Today we’d like to introduce you to Ann Mallen.
Ann, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
In January 2015, I invited several local writers to come to my home and read from their best work. I met them at critique groups and writing classes over the years and needed to re-connect. I bought a portable table-top podium and sent out emails. I expected four maybe five to RSVP, but twelve said yes. My husband bought drinks, ordered snacks from our favorite restaurant, and set up chairs in the living room. The group enjoyed it so much. We agreed to do it again. After two more of these meetings, my living room could no longer hold the growing crowd. I asked if there was any interest in forming a nonprofit, and the resounding answer was yes. I then hosted an organizational tea party and invited six of the writers to sit on an all-volunteer board of directors. One writer’s son-in-law, a lawyer, agreed to help with the legal paperwork. My daughter, a whiz at content marketing, created our website. By September, we received formal 501c3 status from the IRS and hosted our first public reading. A journalist from The Palm Beach Post attended and wrote a feature piece about our group. And, just like that, we were off!
In the past five years, we’ve hosted nine pubic literary readings, three multidisciplinary events, six craft classes by award-winning professional writers, several book clubs, as well as round-table discussions, coffee shop gatherings, workshops, and panel presentations. In addition, we awarded at least one full scholarship to each of our craft classes. Last November, we partnered with the City of West Palm Beach and the Norton Museum for a literary and visual art program about climate change. The Palm Beach Post again published a feature article about our event. Recently, the board of directors met to plan comprehensive online programs. We plan to pivot away from public events for now and take advantage of the opportunity to reach more writers.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
The first year’s finances nearly toppled us. We had no money at the start, and my husband and I paid out of our own pocket for the legal filings. Our biggest challenge was related to finding public venues that were either free or low cost. As an all-volunteer organization runs solely by donations, we had limited resources to rent space. We found it best to keep talking about this issue. We asked anyone and everyone who might have a connection to a venue to introduce us to the person in charge. Then we explained that we were the tiniest of nonprofits and asked for a deal. This strategy (mostly) worked well.
Once we had a few years of success in smaller places with moderate crowds, we started to receive more donations and a few targeted donations. Plus, with a positive track record, it was easier to partner with organizations and larger groups of people. In fact, by year three, the County library system contacted us and asked if we would be interested in working with them to create programs for writers. We happily did so. We see ourselves as writers building alliances throughout the area.
In 2018, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and my board and our intern took over all my tasks to make sure the nonprofit thrived. There is no better measure of success than the people working with you, and the nonprofit wouldn’t have made it without their dedication. Then, of course, COVID-19 threw us, as it threw everyone. How do you take the success of public events and craft classes and shift online? Yet, we recognize the need to change and adapt, and we’re working on exciting plans.
Please tell us about The Cream Literary Alliance.
We are known for making literary readings vibrant. We limit the writers to short excerpts and incorporate all genres in a program. We have also brought some big literary names to South Florida to teach writing (Josip Novakovitch, Ann Hood, Steve Almond and others), and all of our craft classes have received stellar evaluations. We are also proud of the fact that even new inexperienced writers have a chance to participate in our events. We don’t require that a writer has published. We use a curating committee to judge submissions, so we do, unfortunately, have to send out rejections at times. Yet, it’s a fair process, and we pride ourselves on it. This sets our readings apart from improv open mic nights and places us more in line with a juried art show.
What were you like growing up?
I was a bookish, straight-A student who enjoyed history, collecting rocks and minerals, and archaeology. I have two brothers and three sisters. So, to escape the noise of our busy home, I often climbed a mulberry tree in the park next to our house. A creek ran next to the tree, so the sound of trickling water accompanied my Nancy Drew mysteries.
I wrote my first book in second grade when my summer day camp canceled a planned sleepover due to a huge storm. My mom suggested I write about my disappointment.
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