The Pursuit Of… National Writers Series
Jillian Manning is the executive director of the National Writers Series in Traverse City. In an interview, she discusses the organization’s goals of engaging renowned authors in meaningful conversations and promoting literacy and creative writing in the community. She mentions the impact of COVID on bookstores, with some closing down while others, like Horizon Books in Traverse City, received strong community support and continue to thrive. Manning emphasizes the importance of supporting local independent bookstores over online retailers like Amazon. She shares her background in publishing and how working for a startup publisher, Sourcebooks, in Naperville, Illinois, shaped her career trajectory. Manning also talks about her transition into public relations and the importance of storytelling in that field. She highlights the significance of strong leadership and mentions the positive experiences she has had with her bosses throughout her career.
The pursuit of podcast, a purely guest centric show, focusing on people and organizations that advance positive change positivity can be anywhere. And in a time of vast discord, the pursuit of is finding those who champion its causes loudest. Join us as we sit and learn about the pursuits of local leaders in their community, let’s go,
Hello, good people, and welcome to the pursuit of podcast where it’s truly not us. It’s you. I’m Ryan Buck, artist development, new Leonard media with me as always as the boss, Mark Wilson, president new Leonard media. How are you? I’m doing real well. I got out, did some lawn work today. That is enough about us. Holy cow. Our guest today is Jillian Manning executive director for the national writers series here in traverse city. How are you? I am good.
Jillian Manning (00:49):
Thank you so much for having
Me. Thank you for being here. This is a big deal. Nice hot warm day. Hopefully you feel cool in the studio? Yes.
Jillian Manning (00:55):
No. Very comfortable.
Yeah. Excellent. And we talked about your comfort with podcasts. I’ve seen you on TV. This should be a breeze. Yes.
Jillian Manning (01:02):
Well, I think you and I, we can chat all day. Yeah, that’s true. That
Is true. So looking at the national register is website and this is right off the website. You’re a nonprofit organization dedicated to engaging world renowned authors and meaningful conversations in the Trevor city area. Your goal is to create a deeper understanding of issues and ways of life that exists within the outside of our rural boundaries. So, and that’s just the start of it. So when you tell somebody what you do, is that part of your elevator pitch or what do you say when you say I’m the executive director of the national writers here?
Jillian Manning (01:32):
Yeah, it’s, it’s an interesting combination of skills, right? So we at once are a event festival based opportunity for people to connect with authors and, and learn from them and hear their stories. We’re also a group that wants to get literacy and creative writing happening in our community. And all of that is wrapped into having fun and just really connecting with Travis city itself. So it’s three hats. It’s probably 15 hats between all of us, but it’s a fabulous,
Absolutely. So since inception in 2010, correct, national Rogers series has hosted nearly 200 authors and many of great renown. And you mentioned hosting events, which is great. You’ve drawn tens of thousands of people over that time, but more importantly, you help facilitate the selling of some 18,000 books in bookstores. So right now, how healthy is the bookstore environment and where do you see that going?
Jillian Manning (02:26):
That’s a great question. Yeah, COVID has, has had some pros and cons, you know, there have been bookstores that have closed because of COVID, which breaks my heart. My background is in book publishing. So all I’ve ever wanted is to get books in hands everywhere I go. But at the same time, you know, horizon books is our core partner right here in traverse city. And they were about to close, like right on the Eve of COVID and such community support poured out for them that they are still open rocking and rolling and having a great time. And I think that the bookstore has a community center and the bookstore is a place of comfort and belonging and ideas and exchanges yeah. That you can’t ever replace. That there’s nothing else like that. And so for us to be able to support one bookstore, a thousand bookstores, whatever it is that we can do in the longterm, that’s fantastic.
That is such a great story. I remember reading that being, you know, and I’m such a fan as well, but when you look at the health of a, you know, of a bookstore, are they easier sustained in a small town versus big cities? Are you hearing anything about like what may be happening in that culture in grand rapids? For example?
Jillian Manning (03:24):
Yeah, I think, I mean, it really depends on the community that you’ve built and things, I mean, as mundane as rent and square footage, I mean, at the end of the day, that’s what you have to support. And that can be really tough if you’re a huge store, but sometimes, you know, a place like horizon, they have food and beverage, they have these community gathering spaces where the, like I used to go to a writing club there with COVID that hasn’t been happening, but exactly. Yeah. Yeah. It’s like where I bought my first book as a kid. You know, if you build these layers over time,
I did. Yes. Do you remember what it was?
Jillian Manning (03:57):
Oh, no. I wrinkle in time is the first thing that pops into my head. I don’t know if that’s true, but could very well be yes.
Yes. So many know the story of an online company called Cadabra that ironically started selling books online. Uh, that became a little web company called Amazon that ironically, almost put a lot of bookstores out of business. So how does the national writers series embrace the digital space while balancing your love for brick and mortar?
