the book is filled with the spirit of mission, and of the enrichment of human life.  I hope that within it broods something of the fascination I feel when I contemplate the word “Wisconsin.”  I hope that within this book a person – myself – and the land – Wisconsin – are portrayed as inseparable.... [Gard, Coming Home to Wisconsin]
Here's a piece he wrote in Wisconsin Sketches, for instance.
Oh how to tell of Wisconsin
She hued golden in fall and delicate in spring
And I riding through her heart.
Watching waiting to hear from her,
Myself a sounding instrument
Giving back words for air, cloud, wood and white water,
Words marking my passage.
X: I have seen her, yes, since I was a young man.
Watching her changes,
Feeling her tempos, her peoples,
And I have seen her nations assembled,
Studied the map of her nationalities spread broadside:
The slipping past in time and memory
A spectacle of old churches, forgotten cabins
And foreign names attached to small places.
Y: I have watched her more recent arrivals gathered in Milwaukee
Under high beams in a great hall,
Stricken into moving pools of color
By immense shafts of vibrating light:
Huge arcs humming from the beams
Their colorwheel patterns falling in and among
The nimble dancers from many nations.
And I swept by my memory
Of strong earlier folk from foreign lands
Coming to us by sail, by steamer
Slower wagon, and on foot, sweeping out
From eastern coasts, hastening to the heartland.
Maryo: Oh my heart, pause, let me feel,
Freed from your pulsing beat
That pains to music and dancing feet.
Let me savor in silence the power of the folk.
X: Look now at the dancers on the wide floor: Greeks, Serbs, and Croatians
Germans, Norwegians;
Swiss, Lithuanians, Finns;
Russians, Irish, Poles,
Bavarians, Ukranians, Israeli;
Latvians, and Spaniards,
Y:  All, even as I,
For their power is in me transferred.
No native son, I, a visitor;
But exposed early to a power of thought
That raced through time and left
A newer, thrilling impress on America
To give an insight to the soul of freedom
And the better life.  Man, restless,
And great minds fermenting expansive ideas
That had source in professive struggles
And star-aspiring ideals. [Gard, Wisconsin Sketches]
Star-aspiring ideals...  Here is a little poem.  Just a tiny one.  I almost like it best of all:
I awoke one clear morning and said
I will certainly do something great today
I will move a mountain
Or at least cause a bell to chime
Celebrating some minor victory.
Instead, near Spring Green,
I crossed a star-flowered prairie,
Sat down in the middle of tall grass,
And simply stared upward
At white clouds in a spring sky.
A Wisconsin meadow
In spring
With shooting sars
And sweet star grasses
Can make a fulfilled astronomer
Of any earthbound, astral
Day seeker.   [Wisconsin Sketches]
Well, these are little snippets I like.  He wrote and wrote and wrote.  Every morning, on his old Olympia typewriter, before breakfast, he wrote for two hours or more.  He wrote more than 40 books during his life.  There were horse stories for young people, there were Wisconsin stories and lore and place-names books, there were Wisconsin histories, there were books on community arts.  There were plays and radio plays and essays and articles and even a series of Wisconsin stories in the Capital Times newspaper– He literally wrote hundreds, probably thousands, of pieces.
But here is the important thing.  In GrassrootsTheater, Gard talked about the importance of articulating a philosophy of writing.  He described his high school teacher as saying, “Bob, you are a pretty good writer.  But you will never be a great writer unless you develop a personal philosophy of writing.”
What were the elements of that philosophy?  Here's a speech I found.  I have no idea where he gave it.  Maybe at a WRWA conference.  It's entitled, “Notes for Writers Who Are Desperately Moved To Write.”  He saw writing as a drive, “an inner knowledge,” he says, “that they must do this or die.”  His philosophy of writing begins with a commitment to introspection.  He believed that this was true for any writer, from the most casual to the most fanatically dedicated.  Introspection.  He recognized that the facing of personal history and its interpretation can be overwhelming but is essential.
