When charged with pitching a big idea, what would a group of writers come up with? A small conference that brings laughter, tears, learning and friendship — and lasts for 15-plus years.
Developed in 2000, the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop began as a challenge from the University’s Alumni Association, said Teri Rizvi ’91, executive director of strategic communications.
“Ours was not the huge idea they were envisioning, but it has lasted,” Rizvi said. “Originally, it was going to be a one-time workshop to coincide with the Bombeck family’s gift of Erma’s papers to the University. The second time we hosted it, we laughed for three days and knew we would do it again.”
Started in 2004 with a $100,000 gift from the cousin of Marianist Brother Tom Price — the English professor and 1911 alumnus who told Bombeck those three magic words, “You can write” — the workshop’s endowment has recently picked up steam, garnering $33,000 from a spring fundraiser featuring nationally known author and performer Mary Lou Quinlan and two anonymous gifts totaling $50,000.
“Until recently, we’ve hid the light under the bushel, so to speak, about the workshop, which is crazy because it’s national in scope,” Rizvi said. “More and more, I’m seeing the potential for its long-term sustainability and growth.”
The endowment serves a two-fold purpose. First, it helps keep the workshop affordable for writers, many of whom pay their own way and whose experience runs the gamut from weekly newspaper columns and blogs to traditionally published books. Second, it ensures the long-term sustainability of a conference that supports writers — and provides an invaluable learning opportunity for students. Over the years, the workshop has attracted such household names as Dave Barry, Garrison Keillor, Phil Donahue, Nancy Cartwright, Gail Collins, Alan Zweibel, Lisa Scottoline and others.
“The Alumni Association continues to be a terrific supporter of the workshop,” Rizvi said. “Each session, they underwrite scholarships for students, allowing about 30 of them to attend for free. It’s a phenomenal gift, and it emphasizes the belief they have in the message of the workshop.”
Vicki Edwards Giambrone ’81, who served as Alumni Association president when the workshop originated and continued as a workshop volunteer and donor, said Bombeck’s influence played a crucial role.
“This project has been a labor of love for me and the UD Alumni Association since the beginning because of what Erma means to all of us,” she explained. “Erma often told the story of finding her calling at UD, so when the National Alumni Association was given the opportunity to work with the Bombeck family and create the workshop, it was a perfect match and a unique opportunity to honor someone who brought us all so much pride, laughter and joy.”