Jillian Manning (04:22):
Yeah. I mean, we obviously know that people are shopping at Amazon. We don’t encourage it though. Honestly, you know, we say shop your local independent bookstore because I mean, Amazon is great for so many things. I, I have an Amazon account, I’ll admit it. Um, but I don’t buy books there because I mean, what horizon and other bookstores in our community do is they bring authors here. They’re employed by the people in your community. They put on storytimes Amazon. Doesn’t do that for you. Amazon can get you the weird 1920s hat that you need for your party, that you’re going to, it can get you the rate that you can’t find at home Depot. You can, it can do things for you. And it’s great for that. But for books, I mean a bookstore it’s just there. There’s nothing else that fills that gap the way it does. So we just, we lean into that and we want that to last,
As well said. So you graduated with a BA in English, from the university of Michigan And gained subsequent accreditation and publishing from both the university of Denver and Yale university. So what did that continuing education do for you and how did you get
Jillian Manning (05:22):
Trevor city really is what got me there. So I was interning at a company here in traverse city and it’s called Jenkins group and they’re fantastic. And we get reached out to by Yale university’s publishing course and they said, Hey, do you want to send somebody to cover this? From like a media perspective? We had a small magazine. We ran and, you know, just see what it’s like. And this was for like mid-level senior publishers. And I was an intern. I was 20 years old. I couldn’t even drink when I went. And so I went for this it’s like a week and a half long course. And you go from like Dawn to dusk every single day on every intense publishing. I mean, publishing isn’t like doctors or anything like that, but we can be intense when we want to be. And I was sort of like the little kid of the group and they’d all took me under their wing.
And I learned so much, I made so many incredible contacts. The best story was there was a gentleman. I think he was in his nineties at the time Martin Levin. And he told us this story. It was a whole piece about ups and downs in your career. And how, when you work a long time in any career, you’re going to have these ups and downs. He said at 1.1 of the publishing houses he was working with and he was part of this team, got the opportunity to take on these James Bond books. The author had recently died and they were like, well, nothing’s really going to come of this. We’re just going to pass before any of the movies were made. And that’s a great example of it down, but you can cycle back up. And he had of course a million wonderful examples of things that they did. Right. And pick the right things. But can you imagine in the back of your head, you’re like
Cleaning your legacy right there. That’s incredible. So did that continuing education, was that pretty important after regular college? Did you find that that gave you like up or that gave you confidence?
Jillian Manning (06:54):
Yeah. And the university of Denver that publishing program that they basically bring you in to train you to go into publishing because it’s kind of an apprenticeship business, you know, you can be prepared for certain parts of it, but especially editing. And you know, that art is so hard to actually get when you’re in school and when you’re young. So that program, that was how I got my first job out of the gate and how I went on from there. And so yes, I would never say, go get an MFA or a master’s in publishing because you’ll be paying that back for the rest of your life. But these programs were fantastic
In, in publishing. You initially had this illusion of what a publisher look like, which is to say a turtleneck wearing kind of coffee, drinking new Yorker with red pen smudges on your, on their fingers. That’s not true, right?
Jillian Manning (07:37):
No, I didn’t actually own a turtleneck until I think I had one as a kid, but I just bought my first one as an adult like this year. So I made it this far without a turtleneck. Yes. And I don’t drink coffee still. So yeah. I luckily managed to skirt a couple of things. And for me, I’m a Trevor city girl. And so I wanted to be in the Midwest and New York was this big, scary city with big, giant skyscrapers. And I knew I couldn’t hack it there. I was just, I would be, I’d be missing my water. I’d be missing my trees. My heart wouldn’t be there. And so luckily there’s amazing publishing houses in the Midwest and I was able to stay close to home, just be on lake Michigan all the time. That’s the dream.
And your first, if I’m not mistaken, job was Sourcebooks that’s in Naperville, Illinois. Now being from the Northwest suburbs of Chicago. I know that is definitely not a teeny little apartment in New York. I, I know what Naperville looks like, but it was a startup. So how important was working for a startup publisher in your early career as opposed to coming into a giant behemoth?
Jillian Manning (08:36):
So fantastic about the time that I joined Sourcebooks. So it’s run by this woman, Dominique Rakka, who is one of the most kick-butt women I’ve ever met in my whole life. She’s just a visionary. And the company at that point was already 20 years old. She’d started it in her upstairs bedroom, but it was, it was a startup still. And it to this day, it’s run like a startup in the best possible way. So just adaptive and smart and curious about trends and what’s changing. And I learned so many things because you just had to have your finger in every single cookie jar along the way, you had to know how to do all of these things. And the team was so collaborative and fantastic. And if Naperville had been Trevor city, I’d still be there. Yes. But Naperville was Naperville and Trevor city was still about six hours north. So
Yeah, I do. So, you know, as you look at that, did that entrepreneurship and, and I don’t know, from a large publishing company, do you think that pushed you in a certain trajectory? Did that give something to your spirit by going that’s the feel I want, I don’t want this big Goliath corporation,
Jillian Manning (09:35):
Especially what I loved about it was that like Dom was there every day and you got to go into meetings at the CEO in her office. And she knew everybody by name and she cared what everybody was doing. And I had always been in small offices, so I’d expected that, but when I came into, I was like, you know, this is still a, an actual big girl job. I was like, oh, I’m going to be this little fly on the wall. And she took the time to know everybody. And that type of leadership I think is fantastic. And to be a company now that it’s grown exponentially since I’ve been there and I would bet a hundred dollars, a thousand dollars, a million dollars. So she still knows everybody’s name, right.
