Lila Wallace Readers Digest Writers Awards

Past Investment: 1990-2000

The issue…

Ask writers what they would most like to change about their work, and many would say the solitary nature and the lack of time to pursue their craft. Many would trade some of that isolation for a chance to become actively involved in their communities, sharing their appreciation for the written word. However, these opportunities are rarely, if ever, available.

The response…

From 1990 to 2000, the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Writers' Awards program provided financial support to free accomplished writers from other responsibilities and devote time to creating new works and partnering with community-based organizations to foster wider appreciation for literature.

The strategies…

The program awarded more than $9 million to 92 exceptional poets, playwrights, novelists and nonfiction writers. Three-year grants of $105,000 each encouraged the writers to develop new work and share with community members and cultural organizations their love for literature. Recipients were recommended by a committee of distinguished writers, editors and academics, then selected by an independent review committee from the pool of nominees. The program also connected writers with communities, engaging the public in creative experiences to increase understanding and appreciation of literature. The writer chose the community organization with which he or she wanted to work, and the Foundation awarded each affiliate organization $30,000 for administrative costs associated with the writer's community project.

The accomplishments…

The Writers' Awards became a signature program that helped raise the consciousness of the larger writing community about the value of literary outreach. Writers conducted workshops, organized performances, mounted exhibits and gave readings in schools, churches, libraries, homeless shelters and hospitals. They reached teenagers and seniors, veterans and immigrants, ranchers and inner-city gang members, teachers and adults, fostering an appreciation for literature. Affiliate organizations added a new dimension to their programs through their partnerships with the writers. And given the rare chance to put their writing first for three years, many of the writers enjoyed new bursts of creativity and productivity. The Art of the Possible details accomplishments of the Writers' Awards program.