Interview with Hannelore Hahn & Elizabeth Julia Stoumen, International Women’s Writing Guild
Tell us about your coorganization, it’s purpose, mission, target audience, goals, what makes it unique.
Our mutual enterprise is the nonprofit International Women’s Writing Guild (IWWG), which believes in the importance of writing — particularly in the importance of women finding their own voices through writing — and has an aggregate of some 20,000 participants over the past thirty plus years.
I was chosen to head New York City’s Literature Committee to celebrate the United Nations first International Women’s Year in 1976, and after dreaming up many events and readings that year, I founded IWWG.
IWWG was then, and continues to be, open to any and all women, published or not, with “No portfolio necessary” as its motto. The Guild strongly supports the writing of the autobiography and the memoir which, during these early years, was not deemed publication worthy unless the writer was already famous. It was thought presumptuous on the part of an ordinary person to write “her story.” Thankfully, that perception has not only shifted, but is responsible for enormous personal insights on the part of women in general, as well as personal honesty.
How did you come to work together in the first place?
Elizabeth went to college in California and worked for temp agencies as a secretary. She came to visit me in the summer of 1978 and made New York her permanent residence again. As the Guild grew, it became clear that her help was needed.
Please describe your respective roles in the company.
When Elizabeth joined me in this effort in 1980, she would answer the telephone and take care of business in our home office, while for the next four years, I was still holding down a full-time job elsewhere. At the same time, we were starting to, and now mount, some eight conferences a year — the biggest being the “Remember the Magic” conference, our week-long summer conference at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY. I selected the sites and the workshop directors; we both answered mail and registered participants. I usually traveled to all of the conferences, welcoming everyone and overseeing that all went smoothly while Elizabeth, except for the “Remember the Magic” conference which we attended together (and still do), kept things running in our home office.
Elizabeth is the editor of Network, our 32-page newsletter, which is published four times a year. She is an excellent proof reader, I am more the “out-of-the-box” thinker. Except for an occasional quasi-volunteer, we are the office staff.
How has working together affected your relationship outside the “office.” In other words how do you keep family matters separate from work related issues?
As best friends it doesn’t seem natural to us to separate family matters from work related issues, so we don’t.
What are some of the challenges you have faced working together?
A big challenge came about in the late 1990s when our new landlord wanted to use our “running a business in a residence” as reason to evict us. In New York City some apartments are rent stabilized (rents can only go up a few percentage points every one or two years). If he were to evict us, he would be able to substantially raise the rent.
Now in its 32nd year, the summer “Remember the Magic” conference is attended by up to 500 women from all over the world and offers up to 70 writing workshops and other innovative classes every day.
To date, some 4,000 books have been published by IWWG members.
What do you like best about working together? Least?
About working together, it is our friendship that we enjoy the most. Anything that comes up we can talk about and solve.
Working out of our home office also affords us the flexibility to keep individual schedules. Elizabeth is a night person who does not go to sleep until 2:00 a.m., while I am a morning person.
What, if any big challenges or little annoyances have occurred as a result of working together and how have you managed to overcome them?
Practically the only irritation between us is my lack of computer skills. (“If she’s so smart, how come she’s so dumb,” pretty much sums it up.) This is still a work in progress. Stay tuned.
What tips would you share with our readers for working with a member of the family?
Just because someone is a member of your family does not mean that he or she is an ideal work partner. It seems to us that power struggles between family members are as common as they are in impersonal corporate situations. Actually, family disputes have more potential to be ignited because of the personal relationships involved. It is great good fortune to have an innate harmonious relationship.
What’s been the most exciting thing that has happened as a result of working together?
We are consistently buoyed and grateful for the steady stream of testimonials we receive in terms of what members’ experiences have been vis-a-vis the IWWG.
Additionally, we eagerly look forward to the showing of a feature film this spring which has been made about the International Women’s Writing Guild.
What’s next for this mother daughter team?
We anticipate that this film will make many more people aware of our work.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
The cultivation of friendships, which are a natural outgrowth of the Guild’s outreach, along with each woman finding the courage and belief to stretch beyond previously perceived limitations, reinforces our commitment to do the Guild’s work. We, too, have grown tremendously through working together on the Guild.
For more information about the International Women’s Writing Guild, visit: www.iwwg.org
This article can be read in the Spring/Summer 2009 Issue of WE Magazine for Women