That sets the bar pretty high for a leader. So for you, when you go into a new opportunity and speaking of that, in order to get back to Trevor city, this moved you into the world of public relations. So as you look at that transition, because you know, they’re not necessarily parallel. Was that a scary jump for you? Did you feel really well prepared when you got your first PR role?
Jillian Manning (10:28):
Oh, I didn’t feel prepared at all. I, uh, no. No.
So let’s say that in the interview, did
Jillian Manning (10:34):
I know I did. I think I told my boss, I was, I had never even taken a marketing class guys, you know, before my interview, I bought a whole bunch of books about how to do PR because, you know, the book girl can learn from books and I read them and highlighted them and took this giant, you know, notebook full of notes. And at the end of the day, it’s storytelling, right. You know, there are definitely hard skills you have to learn, but the soft skill is storytelling. And I’m like, okay, that I can translate. But yes, I remember being shocked. I got an interview being shocked that I got hired. I know I’m a competent person and I work hard, but having no background, nothing to pull from. But then what I wound up with was a fantastic boss who invested in me to get better at that set of skills. And again, these fantastic leaders I am so blessed to have.
Did you go into that interview holding that previous leader standard to that potential new boss where you looking at at it, through those glasses? Did you get those vibes right away or did you have to kind of settle into it a few weeks ago? I think
Jillian Manning (11:30):
Luckily in our interview he was very professional and kind and polite. And I had been offered the job and was in the process of moving and hadn’t yet started, but stopped in at the office. And my boss was known for these amazing high-fives and gave me a high five that left my hand red and ringing for, you know, the next three hours. And I was like that. I like, like, there’s this enthusiasm and this energy, but I also know there’s this professional side. And I was like, that’s, that’s a full person. And I think if you can be your full self at work, right. That means you can lead well, as long as your full person is like a good person. Yeah.
The term full person. And later in your career, you’d work with another person who gave aggressive high fives as well. Yeah. Excellent. So you’re
Jillian Manning (12:14):
Yes. Aggressive high-fives everywhere I go. No, no, no, no. Yeah.
Looking at the national writers series, the one thing I think a lot of people would like to know specifically me is how do you get writers here? You know, because I’m sure they’re polled, you know, whatever level they’re at, you know, in every direction where they have a publicist or an agent or not, how do you do this?
Jillian Manning (12:34):
Yeah. So two-pronged, and I’ll start with the story of what it used to be like. So this is anecdotal as I wasn’t there for it, but we apparently used to print out a map of Michigan and draw a star where Trevor city was because 10, 12 years ago, nobody even knew where that was. We didn’t have direct flights. We didn’t have any of this to pull us here. So we’d be like, it’s this place, we’d send some pictures of, you know, the lake and the bay and be like, really, you do want to come here and they get here, they’d be amazed. But the two main ways, you know, that we get people, most of it is these authors go on book tours to promote their new book. And a lot of times it was just on the coasts, right. You know, cause you can get high population, lots of great bookstores and middle of the country, other than maybe Chicago was often left out.
And what the writer series did is we made it more than just a book reading. This is a book event and what’s fabulous about Trevor city is that it’s a book town. And so people turned out, they don’t want to just hear about the book they want to hear about your life. They want to hear about how you do your writing. They want to hear about what we’re thoughts wake you up in the middle of the night and spurn that next book idea. So when somebody is on tour like that, you get in touch with their publicist and you make the case for why you’re the best place for them to go. Cause these are, you know, the publisher’s dollars and why are you spending them the best with us? Well, because we’ve got a bookstore like horizon, right? Where we can sell lots and lots of books, we have this amazing community of people who really care and are going to show up in the hundreds because on the publishing side, I’ve been to bookstore events where 10 people show up. Right. And you know, it’s, it’s tough and it’s hard to get attention. There’s so much happening right now. So luckily they built a fantastic model that gave both the audience and the book sales and was in this beautiful place. And then the second way is we just find those amazing people. And we were like, we will give you a small amount of money. Cause we’re a nonprofit, but as much money as we can possibly scrounge up together to come and talk to us. And so that’s a little bit rare, but does happen.
Right? So you’re doing a lot of legwork. You’re doing a lot of selling in a way. How many no’s do you get before you get a yes.
Jillian Manning (14:25):
That’s a great question at this point. I mean, I can imagine in the early days it was, it was more nos as you were getting started. But for me now, if people actually come to us, you know, they have heard the reputation of what we do is bend so wonderful. And other authors talk about the fun stop,
Right. Because there has to be that circle, especially if they’re in the kind of struggling the mid tier with a little success, Hey, you got to check that out because it was good for me. Yeah. That’s amazing in your mission talks about what I love about what you do, raising writers. Yeah. And you have, it’s amazing. You have actual programs. So when you look at your line of, it’s not just about the huge names, right?
