Rio Grande Writers Association 1976-1991

1976. The Rio Grande Writers Association was founded in 1976 by Rudolfo and Patricia Anaya, Gene Frumkin, David Johnson, James A. Fisher, and E.A. (Tony) Mares.  See Founding of RGWA by Johnson. Early members included Jim Ruppert, Karen McKinnon,  Larry Goodell, James Mackie, Jim Harris (Hobbs), John Brandi, Bobby Byrd (El Paso), Leo Romero, Barrett Price, Ann Valley-Fox, Michelle Miller, Everett Campbell, Romolo Arellano, Bob Burlingame, Jim Burbank, Diana Huntress, John Randall,  Mary Woodlee (Artesia), Carol Moscrip, Sharon Niederman, and many  others such as  Jeanne Shannon, Bob Burlingame, Harold Littlebird, Roberta Meyers (Taos),  Cheryl Howard, many many others.

The Rio Grande Writers Conference, April 22-25, 1976, sponsored by the Writing Center of the Department of English at UNM, was a gathering of regional writers, poets, editors, and teachers – Keith Wilson, Joy Harjo, John Nichols, Gene Frumkin, Arlene Zekowski, Leroy Quintana, E.A. (Tony) Mares, Judson Crews, Lynn Strongin, Terry Boren, Harold Littlebird, Harvena Richter, John Brandi, Stanley Noyes, Carolyn Maisel, David Johnson, Karl Kopp, Tony Hillerman, Catherine Stetson, Larry Goodell, Mary McGinnis, and Rudolfo Anaya.RGWA 1976 conf participants1 RGWA 1976 conf participants 2RGWA program conference 1976

Voices From the Rio Grande, RGWA, 1976. 122 pages,  was the fruit of RGWA’s birth and of this first conference, a wonderful anthology with photographs of the poets by Lou Holmberg and Jeff Buckles.

Introduction by James A. Fisher, Jr., Albuquerque 1976. “As the literary centers of America become increasingly more provincial, they limit their interest in new work.    Perhaps more important is that the larger publishers limit their point of view geographically. The writers of the Southwest, however, consider their sense of place an important focal point through which to communicate. They write from a collection of cultures. Their drama reflects the landscape in which they work; their inspiration is drawn from the most ancient roots of human community.

Voices of the Riogrande, 1976, the outgrowth of the RGW Conference

Voices of the Rio Grande, 1976, the outgrowth of the RGWA Conference

In the Spring of 1976 a group of writers, teachers and others interested in writing gathered at Albuquerque to take part in the first Rio Grande Writers Conference. Throughout the three day event groups met to participate in symposia discussing the Southwest’s literature. Several writers were invited to read from their work to the conference. This book is a selection from that work.

The Rio Grande Writers Association, formed at that first conference in response to the region’s needs, presents this book as the first of many. The Board of Directors, and especially Rudolfo Anaya and David Johnson of the Editorial Advisory Board, not only helped plan the book but helped immeasurably in its day-to-day construction. The University of New Mexico Writing Center, its faculty and students, donated many valuable hours of time, space, and energy to the project. Finally I would like to thank all of the friends of the Association, especially Jim and Sandy Birkhead, Gene Frumkin and my wife Janet.”  James Fisher.

Frank Waters. “With Voices from the Rio Grande, the Rio Grande Writers Association launches its hope for a new regional press – a press committed to publishing our own writers. I believe The Rio Grande Writers Association Press will be as strikingly original and indomitably stubborn, as Alan Swallow’s press in Denver in past years and as successful as Paul Weaver’s in Flagstaff at present. These two small western presses and others have broken the ice of prejudice and neglect with which commercial eastern publishers view our work. Now is the time for such a press in New Mexico to continue to do the same. Voices from the Rio Grande is an exciting and important first step.” (on the back cover of Voices)

To see some of these photographs of poets in Voices you can go to Poet and Artist Friends Photo Album.

Closely connected in time and in spirit was The Indian Rio Grande . . .

Indian Rio Grande cover

1977. The Indian Rio Grande, Recent Poems from 3 Cultures, edited by Gene Frumkin and Stanley Noyes came out from Dr. Ernest Tedlock’s San Marcos Press in 1977, 232 pages. This superb anthology included many of the members of RGWA and was supported by an NEA grant. It presented “ . . .  the work of poets residing within the Rio Grande’s field of influence, from the southern Colorado border to the point where the great river touches Mexico . . . . Every poet represented herein comes from or lives in Arizona or New Mexico – or in/around El Paso, that city from which De Vargas launched his reconquest of Nuevo Mexico in 1691.”

indian rio grande contents

“Among the values we speak of are a sense of the sacredness and unity of nature, an awareness of our relatedness to other animals, a sense of the spiritual inherent in the material and of the mystery and appropriateness of all life.”   Stanley Noyes & Gene Frumkin, in the “Foreword” to The Indian Rio Grande.

