On April 15, 1955, forty-five Nashville bookwomen gathered at the Highland Crest Restaurant. Edith Patterson Meyer, juvenile editor at Abingdon Press, and Ann Richter, chair of WNBA’s National Expansion Committee, provided the program. After Ann Richter talked about the organization, sharing interesting anecdotes from the New York Chapter, the Nashville group voted to form a chapter, the fourth nationally. In May, Kate Ellen Gruver, juvenile editor at Broadman Press, was elected president.
Over the years the Nashville Chapter has been active and energetic, participating in and sponsoring many book-related projects. With a strong membership drawn from local publishing houses, libraries, universities, the writing community, and other book lovers, the Chapter is noted for its many programs and events.
The Chapter’s regularly scheduled events include:
|Book Discussion Group|
|Breakfast with Authors, Southern Festival of Books, Great Group Reads event|
WNBA members initiated and, with cooperation from the Junior League of Nashville and other groups, sponsored the first Nashville Book Fair in 1957. The chapter participated in the 1959 Arts Festival with an exhibit displaying the various phases of book publishing and art. And in 1967, during National Library Week, WNBA sponsored a tea honoring local women authors. The Chapter has continued its involvement in promoting book fairs, with Humanities Tennessee’s Southern Festival of Books each year.
The Chapter contributes regularly to scholarships for Humanities Tennessee’s Young Writers Workshops. Previously, a WNBA Scholarship Fund, started in 1968, assisted college juniors who intended to pursue a career in books. Money was raised by auctions, garage sales, book sales, and the Literary Allusions Cookbook, published in 1982. Additionally, Nashville’s many authors have been interviewed by members, and their oral histories, preserved on cassette tapes, have been circulated in schools and are available in the Nashville Room at the Nashville Public Library.
The chapter has continued to work in coalition with other organizations including the Tennessee Library Association. In 1968 and 1987, WNBA joined with the Tennessee Literary Homecoming Celebration and worked to initiate the Southern Festival of Books. Since the first festival in 1989, members of the Nashville Chapter have formed the core of volunteers supporting the festival with many members filling pivotal roles in all phases of event operations. The Nashville Chapter is now noted for its involvement in this outstanding book festival. Members contribute many hours in various ways to help make this a success every October. Over the past five years, the Nashville Chapter has hosted the signature event of the Great Group Reads spin-off of the national WNBA organization. This event, Breakfast with Authors, features a panel of highly sought after, recently published authors, with an audience of over 200. It has become, for many, the highlight of the Southern Festival of Books.
An idea initiated by the WNBA Board of Directors for a children’s book on Tennessee history came to fruition in 1993 through the joint efforts of the chapter and Etta Wilson, owner of March Media. Tennessee Trailblazers, written by Patricia and Fredrick McKissack, highlights four unique individuals from the state’s history: Big Foot Spencer, the first white man to farm in the Cumberland Valley; Nanyehi (Nancy Ward), a Cherokee “beloved woman” who helped settlers and Indians live together; Ella Sheppard and other students who formed the Fisk Jubilee Singers in 1866 to raise money for their school; and Cordell Hull, who served the people of Tennessee and the nation for over fifty years and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1945 for his leadership in forming the United Nations. The book has been well received across the state and region by libraries, schools, and readers alike.
A summer reading and discussion program, now in its 21st year, continues to generate rave reviews and to attract new members to WNBA. First organized under a grant from Humanities Tennessee, and now with the sponsorship of Lipscomb University’s Beaman Library, the program meets one evening a week for six weeks during the summer to discuss major works with local and regional literary experts. Past thematic programs include women writers, Tennessee writers, southern literature, coming of age novels, humor, food writing, war, and international writers.
The Nashville Chapter continues to pursue cooperative projects with other groups that share its commitment to books, reading, and literacy. In 1995, a Literary Map of Tennessee was published as a result of collaboration among WNBA Nashville, the Tennessee Bicentennial Commission, and the Tennessee Council of Teachers of English. Each year the chapter broadens its influence and connections by participating in the ATHENA Awards, which is considered Nashville’s highest award of recognition for the achievements of professional women. In the fall of 1992 WNBA Nashville received an invitation to participate in the 1993 ATHENA Awards program, which first began in 1991. Donna Paz and Sue Bredensteiner were the first WNBA representatives to the ATHENA Awards committee, and Carolyn Wilson was WNBA’s first nominee. Each year, the Chapter participates in the ATHENA Award program by nominating an outstanding WNBA member sponsored by the Chapter.
During the 1997-1998 membership year, the Nashville Chapter sponsored several public programs to promote reading to area children. “Books Change the World” was the theme of several Saturday discussions at local libraries, and successful Nashville women from different walks of life shared the many ways that reading had made a difference in their lives. In May 1998, a book-and-author event featuring Ron Kidd, Cherie Bennett, and Patricia McKissack raised more than $2,000 for the Public Library’s new downtown library facility and branch library collections.
In 1990, the chapter sponsored the formation of the Tennessee Writers Alliance, assuming oversight of that group until it became self-sufficient in early 1994.
In February 2002, the Nashville Chapter donated two original watercolors by Caldecott Award winner Jerry Pinkney from the book Goin Someplace Special, by Patricia McKissack, to the Nashville Public Library. The membership enthusiastically supported the opening of the new main Library in downtown Nashville and through personal donations and a few outside friends raised the money to purchase the art. In 2005 Kathy Gore organized WNBA Nashville’s 50th anniversary celebration, which included a public library exhibit documenting the chapter’s activities. Members gathered for an anniversary dinner at Sunset Grill to hear novelist Jeanne Ray speak and read from her work. A commemorative poster was created by Gary Gore for the event, and all present for the celebratory dinner received posters and copies of Poetry, donated by the Poetry Foundation.
In March 2005, Hume-Fogg Academic High School, WNBA Nashville, and fourteen writers joined forces to produce Connecting: A Day for Readers and Writers. The keynote address was provided by authors John Egerton and Tony Earley; a final presentation was given by Storyteller Estelle Condra. Proceeds from the event provided scholarships for the Humanities Tennessee-sponsored Tennessee Young Writers’ Workshop, a weeklong, residential program for high school students interested in improving their writing skills. In 2006 the program was presented for a second time, with twice as many authors and twice as much money raised for the Tennessee Young Writers’ Workshop scholarship fund. The keynote address was given by author Robert Hicks; recording artist and author Marshall Chapman performed for the finale.
In 2006, the Chapter organized a book discussion group that meets five times a year at a local public library branch. This group has proved highly successful, drawing in a diverse array of members and non-members. Books selected for discussion are regularly featured on best books of the year lists.
Many opportunities are available for community outreach and professional growth. Monthly meetings, occasional seminars, and special events offer times to get to know members from book-related professions as well as those with strong ties to and interest in the world of books. WNBA Nashville continues to respond to the interests not only of its members but also of the reading community at large.
|Bebe (Sarah) Brechner||2011-2013|
|Ginna Foster Cannon||2009-2011|
|Gladys M. Beasley||1977-1979|
|Mary Glenn Hearne||1975-1977|
|Anna Loe Russell||1973-1975|
|Mary Nelson Bates||1969-1971|
|Mary Ann Walker||1967-1969|
|Mary Joan Finger||1957-1959|
|Kate Ellen Gruver||1955-1957|