Jillian Manning (15:01):
Oh yeah. No. When I approach, you know, setting up a season, I’m looking for three things. Like I need to have some big headliners, like for our fall season, Anthony door, all the light, we cannot see, he was appealed to the prize winner for that on the best seller list for something like 200 weeks. I don’t even know how many years that is. It’s a lot, it’s a long time. So like, you know, you know, people are going to show up for that. And then I look to see how are we going to engage younger people because you know, do kids necessarily see themselves like going to the city opera house for an event? You know? No, that’s more of an adult thing, but I want to bring them in and have these conversations and let them see writers and see cool writers. You know, I, I remember I was always the nerd that loved reading and writing in school, but I know there’s always that time where it’s like, oh, you’re reading a book.
That’s not cool. And I’m like, let’s stamp that out. I don’t want that anymore. So that’s bringing in somebody like Jason Reynolds, who is probably the coolest person I’ve ever met in real life and is just this fantastic writer and can really relate to everybody. And then my third piece is like, what’s the conversation that we’re missing in this community? Like what have we not talked about? Or what, what are we talking about a lot? And we haven’t gotten this perspective on, you know, this was from one of our previous seasons, but we brought in a woman, Carla, um, via Sensio. And she was an undocumented American who graduated from Harvard and had this just fantastic story and had this went around the country, talking to other undocumented immigrants about what the experience is like in this country. And nobody else had done that. And in Trevor city, we sometimes don’t think about that and what that’s like. And so having a voice come here and actually open our eyes to that is fantastic. Okay.
And when you look at, and I may be speaking out of turn here, but when you look at authors, it doesn’t just have to be novelists, right. There are people who write cookbooks or poetry. Do you look to include some of the more, I guess non-traditional
Jillian Manning (16:44):
Yeah, we’ve had, we’ve had screenwriters come in and we had the folks from mad men come in and do stuff. We had breaking bad. Um, yeah. And the curse of Oak island, he was on stage and somebody had written a book about, you know, writing as an art form in whatever way you’re doing it. You know, normally it’s a pretty good mix between non-fiction and fiction. And then we throw in a couple of surprises in there as well. You do a great job.
Oh, it’s exciting. Looking forward to
Jillian Manning (17:11):
The fire keepers. Oh my gosh. Yes. That book is one of my favorite books of the year. And when I was able to touch base with Angela and, and say, Hey, would you want to come? She, oh, that’s a fan girl moment for me. I try not to finger. I try to be professional and be cool about it. And I was like, I think on the phone, like, oh my gosh, oh my gosh. Oh my gosh,
It’s extraordinary. One of the many, many things I admire about national writers series is its commitment to including and teaching children in youth. Yeah. You touched on that a little bit and it’s engaging them. And I know it’s a passion of yours. Can you speak to the Genesis of that? I know the founder and Stanton, that was an early passion of hers, you know, where is that going? Where are you at now? Where is that
Jillian Manning (17:49):
Going? Yeah. So we’re actually this fall starting a sort of a new branch. So COVID was a weird time because we couldn’t be in the classroom with kids. And that was, that was hard for us. But we also learned something. We learned that we can reach way more people and we can engage them in different ways. Programs that historically had, you know, five to 10 kids participating. When we went virtual, we could get like a hundred kids participating, even our battle of the books where we have these fourth and fifth graders come together, they read like a stack of 10 books and then they battle it out trivia style. We had a record breaking year on zoom because it was just more accessible. And so while we definitely want to go back to in-person things, we’re also going to have this mix of virtual stuff.
And one of the coolest things we’re going to do is have our author visits, which were traditionally just brought into one classroom for one day, go virtual or go to a place like the library, where as many people as we can fit in a room can come. And these kids will actually get to ask questions and interact with these authors. And that was, I couldn’t even imagine that when I was a kid, like I would have fainted and fallen over on the ground and probably been out for the whole thing. But it would have been great
Shout out to our, in, in your local library, if you can support your local library, especially ours. I think it’s extraordinary in looking at youth initiatives, you have programs. And I know you’ve specifically taught classes like this, teaching children, how to write a children’s book, which must be interesting because you know, most writers, you know, they write what they know or what they can imagine. And when I was a kid, I remember reading children’s books and the pictures were just pencil or maybe a painting. Now with computers, the illustrations are so much more, how important are the words versus the illustrations to a children’s book?
Jillian Manning (19:26):
Yeah. Well, I I’ll give you two examples. One is, is BJ Novak, the book with no pictures, um, the other, oh, I’m going to forget the author.
Well don’t know who BJ Novak is. You can look him up. He was an actor on the office probably known and a great children’s home.
