Council for Wisconsin Writers, Inc.
The Council for Wisconsin Writers is a unique community of writers, readers, educators, and literary people, both amateur and professional, throughout the state. For over 50 years, our mission has been to recognize and celebrate Wisconsin writers and to promote awareness of our state’s great literary heritage. Every year since 1964, we’ve sponsored the prestigious Wisconsin Writers Awards to honor the best work in a variety of literary genres. The Council is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) organization operated entirely by volunteers. We rely on an active membership to remain strong. We invite individuals and organizations to support and participate in our mission by becoming members or making donations. Please visit our Join & Give page for details.
As a nonprofit organization, the Council for Wisconsin Writers holds an annual meeting each year in September to elect a slate of officers and directors and conduct other business as may come before the Council.
All members in good standing are invited to attend. To renew your membership or obtain a new one, please visit our Membership Renewal page.
The idea for the organization which would later become the Council for Wisconsin Writers first occurred to retired businessman Herbert Schowalter on New Year’s Eve 1958, when he first decided he would not spend his retirement years hunting and fishing only.
Schowalter, a World War II veteran, had returned from tour of service in France, Germany, and Austria with a keen awareness of the pride that Europeans took in their cultural possessions—books, paintings and music—and of how this pride sustained them, even in military defeat and widespread destruction. He was especially struck by the European assumption that Americans, while optimistic and resourceful, were overly materialistic and essentially cultureless.
“We aren’t cultureless,” Schowalter later told the Milwaukee Journal, “but we certainly haven’t done enough to avail ourselves of the culture we have, or to encourage the people who create it.”
Spurred by this memory and his determination to make good use of his retirement, Schowalter and two other members of a group of writers called the Raconteurs (Larry Lawrence, a former editor with the Milwaukee Journal, and Al Nelson, a prolific freelance writer) hosted a dinner at Milwaukee’s Pfister Hotel in February 1963 to promote the formation of a group of interested writers and educators dedicated to promoting literary arts throughout the state. The dinner guests were writers, teachers, editors, and others from around the state who shared an interest in writing.
The dinner guests supported the idea, Milwaukee novelist Edward Harris Heth suggested the name, and with that, the Council for Wisconsin Writers (or CWW) was born. For the next several months, the CWW existed without dues or formal funding by passing the hat among the faithful at early meetings held in the Shorewood living room of the historical novelist Anne Powers Schwartz.
The original CWW working committees included: writers Helen C. White, August Derleth, Jim Dan Hill, Robert E. Gard, Lawrence Keating, Donald Emerson, and Betty Ren Wright; and editors and publishers Howard Mead of Wisconsin Tales and Trails, Father Michael Dineen of Country Beautiful, and Edward Kamarck of the Wisconsin Idea Theater. A distinguished variety of civic leaders filled out the roster.
In 1964, the Johnson Foundation of Racine donated $1,000, and the search for the first CWW award winner was on. Newspaper accounts at the time noted that Pulitzer Prizes for books were only $500 each, and National Book Awards were up to $1,000 each.
The winner of the first CWW award was poet Chad Walsh, for his collections Unknowing Dance and Psalm of Christ. Dorothy McGuinn, president of the Society of Midland Authors, addressed the first CWW banquet. Lawrence Keating served as master of ceremonies. The judges for that first contest were Emerson, White, Derleth, J.L. O’Sullivan, and Leslie Cross.
In 1966, the CWW—its membership having grown to 33—elected its first president, Donald Emerson, and inaugural board of directors: August Derleth, Chad Walsh, Florence Lindemann, Herbert Schowalter, Charles Peterson, Larry Sternig, William Cary, Lawrence Keating, Larry Lawrence, Edgar Kezeli, Al Nelson, and Robert Wells.
In the ensuing 50 years, hundreds of members and volunteers have worked to recognize the outstanding work of Wisconsin writers and to promote public awareness of our state’s rich and diverse literary heritage.