1978. Downtown Saturday Night Festivals,  Albuquerque,  Rio Grande Writers Association readings for Saturday events, May-July and August-September 1979. I was the RGWA representative and reading coordinator.  We featured over 50 poets and writers and musicians in this program.  Primarily we were in an old vacant building 3rd and Central that used to be a shoe store. We had rented chairs and a podium for poets & musicians. We sold beer outside and inside made up a “coffeehouse” with lots of Madras bed sheets which we hung on the walls in an attempt to cover up the bleakness of being in vacated downtown buildings. (3rd & Central and then the Rangel’s Imports Building across from the Kimo.) 

We owe many thanks to Marjorie Neset and the City of Albuquerque and to David Johnson who was then president of RGWA. We had a bank account and a liquor license . . . and Cheryl Howard was a great help out there, even when it rained!

We would have folding chairs delivered, but we had to pick up ice well before the event and then the beer and wine at a liquor distributor. Outside in front of where the poets read, we had a table with cups, napkins, money box and our “picnic” liquor license displayed. We’d chip blocks of ice on top of the beers in a barrel and after 2 hours they’d be cold. So we could sell beer and wine and I believe sodas out front to make money to pay the poets inside.

RGWA, Downtown Saturday Night Sept 1979 howard pace cropped

Jennie Montoya, September 1, 1979, Downtown Saturday Night, RGWA, across from the Kimo, photo by Howard Pace

We’d introduce the poets and they’d read to a diverse and constantly changing crowd. People would wander in from the rather wild Saturday Night celebrations and linger and listen and often stay . . . it was a great time in Albuquerque and public poetry history.The wonderful thing was being able to make the money up front and pay the poets and musicians with it inside and, I must add, have enough money to add to the RGWA bank account at Albuquerque National Bank. As I recall I reported on the proceedings and the expenditures to Norm Zollinger, President, and then David Johnson, President, of RGWA.

Many Lured By Hispanic Heritage Fete
By Kirk Petersen, Albuquerque Journal, July 16, 1978

Nearly 45,000 people — by far the largest crowd yet — turned out for the 11th Downtown Saturday Night festival, honoring the city’s Hispanic heritage.

A few of the visitors scampered across Third Street, dodging the city buses — the only vehicles allowed to cross Central Avenue on Saturday night — and wandered into an abandoned shirt shop on the corner.

Inside they encountered a dozen cheap card tables surrounded by metal folding chairs. A few posters and pictures were hung in a futile attempt to enliven the barren walls. At one end of the room, several tapestries were hung to form a stage of sorts. It looked about like an abandoned shirt shop.

But the people sitting at those tables, as well as many more standing at the rear of the room, were not there to admire the decor. They were there to listen to Rudy Anaya, author of “Bless Me, Ultima” and “Heart of Aztlan,” read selections from the second work.

Anaya read a selection about a young man who drowned in an Albuquerque irrigation ditch and was brought back from downstream for a “velorio,” the Spanish equivalent of a wake.

The weekly poetry and prose readings are sponsored by the Rio Grande Writer’s Association, an organization devoted to the promotion of writing and publishing in the Southwest. Anaya is past president of the organization.

If you go to the corner of Third and Central during either of the two remaining Downtown Saturday Night celebrations — Slavic and Native American nights — you will be able to hear other members of the association read from their works. They’ll even sell you a beer from a truck outside.

Kirk Petersen, Albuquerque Journal, July 16, 1978

Poets and Writers Featured May 6-July 39, 1978

Susan Schmidt, Larry Goodell, May 6th
Roy Ricci, John Brandi, Cheryl Howard, May 13tn
Sharon Barba, Carolyn Maisel, Nancy Staley, May 20th
Holly Delgado (Wilson), Stan Renfro, (Open Reading) May 27th
Judson Crews, Carol Bergé, June 3rd
E. A. (Tony) Mares, Joy Harjo, Suzanne Hobbs, June 10th
Doris Holbrooks (Fields), Michael Ford, Terry Boren, Jim Ruppert, June 17th
Jeff Bryan, David Johnson, June 24tn
Harold Littlebird, Tom Heidlebaugh, Paula Gunn Allen, July 1st
Robert Creeley, Mei Mei Berssenbrugge, Arthur Sze, July 8th
Rudolfo Anaya, Marcela Aquilar, Mia and Cecelio Garcia-Camarillo, July 15th
Keith Wilson, Bill Bingham (Howling Wolf), George Perreault, Roberto Sandoval, July 22nd Simon Ortiz, Ron Rogers, July 29th

Poets and Writers Featured August 18-September 8, 1979

Jaime Chavez. Leo Romero, Mia*and Cecelio Garcia-Camarillo*, Simon Ortiz*, August 18th
Gene Frumkin, Patricia Ann Smith, Karen McKinnon, Joy Harjo,* (Open Reading), August 25th
Jennie Montoya, Paula Gunn Allen*, Sharon Barba, Leroy Quintana, September 1st
Floyce Alexander, Ned Sublette, Bill Pearlman, Ralpn Walbridge, Robert Lloyd, September 8th  Musicians during the events: Phil Patton, Ellen Hines, Dan Ingroff.