Jillian Manning (19:41):
Yeah. There’s a, there’s a book called journey that has no words at all. Just pictures. And there’s a book called ball that is just the word ball. It’s about a dog and a girl and it’s just ball ball and all these different contexts. Like you should just go pick it up right now. Yes. So yeah, I mean, I think to me, you know, as somebody who’s a terrible stick drawing type of artists, like words matter a lot, but at the same time, I mean, when you are an artist of any sort of caliber like that, you can tell a whole story without a single word. And it’s amazing. And it, different kids want to come in at different places. And that’s why I feel like the rise of graphic novels has been so big is people for a long time were like, that’s not reading. Of course that’s reading, right. And to open that up and make that genre both accessible and acceptable has been huge in getting kids engaged in reading again.
And I’ve heard that counterpoint myself, is that a graphic novel isn’t technically reading, but I found that it can be a gateway to at least get your child into reading. And then you move them in the chapter books at age two, a child’s brain is as active as an adults by age three. Their brain is more than twice as active as an adult. And that reading aloud early, engaging in literacy pursuits as early as possible is critical for development. Would you agree?
Jillian Manning (20:55):
Oh my gosh. Oh, absolutely. And I think that’s when your love of reading is formed. You know, I think if you grow up in a reading household, that’s going to put you on a path. I mean, there’ve been studies done about, you know, if you’re reading well and reading at your grade level, how much farther you can go in your school and your career and those things, again, sometimes are dismissed as soft skills, but they’re so huge. If you can communicate and connect in life, what else matters? Honestly, you can do anything with that,
Right? I’ve, I’ve read that students who choose what they read and have a more informal environment in which to read, they tend to be more motivated and they show kind of greater language and literacy development. Do you have resources? Does the national writers series have resources for parents who may be struggling or any ways, because I just can’t create that environment. Can you help if somebody calls and says, what can I do?
Jillian Manning (21:43):
No, that’s actually something that we’re working on for future years, because we’ve been, we’ve been so long really thinking about creative writing and building that skill versus literacy itself, you know, for our youngest, you know, fourth and fifth graders, we work there, but what you’re talking about starts well before that, you know, that’s like that’s first grade, second grade when you’re really learning those key skills. And it’s something that, you know, there are a lot of great people in this region that are working on that, that I want to partner with and build.
Yeah, that’s incredible because I can see needing help and you know, sometimes he might not have the time, but if you have just not a trick, but something that can guide you into creating that environment, or maybe Sunday, you just noticed that your child is reading and you just let them be.
Jillian Manning (22:23):
Yes, exactly. Yes. Shower them with a little candy.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve read the same book five times in a row. It’s okay. I have a couple of stats for you. Um, and it leads to a relevant question, but at present are as of an article in 2021, third or fourth graders reached the proficient reading level one in four children in America grow up without learning to read one in six children who are not reading proficiently in the third grade does not graduate from high school on time or at all 85% of juvenile offenders have problems reading and three out of five people in American prisons. Can’t read. So as I was looking into this, I think what you are doing, and this is just a shameful accolade for you is helping because there are so many statistics that link, poor reading skills and literacy skills to problems later on, including prison. And a lot of it is linked to access, access to books. So do we have an issue with that in Trevor city? Have you heard of it in other areas of access in more impoverished areas? Is that something that comes onto your radar?
Jillian Manning (23:30):
Yeah, absolutely. Um, two of the schools we actually work with, uh, Trevor’s Heights and Blair, we do poetry workshops there, and those are places where kids are like at something like 90 plus percent are on the free school lunch program. And to be able to express creatively when you’re in a situation where home life might be good or bad, but there are these challenges that are happening that you can’t control. And especially at that age, but to give them the skills, to both know that their opinion and their thoughts and their voice matters, and then that they can express it in a way that is powerful and meaningful. Honestly, it’s my favorite program that we do. And it gives me chills, like thinking about it right now. Um, but yeah, I mean, I think one of the things we’re doing with front street writers this year, which is our part of our raising writers program is we worked really hard to get a whole bunch of grants and donations and fundraising done so that all of our programs could be offered for free.
Every single raising writers program we have this year is going to be free and we’re going to get laptops and hotspots that we can give out for kids that don’t have either good access or reliable internet access. Part of the reason of doing things virtually is that there are kids that can’t get the transportation in and out of Trevor city itself. If they’re coming from one of the kind of outlying counties and that I think access makes the entire difference. I mean, if you know that you can do this and you can connect with this and it isn’t a huge burden on your family or being told you can’t do it for these reasons, if you can just do it and there’s nothing standing in your way, what other doors does that mean?
Right? And sometimes it’s not just access, it may be transportation. And maybe so are there ways that people who have transportation challenges can get access to literature and to reading?
Jillian Manning (25:03):
So, I mean the local libraries, I think in the sort of surrounding counties have been doing such an amazing job with outreach and even grand Travis county, our Trevor’s Arie Dichters library, they are putting, I’m not remembering the cool name of, I think it’s the bookmobile, but they are literally, they’ve got a van they’re tricking out a van and they’re going to fill it with books and take it all around to places where it’s a little bit harder to get to and from the library and get books in the hands of people. So they’re getting creative and they’re reaching out in ways that you would never expect them to do. And it’s, it’s so inspiring.
You talked a little bit about one of the raising writers programs. Are there any other programs regarding raising writers that you can share a little bit of?