Y:  Over many years I have slowly built up a philosophy of writing that depends on my awareness of my own background and my own sensitivities toward people I have known, and whose characters I have been able to deepen and to find the many angles that underlie dramatic action.  I have realized how a knowledge of family background has become very important to me....Ancestors people every writer's work, and their shadow falls upon the fictional figures the writer creates. [Grassroots Theater]
Then, he believed, you, the writer must fix yourself in place, as you look at your background to fix yourself in time.  Why did you come to the place where you are?  Why do you stay?  What is its meaning? 
And you, the writer, must understand your community.  Who came there first?  What were their dreams?  What were their struggles in terms of class, in terms of race?  What was their dignity?  How did they relate to one another?  How does all of this inform how the community is today, and how people relate to one another?  For all of this lays the groundwork for character development, plot, dialogue.  It is all sourced in the past. 
And you must understand your personal search for meaning.  For my dad, the metaphor was the prairie grass, the unbroken miles of prairie that were finally broken by his father's generation.  Still, he tells of a conversation with his dad, one night, in which my grandfather said,
X: Boy, it's time for you to go seeking as I did.  The tall grass is gone, and you ain't going to find that.  But you got to find something.  There's something out there that is like the grass was to me.  And you got to find out what they left in place of the grass.  You go and find and tell me what it is that you are searching for.  [Coming Home to Wisconsin]
Throughout his life, he was a seeker.  An active searcher, looking for his prairie grass.  He found much of that meaning in Wisconsin and the searches of its people to understand, to experience, democracy.  It was fitting to him that the Green Bay Packers were of the meat packers, owned by the people.  It was important to him to try and understand the meaning of the seasons. To understand the meaning of being human...indeed, his last novel was a journey to discover the significance of memory and context in a character with Alzheimer's disease, a character drawn from a close friend.  To understand man's relationship to man and to God, as the Tall, Gray Lady said, at the birth of WRWA.  To give dignity and cultural meaning to the communities of Wisconsin.
But there was more.  His own desperation to write overflowed.  He, himself, could find meanings in writing; but imagine what could happen, what glorious heights could await humankind, if everyone with a personal search, everyone with a story to tell, everyone with a commitment to homeplace and to neighbor, everyone with questions about how and why things are – imagine what could happen if each of these people were writing.  If all of Wisconsin were writing.
Yes, it hearkened back to President Van Hise worrying that there might be a “mute, inglorious Milton” in Wisconsin if his or her talent were not discovered.  But more: it was President Frank's fear that if people didn't make their own art, if they were only troop into the theater but never produce drama that is of and by themselves, then we would be mastered by technology. Wisconsin and her people could move towards the vision of a creative Wisconsin, a fulfilled Wisconsin, a democratic Wisconsin, if her people wrote. He said,
Y:  As art activity is developed, the community is re-created.  The vital roots of every phase of life are touched.  As the community is awakened to its opportunity in the arts, it becomes a laboratory through which the vision of the region is reformulated and extended.[Gard et al, The Arts in the Small Community]
And this brings us back to WRWA.  After the Tall, Gray lady had talked about the possibility of an expression “of and about ourselves,” Gard, and his staff of two, invited anyone in Wisconsin to send them manuscripts, just to test the waters.  He thought that, perhaps, they might receive 50 samples.
X: It was with some dismay that we found our mailboxes loaded each morning with manuscripts.  To the horror of my already overburdened small staff, over 1000 poems were sent in a few days time.  There were short stories, too, and a few plays.  The curious thing was that the material was, for the most part, excellent.  For a while, until I could get special help, we were all reading innumerable manuscripts every day, at lunch, at dinner, at night, and all of us would usually be walking from this to that task with several rural life poems or stories or plays sticking out of our pockets.  [Grassroots Theater]
In its first year, the membership of WRWA surpassed 1,000, with regional chapters in 8 counties.  While Gard believed deeply in all of the arts, it was writing, always writing.  Everyone who ever met him has exchanged at least one story in which they'd been babbling along, Gard looking off into the far distance, and all of a sudden, in the middle of a sentence he'd interrupt and say, “Mike, there's a book in that.”  “Maryo, why don’t you write that up.”  “Y, I think there's a solid little book of poems there.”
