Chasing Vardis Fisher
In a Beleaguered League of Writers
By Amy McClellan
Photos Courtesy of Idaho Writers’ League
In 2016, the once-mighty Idaho Falls chapter of the Idaho Writers’ League (IWL) vanished. It happened so abruptly that some members were stunned by the email notification that the chapter was gone. For many years, nearly all those members had qualified for free meals at the Idaho Falls Senior Center. In 2010, when Earline Reid, then the chapter’s president, suggested we all have lunch at the senior center, which was across the street from the IWL meeting place, I was carded at the front desk and did not qualify for the free meal with the others, as I was not yet fifty-five. This became a fun story to tell my children. For a long while afterward, being the youngest member of the chapter was my claim to fame. Younger members actually did join the ranks, but mainly for the critiques we would give of their manuscripts, and few seemed willing to take on a leadership role. Over time, the chapter began losing its vital older members to death and disability, and no force of younger members kept things going.
The chapter’s decline began in 2010 with the loss of Merle Kearsley, who for decades inspired eastern Idaho writers the way few members did. In her later years, we were impressed by her willingness to overcome all obstacles and continue to publish short stories. With limited use of her hands, she dictated stories for publication in IDAHO magazine. When Merle could no longer host our popular Wednesday night critique group, we were lucky to have a new member take over named Gary Townsend. I think some members were a little leery at first to have a stranger join the group, especially in the aftermath of a recent incident that involved a potential new member harassing one of our writers. Yet after Gary delivered one or two in-depth critiques, we knew he had something great to offer. He moved up the IWL ladder quickly, and held various positions on IWL’s Board of Directors.
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