Fifty years for anything can be quite a feat, but for a small writing group based in Shawano, Wisconsin, it’s an endless wave of words and imagery.
The Shawano Area Writers set down roots on Jan. 20, 1966, and since then, it has seen writers come and go, and a continuous cacophony of stories, poetry and more has been the legacy for an organization committed to encouraging and supporting writers.
Marcie Leitzke, right, a founding member of the Shawano Area Writers when it formed in 1966, reads one of the columns she writes for the local newspaper, during a regular meeting of the group. Barb King, who is listening to Leitzke’s recitation, has been with the group for several years and is in the process of publishing a book about a one-room schoolhouse and the children who received an education there. (Photo by Lee Pulaski)
Even today, one only needs to attend a meeting of the Shawano Area Writers to see what a rich and diverse group it is. On every third Thursday of the month at 10 a.m. sharp, there are usually a dozen writers nestled into a reading room at the Shawano City-County Library.
Take Barb King, a retired schoolteacher, as an example. For more than two years, she has delighted other writers in the group with her stories about children in a one-room schoolhouse, titled “Tug Lake Tales.” Even while she works to get that book published, she is already diving into her next book, an edgier suspense novel that has left writers who have become used to her warm, nostalgic children’s tales surprised and even delighted with her range.
Then there’s Dolores Kaliebe. She always touts herself as the “newer member” of the Shawano Area Writers, although she has participated in the group for quite a few years. She always comes prepared with a personal essay about something in her life, and often that essay includes a visual element, whether it’s an old black-and-white photograph or a little knickknack from her home that she passes around to the group.
Dolores Kaliebe, who says she is a “new” member of the Shawano Area Writers despite being with the group for a number of years, reads one of the personal essays she writes. (Photo by Lee Pulaski)
John Mutter, another retiree with a colorful array of jobs in his career, is a member who is very active with the Shawano Area Writers, not only serving as the organization’s treasurer but also the coordinator for the annual George Putz Memorial Youth Writing Contest. All of the jobs, along with other personal aspects of his life, provided the tapestry for an autobiography titled “No Time to Count,” showcasing his 70 years of life.
Leading the group is Lee Pulaski, a transplant from Arizona who has called the Shawano area home for almost five years. The president for the Shawano Area Writers has self-published more than a dozen books and often shares snippets from his works in progress when members share what they’ve written. He is currently finishing up the fourth installment in a mystery series based in Gresham, a small village in the center of Shawano County.
Carol Schlehlein, left, reads a short story she wrote as Trilby Beauprey McIntosh listens during a meeting of the Shawano Area Writers. Schlehlein has self-published two books in the last two years. (Photo by Lee Pulaski)
These are just a few of the writers that have come in and out of the library monthly for the Shawano Area Writers’ meeting. Some are published authors continuing to trek forward, while others are still timid about the writing process and seek guidance from others who have walked the path before them.
“It always impresses me how many amazing stories there are being developed by simple people in Shawano County and the surrounding areas,” Pulaski said. “When you leave one of our meetings, you feel like you’ve had more entertainment and enrichment than you’d get spending an evening in front of the television. We might not have anyone on the New York Times bestseller list, but you wouldn’t know it to hear some of the stories.”
At one point, the Shawano Area Writers had more than 40 members. The membership today is about half that, but the writers in the group are very active.
Jerome Schuelke sets the scene before he reads an excerpt from a story during a meeting of the Shawano Area Writers. The group serves as a sounding board for writers around northeast Wisconsin. (Photo by Lee Pulaski)
In 50 years, there is only one founding member still alive and kicking, still eager to share her words with friends and others willing to listen. Marcie Leitzke was at the first meeting in 1966, and she brings the knowledge of hundreds of writing meetings and collaborations to the table, giving newcomers an idea of the joys and the trials of writing and seeing that writing in print.
“We were just a little insignificant group to start,” Leitzke said. “It went from zero to a lot.”
In the early years, Leitzke helped to give the Shawano Area Writers added exposure by getting the local radio station to dedicate air time to the group to talk about writing.
Leitzke has published several books of poetry and even published a book about her son, Matthew, who was born with Down Syndrome. Leitzke still actively writes today at the age of 88, contributing regular columns to The Shawano Leader newspaper and Engines and Engineers magazine.
Many affiliated with the Shawano Area Writers believe Leitzke represents the heart and spirit of the group, but she does not believe that for a moment.
Terry Misfeldt, left, reads one of his stories to the group as Jeanne Connors listens during a meeting of the Shawano Area Writers. Misfeldt serves as the vice president of the Shawano Area Writers. (Photo by Lee Pulaski)
“I wouldn’t take the credit,” Leitzke said.
Besides working to enrich each other’s work, the members of the Shawano Area Writers also work to encourage the next generation of writers to give their imaginary tales form. In 2002, the group started an annual youth writing contest open to all children living or going to school in Shawano and Menominee counties.
The contest took a hiatus for a few years when it became difficult for the small group to come up with enough money for prizes. That changed a few years ago when the Shawano Area Writers received a $77,000 inheritance from George Putz, someone who had been a big fan of the group. Putz requested that the money be used to promote writing in the area, and the group decided to resurrect the contest like a phoenix from the ashes.
“I used to love writing when I was a kid, and I think it’s important for us to encourage young people to reach into their imaginations and give their ideas life,” Pulaski said. “With this contest, we’re able to motivate our future writers to come out of their shells, step out of the shadows and dazzle us with stories.”
The Shawano Area Writers have also contributed to the history of Shawano County, helping with the compilation of the Shawano City Centennial in 1974 and the Shawano County Sesquicentennial in 2003.
To commemorate the 50th anniversary, the Shawano Area Writers will publish its latest anthology, featuring the short stories, poems and non-fiction pieces of 13 writers in the group. This will be the 14th anthology that the organization has published.
The Shawano Area Writers plans to celebrate its golden anniversary with a release party for the anthology. The celebration will take place from 4-6 p.m. on Feb. 3 at the Shawano City-County Library, located at 128 S. Sawyer St. in Shawano. The celebration will be held in the library’s Ella Veslak Room downstairs. Writers who are published in the anthology will read some of their work, and copies of the anthology will be sold. Refreshments will also be served.