After his death, my mother had me go through my dad's library.  There were scores and scores of books there, and most had inscriptions in the flyleaf:
X: “If everyone you have helped had sent you a copy of their published works, your library must be floor to ceiling on all sides, filled with books you have inspired.  Thank you for your help and encouragement.”  Jean Lindsay Johnson. [inscription in a book in Gard's library]
Maryo “You are, by your very being, the quiet activator of my endeavors.”  Connie Conrader, Author of Blue Wampum. [inscription]
X: “Especially for Robert Gard: his creative writing class at College Week for Women was my first stepping stone.”  Fran Sprain, authors of Places & Faces in Marquette County, Wisconsin. [inscription]
Maryo: “To Robert Gard, my mentor.”  Pearl Dopp, author of Filtered Sun. [inscription]
X: “This must be your sixtieth volume of appreciation from grateful young authors, but I hope it is a credit to your sympathetic patience, deep perception, and unlimited optimism.  Thank you for all your help.  I hope you approve of this book.”  Gratefully, Chuck Mark, author of Run Away Home. [nscription]
In this library there were books on insects of Wisconsin, murders of Wisconsin, stories and lore of Wisconsin; family histories; and books on farm life.  Yes, if it was your passion, Bob Gard wanted you to write about it.  In a foreword to Pen & Plow, the WRWA journal, he said,
Y: The hope was to develop in this state a worthy homegrown literature of the people.  The writers were to be the people themselves, the folks from farms, towns and crossroads scattered from the lakeshore to the Mississippi, from the resort country of the North to the lead-mining towns of the Southwest.  The material in this booklet is a further insight into the heart of Wisconsin, a soul-searching by the people themselves for the universal truths and impulses. [Pen & Plow]
It was about faith.  You know, the Creed of WRWA – the best mission statement ever written – as evidenced by the fact that it has lasted 60 years, rather than having the typical 3-year-lifespan of so many trite, dreary, so-called mission statements:
“Man's deepest experience of life is essentially solitary; at the same time, he desires to communicate to others his moments of intense feeling, his present experience, the rich memories of the past.  Let us believe in each other... Let us believe in ourselves and our talents.  Let us believe in the worth of the individual and seek to understand him, for from sympathy and understanding will our writings grow.  Let us believe that the mark of the cultured man is the ability to express himself competently in language; that this ability can be gained best through study and application of the basic principles of creative writing; that with this study and application grow enlightenment and discrimination;   and that the democratic process of government is safest in the hands of a cultured, enlightened people.” [Creed of Wisconsin Regional Writers Association, still in use today]
So Why Am I Telling You These Stories?
I told you that I thought that you, the writers of Wisconsin, hold a key to the future of this nation.
I hope that some of what I've read, what I've told you about, suggests to you why I think that.
Your Creed, actually, says it.  Let's repeat that last line, all together: 
The democratic process of government…
is safest …
in the hands of a cultured, enlightened, people….
Here are a few things that I think that this statement is all about.
First, who are “the people?”  Think about the Green Bay Packers.  Named to honor blue-collar workers who worked with dignity in Green Bay, and whose work was acknowledged in the naming of that football team.  Think about the Green Bay Packers: a football team owned by shareholders and governed by a board of directors, not by a single wealthy individual.  This Wisconsin icon is all about the people.  Populist government, going all the way back to Fighting Bob LaFollette, in Wisconsin is all about the people.  As writers, by observing, knowing, understanding, and communicating the dignity and complexity and breadth of all of the people who make up Wisconsin, you are making visible the notion that in a democracy, every person has a story, a meaning, a voice.  A fact that if we are to continue as a democracy, we must never, never forget.  Your writing can ensure that we remember that.