(*) indicates read twice

Note: Later there was an Albuquerque sponsored festival way out on East Central. I remember the avant-garde musician/poet Ned Sublette gave a reading & music performance sponsored by RGWA.

rgwa downtown sat nt august 79

Flyer for poets reading performances August 25, 1979, Downtown Saturday Night

“Bravo for another outstanding job organizing and producing Downtown Saturday Night [poetry events! As a result] RGWA is a solvent organization, and we are proud to have given so many writers a chance to read their work.”

David Johnson, President
Cheryl Howard, Secretary

rgwa direc of nm lit sources 80-81

1979. Directory of New Mexico Literary Sources  1980-1981, Cheryl Howard, Editor, RGWA, 60 pp listed writers, poets, booksellers, publishers, with invaluable comprehensive information about each. Invaluable source for poets & others for years. Rio Grande Writers Newsletters continued through the 70’s & 80’s.

1983. Bobby Byrd, then RGWA President, wrote in the Spring 1983 Newsletter: “The RGWA lives in places other than Albuquerque, places like Taos, El Paso, Hobbs, Roswell, Bisbee, Los Angeles, Gallup, Santa Fe, Creede, Socorro . . . Carlsbad, Del Rio, Silver City, Las Cruces. In other words, the RGWA is a place to touch base, to find out what’s going on, to be used. It should be used as eyes and ears and touch. . . . The newsletter . . . should be a place to touch base, to dind out what’s going on, to be used. It should be used as eyes and ears and touch . . . a place where we as writers distribute our ideas, our energies, our arguments, our aims . . . the centerpiece of the organization, and it’s one of the few things that we can carry on collectively . . . .”

rgwa newsletter

Newsletters continued throughout RGWA’s history . . . with readers and input all over the state.

The Rio Grande Poets & Writers Festival, dedicated to Max Finstein and Etta Blum, was held at the Kimo Theater in May of 1983, with appearances by Barrett Price, John Randall, Judson Crews, Janet Rodney, Sharon Barba, Nathaniel Tarn, E.A. (Tony) Mares, Keith Wilson, Luci Tapahonso, Drum Hadley, Robert Creeley, dancer Lee Connor and Larry Goodell. Promotion from the Albuquerque Journal failed us and led to a sparser audience but the enthusiasm of all was great.

rg poets and writers festival may 13 14 1983 maybe better

The Rio Grande Writers Book Distribution Project was an attempt at a literary mail order service, a cooperative venture between the Living Batch Bookstore and the Rio Grande Writers Association, with a grant from the New Mexico Arts Division and NEA. Catalogs of poetry, literary magazines, anthologies, new listings, Southwest history, photography, music, film came out in 1983 “to supply readers in the remoter towns and cities of New Mexico and the Southwest with books which are not available where they live. “rg distribution catalog

1986. Rio Grande Writers Quarterly came out from January to May of 1986, edited by Jesse Clay, Todd Dickson and James Mackie, and turned into Southwestern Discoveries, edited by Todd Dickson, Molly & Steve Zerbach, and others, 1986-1988. Please see “The State of the Art in the Art of the State,” by Gene Frumkin which was published in this Quarterly. Here is the back page.

back page of rgw quarterly Jan 1986 cleaner

RGWA faded out in the late 80’s & very early 90’s.

1992. David Bock, past president wrote me in January of ‘92: “The organization hasn’t been as active as a writing community of its size should be. . . . As one of the original founding members, and first President of RGWA, Rudolfo [Anaya] was very concerned about the continued success of the Rio Grande Writer’s Association.” I was asked to take it on as president, but I had to decline since my own work was absorbing all my time & energy. Larry Goodell, Placitas, New Mexico 6Dec2012

I will gladly include more information about RGWA as I receive it. I am always open to comments here or email to me Love to all for all your writing, your poetry, your publishing, your reading, your organizing, your performing, your maintaining the enjoyable spirit of writing in New Mexico and across the borders . . .

Larry Goodell, member of RGWA 1976-1991

Related blog posts, please see David Johnson ‘s Brief History: the Founding of the Rio Grande Writers Association 

See Jim Harris and Cheryl Howard’s pieces here

See Bobby Byrd Thinks Back On the RGWA

ee: Jim Harris’s

About larry goodell

Poet exploring his viable extensions - publisher, performer, playwright - hand to hand help in creating spaces for poetry to be live in - reading events, recordings, online and tangible publications in the vocal spirit of his New Mexico.
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2 Responses to Rio Grande Writers Association 1976-1991

  1. Pingback: Rio Grande Writers’ Association — for Writers & Poets — Jim Harris & Cheryl Howard | lotsa, larry goodell

  2. Pingback: John Crawford Letter & Reply: Rio Grande Writers Association | lotsa, larry goodell

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