Jillian Manning (25:40):
Yeah. So, so battle of the books is, is part of that. And that’s the very fun trivia contest, which I totally would. I would have been so into that as a kid, I would have like been studying all night long.
Just something that a parent could like eight from you for their kid’s birthday party. They wanted to do a really cerebral
Jillian Manning (25:56):
Yeah. Oh yeah. Give him, give him a book and yeah, all the kids got a book. Yeah, exactly. Who needs clowns anymore. You can have a book trivia contest. So that’s huge. I mean, that’s, that’s 350 kids that participate in that program from mostly grandchild was county, but also kind of some of the outlying counties. And then we have the poetry workshops that I talked about. And then our friend street writers program is really what we’re expanding. So it’s going to have these three kind of we’re calling them pillars. So to speak, one is a creative writing intensive where it’s a semester long course. This is for like the Gillian style nerds that want to dive into fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry. And we’ve got this amazing instructor and we’re going to be bringing in these writers from all over the state and the country to talk with this cohort of kids, sort of like a masters of fine arts, learning this craft.
And at the end of the program, they get published in our national writers series, literary journal. So they’re working toward publication as like 11th and 12th graders. And that’s such a cool thing to have on your resume. I would have like probably literally killed somebody for that. And then we have these workshops that are going to be one or two days, depending on what we do. And we’ve got four of them lined up. We’ve got a college essay writing workshop, which while, you know, probably a little bit more nuts and bolts, we’ve got some really fantastic instructors that are, make it kind of
Essay writing. And as, as I understand it, that’s more and more of a challenge for younger students specifically now as writing. And I don’t know if it has to do with, nobody’s literally writing with their pen anymore. It’s all on computer, but it seems like, you know, is creative writing taught as much anymore in the early grades? Are you hearing that, that that’s just being dropped?
Jillian Manning (27:28):
No, I mean, we’re lucky in our school district that, that I think because part of what national writers series has done is really get kids interested and engaged in that. And so we have that in our area, but it’s definitely, I mean, it’s an arts type of thing, so it can get cut when you’ve got budget cuts,
Writing a college essay is a very specific is
Jillian Manning (27:45):
Yes. And you know, they’ve got, they have certain questions that you have to answer and then they give you these crazy weird open-ended ones that, you know, if you, if you’ve never practiced that type of writing, if you’ve only done, like I write an essay, that’s a book report and I write an essay. That’s a analysis of this. If you’ve never written like creatively about yourself, that’s hard to do. And to feel that you have like the voice to do that and whatever your experiences to like, make that interesting to another person that’s hard. And so I think that class, you know, is, is very informative, but also builds a confidence in an ability to write like,
And what age ranges usually attend that a class like that
Jillian Manning (28:22):
Usually 11th and 12th graders, because it’s, it’s top of mind for them. I think everybody else is like, that’s far away. I don’t have to worry about that just yet.
I think it’s exceptional that you focus on, you know, these distinct age groups, because that 11 to 18, I think sometimes gets a little lost sometimes. And the fact that you literally and intentionally try to craft programs that help them and help them along. And you throughout your career have been a freelance writer. Yeah. And what’s interesting is that when you think about writing people, maybe just think about novels. They just think about screenplays, but that is a world as well in a class that you teach, correct? Yeah.
Jillian Manning (29:01):
Well, and you know, I, I got even give credit to my husband who, when we graduated from college, uh, he took a job for two weeks and I was like, I hate working in office. This is terrible. I’m done. I’m gonna be a freelancer. And like, we’re living in Naperville, Illinois. We have no money. I’m working in publishing and he’s going to be a freelancer, like, how is this going to work? And he has cobbled together the most fantastic set of strange he’s written soccer, blogs. He played soccer like one season in kindergarten. He has written for like fishing magazines. He’s never been fishing. He like, he can just figure it out. And it’s fantastic. Craig Manning talking about you, but no, he’s, he’s amazing. And now he’s a journalist and has, has this whole career off of that. But that’s like what freelance writing, especially in this day and age, I mean, post COVID, you know, when the world is still, you know, who’s working from where and what are we doing and how are we telling stories? And what’s journalism look like that’s such an amazing skill to be able to translate to so many different.
Yeah. And that’s, you know, having a broad scope and a base of how to write, but to be able to navigate different topics and make them exciting to that audience. So that is a pretty rarefied skill. Can you just mention your husband, Craig’s a writer and you teach classes together on the national writers series, which is great. And I liked the idea of the class that you teach crafting and pitching a magazine story, which again, a very specific skill that is helpful to somebody. And how are these classes received? Do you get feedback afterwards? Do you get success stories ever?
Jillian Manning (30:29):
Yeah. Well, and what’s cool is we get to work one-on-one with the kids and they come in. Sometimes these are kids that are signed up by their parents. Honestly, sometimes it’s kids that are so excited and all they want to do is right. And by the end, everybody is excited and they want to write, and I have one little success story from our children’s book class that we did. We had this, this girl who was, was very quiet, was paying great attention and engaged. You could tell it was very quiet. And I was like, I don’t really know what kind of story we’re going to get back from her. And she wrote back, it was a beautiful story. That was about two sisters and this special quilt that they share. And this like family moment, I, I tell you guys, it could, it should be published like professionally and be in New York times bestselling book.