Next, WRWA was initially formed to capture Wisconsin and the relation of her people to her places.  I quoted Leslie Cross of the Milwaukee Journal who had said that Gard wanted us writers “to give dignity and cultural meaning” to our communities.  To capture, embrace and interpret the “colorwheel patterns falling in and among The nimble dancers from many nations.”   To interpret “the true meaning of the seasons and man’s relationship to man and to his God.”  Why does place matter?  Well, first, the older I get, the more I know with total certainty that place helps define us as individuals;  helps define our relationships; helps define us as a culture; bridges the natural world - with its features that we know and respond to, and the cultural world - of symbols and manmade features and stories.  One deep concern I have for our future is that, as the world globalizes and as companies merge and as economic efficiencies become valued, sometimes even essential, we are losing our communities.  You'll notice that the outskirts of most places look pretty much the same any more.  People relate to like-minded compadres on the web more than they do to the people next door, often.  And with global culture and broad television values, there seems to be more and more a standard of sameness.  A kind of t.v. World.  How many of you saw the movie Pleasantville?  It's the story of a perfect town – a Father Knows Best kind of town, where everyone is sweet and true, where it's all happy, a t.v. Set kind of world.  It's shot in black and white.  Suddenly, an artist starts experimenting with – gasp – color.  Starts painting things as they are, not as everyone wants them to be.  Suddenly the black and white film starts colorizing, and by the end of the film, it's in color.  There is sorrow, pain, messiness, confusion, but there is also joy, exhilaration, beauty, and uniqueness – you maybe can't have one without the other – and it was the artist who led the way.  Another way of looking at it: there is a reason that farmers don't plant acres and acres and acres of the same kind of hybrid corn next to each other; if disease strikes one variety, the others may still survive.  Democracy is messy.  Yet you writers may help us understand our diversity, our fundamental resilience, the messiness that goes along with democracy, and also the exhilaration that only democracy can bring.  Our goal is not a t.v. World: our goal is a real world, a good world, of flawed human beings trying to figure out how to survive together. 
Who better to help ensure this understanding but you?
Finally, let's look again at that paragraph from your Creed.
Y: Let us believe that the mark of the cultured man is the ability to express himself competently in language; that this ability can be gained best through study and application of the basic principles of creative writing; that with this study and application grow enlightenment and discrimination;   and that the democratic process of government is safest in the hands of a cultured, enlightened people.
 Look at how this paragraph is laid out.
         Effective communication is the mark of the cultured person
         The best way to learn how to communicate well is through writing
         Discipline in writing brings with it critical thinking
         Democracy is safest in the hands of critical thinkers
Therefore, writers who are consciously practicing the discipline of critical thought as they practice the discipline of constantly improving their writing, are guardians of democracy, for it is they who can cut through the spin, ask the hard questions, and help others to do the same.
And constantly, constantly, remind us of our belief in each other.  For it is this belief, this eloquent embracing of the other, this faith in the men and women of America, of our neighbors, as well as the love for our communities, that safeguards the ideals of this country; the liberty and justice for all; the government of, by and for the people.
I want to close with Gard's words, written in 1969.  He was writing about the arts in general, but you and I know that he was writing about writing in particular.  He probably had you in mind:
Maryo:  If you try, what may you expect?
Y:  First a community, Welded through art to a new consciousness of self:
A new being, perhaps a new appearance.
X: A people proud
Of achievements, which life them through the creative, above the ordinary.
Maryo:  A new opportunity for children
To find exciting experiences in art, And to carry this excitement on
Throughout their lives.
Y:  A mixing of peoples and backgrounds
Through art.
X: A new view
Of hope for mankind and an elevation
Of man, not degradation.
 Maryo:  Let's close this talk together, for it is “of and about ourselves”:  Repeat after me:
New values for individual and community life .......     
And a sense that here In our place.......  (now let's do this again, but you shout out the name
            of  your place)
And a sense that here in _______________
We are contributing....
To the maturity of a great nation....
If you try....
You can indeed...
Alter the face and the heart of America.
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