And it was, I cried the first time I read it. I was like, this is amazing. This girl who I was, I was hoping I was engaging her. And I just couldn’t tell, came back with truly one of the best pieces of writing I’ve ever seen. And I was an acquisitions editor. And so we published it in our journal. I was like, can I, can I introduce you to some people she’s like 15 years old? You know, I, you know, too soon to probably start on that journey, but I’m like, please keep writing. And that’s what I hope anybody gets from any of these. It’s just please keep writing. Even if you do it just for yourself, just that expression. And that, that habit is so powerful and, and gives credence to who you are and what
Right. And that’s, I know that that’s a mantra in this space. Just keep riding it. Sometimes when you suffer from writer’s block or you feel like you’re getting more nos than yeses, you just have to keep going. Just putting the next word on the paper helps in the journey. So what’s it like at home for two writers? Do you guys have write-offs do you compare each other’s stuff?
Jillian Manning (32:07):
We try to see who can type the fastest because what we can make the most words by the end of the day has, has won the day? Uh, no. I mean, it’s funny cause you know, my, I have an orthodontist mom and my dad’s an MBA. And so then I’m like, I’m going to be an English major and they’re like, excuse me, like what at U of M you’re going to be an English major. And my husband was actually a vocal performance major at Western. And I said, what have you got like a backup degree just in case, just in case like, you know,
Jillian Manning (32:32):
Yes, Julian, the type a and so he was like, well, I like writing. And so he got an English major and now, I mean, luckily we have, uh, I think bucked all the stereotypes and made livings off of what we’re doing. But yes, it’s, it’s usually a pretty quiet household. There’s just a lot of clickety clickety, um, all day long and then we’ll take breaks and there’ll be times he’ll see me kind of like staring off into the distance like this. And he’s like, do you need help with a word? And I’m like, yes I do. And then we will like play the, which word are you trying to pick out of your brain game? And, and then we read each other’s work and give each other notes. Okay.
Can I ask about that? Because I can see that being maybe a possibly contentious thing
Jillian Manning (33:10):
Isn’t taken, right? Like that’s your opinion? I’m the writer, right?
Jillian Manning (33:16):
No, that’s, it’s good that we don’t have to have me having one. Uh, Craig and to me works out fine, but yes, yes. He’s a jet.
Beautiful. Well, we mentioned the fire keeper’s daughter and not to shamelessly plug our podcasts, but we did have Angela and bully the author on our podcast. Um, did you guys
Jillian Manning (33:33):
Keep your cool?
I, yeah, I think so. Yeah. Better
Jillian Manning (33:38):
Than me. Yeah.
Community member. It was, yeah, it was a little shorter term thing and called me a day before and I was like, you gotta be kidding me. This is great. So I had a little bit of time to prepare, but she mentioned she was coming back for the national writers series in December. Yeah.
Jillian Manning (33:55):
Yeah. December nine. Yeah. Oh my gosh. Wow. She’s she’s just amazing. And you guys know her story. I mean, to write your first book like that and have it take off the way that it did and change people’s entire perceptions and worlds and ah, and she’s just, she’s so lovely and so gracious. And when, when you’re that successful, sometimes I’ve, I’ve seen authors go in the other direction and she just seems to give and give and wants to, she wants to do classes while she’s here and connect with our community. And I am just in awe of her
As a native American author. I think it’s very important. I’m so glad the book I picked up for a series on Netflix through the Obama’s production company, but she’s not the first native off author you’ve had. I mean, you have had several, which I think is really sweet grass.
Jillian Manning (34:38):
Yeah. Robin wild Kimmer. Yeah. And that’s, I mean, now that, you know, I I’m in this role cause I worked for grand Travers or certain spot, so I was working, you know, sort of under the tribe. And what I realized is I grew up here and I knew nothing and I remain ashamed and embarrassed by that. And I read, you know, the Eagle returns. That was like my first introduction to understanding. Yeah, yeah. Like what was going on in this community that I’ve lived in my whole life where I thought I was a, you know, somebody that knew Trevor city. Yeah. And so my hope is that every season we can bring in and some whether, you know, it’s somebody that’s actually from our, you know, our community here, somebody that’s greater lakes area type of space, somebody that can help really make other people realize what I realized that we, we are not living on what is Trevor city? This is not our land. This is a place. Yeah. You guys know, but yeah.
Yeah. We’re lucky to be very lucky. And that element of our area, I think is special. And when people from the outside hear the stories and then to know that she has a tie to this area, and then you have somebody who really made good and is going to really be in the stratosphere soon. But the humility was that, I mean, I, I was a little nervous going in because of her, you know, what she’s achieved, but she put you at ease immediately. So, uh, really excited that, uh, Angela and bully is coming back to the national writers series in December. And I mentioned in December, she was like, I know what it’s like.
Jillian Manning (36:05):
Yeah. She’s had it. She’s yeah. Up in the suit. It’s much worse. So yeah. This’ll be like spring
And what’s, you know, in knowing you Jolene, I’m just going to say, when I saw that you got this role, I couldn’t, I’m thinking this is just tailor made for Jillian because Julian’s an author yourself. So you really know what it takes and you know, what it’s taken to do, but is it true that you wrote picture books for Sesame street and have a quote encyclopedic knowledge of all things Elmo?
Jillian Manning (36:32):
Uh, yes. I have, uh, five books with Sesame street and my favorite Elmo, whether or not this is entirely cannon, I’m not sure, but I, I did learn it at one point is that Elmo’s favorite food is wasabi and that’s why Elmo has no eyelids.
Once you would. When, when Kayden was a toddler, um, he had an Elmo phone. Oh gosh. And I like mastered that voice. And we used to drive around, like when I drive him around and put him to sleep and I’d have Elmo column and I’d talk to him and then we would have Elmo call other people’s kids almost several times. I, I, I loved it. And then I’ve since lost it. And a lot of kids don’t know Elmo that much anymore, but the parents think it’s hilarious when I make Elmo say whatever I want,
Jillian Manning (37:19):
I’m going to spare it on the spot.
Um, I’m stuck on the rather horrific detail of the fact that he’s had so much wasabi has eyelid,
Jillian Manning (37:31):
Right. Again, not sure if that’s cannon, uh, I can tell you almost always three and a half years old, he has birthdays on his half birthday. Apparently he never gets any older. He can’t take things out of the oven only. I think Burt and big bird can do that. Maybe Oscar, Oscar might be old enough. Um, and yeah, Elmo does not say, he always says, instead of I or me, he says Elmo and cookie monster always says me and cookie monster, like shout out to cookie monster. He’s my favorite because he’s got the right priorities in life. Um, but, and there’s this thing you guys should check this out. It’s uh, crumbly productions, I think are crumbly pictures. It’s cookie monster spoofing, like all kinds of different movies. Like Lord of the rings is Lord of the crumbs. And they’re like these, like, I don’t know, five, seven minute long episodes. They’re hysterical. So I think there’s a karate kid one. Um, yeah. So this is what after you’re done with this, uh, that’s what you do now.
You have just solidified my evening. Is there anything else you’d like to share with our listeners about what you are doing? What’s coming up, anything exciting that you’d like to share mean? I think
Jillian Manning (38:35):
The thing that I’ve, I’ve gotten so much joy and excitement out of lately is we’ve started bringing on, um, what we’re calling community partners. So we’ve always had sponsors because we need to be able to rent the opera house and do our events and everything. But our community partners are these, these free partners, usually nonprofits or organizations in the community where there’s a tie to the book. And so we bring them in and we cross promote with them and we work with them to do special events. So we have a woman named Pam Houston, who’s coming in the fall and we’re working with, uh, the Travers bay community or terrorist bay, children’s advocacy center and grass river natural area. And we’re teaming up and doing a hike for healing. And then they’re going to come to our event and we’re going to talk about what they do and all kinds of different things.
But it’s amazing. I mean, I think there’s some statistic of Northern Michigan having something like 300 nonprofits. I don’t know what exactly the number is, but it’s, it’s a lot. And so to find the ways that we can connect people with those projects and those amazing things that are happening and then back to books and it just, I’m making these like little star connections. I feel like everywhere I go and creating this constellation of awesome people, doing awesome things in traverse city and bringing it back and pushing it, new places. And I could do that all day. I could, I could hire somebody else to do all of this stuff, which I would be, I’d be sad and jealous, but like to just be able to connect with people like that and to find people that are just so excited to be passionate about what Trevor city is about and what our community can be and how we can lift each other up is amazing. Wow.
I told you, I walk out of every, every podcast taping, just feeling great. Um, how can our listeners support national writers series? How can they donate?
Jillian Manning (40:05):
So a national writers series.org is the website and we actually do some really cool memberships too. And so you can get like 10% off at morsels. We could do at certain membership levels, free tickets and you get early access to buying tickets, all kinds of fun stuff. So there’s, there’s some good, happy stuff in there too, but yeah, I mean, and we love when people want to support the raising writers too. I mean, that’s big. And even if that’s volunteering, you know, just having people that are excited to help us connect with kids and give them the skills and the joy of reading and writing.
Jillian, thank you so much for your pursuits and for all of those who pursue along with you, bringing amazing authors and literary experiences to our community and for including and educating our children and youth and to our listeners. Thank you all for listening and for pursuing the positive
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us again at the pursuit of podcast, the pursuit of national writers series. Thank you so much, Jillian Manning for coming in and to learn more or to get involved with NWS, go to national writers series.org. Also want to give a continuing big shout out to our supporters at the tin lid hat company, tin lid, co.com use promo code the pursuit of four discounts to our listeners and for all audio visual, uh, podcasts, production inquiries, reach out to us at newleonard.com.