The Little Nonprofit That Could
This is a guest post from the team at Wordsmith Productions in Victorville, CA
Wordsmith Productions is a small arts and literacy nonprofit located in the California Mojave High Desert’s Victorville area. You may recognize the famous Joshua Trees and mystical desert landscapes of the Mojave as the setting of many Hollywood gems, and the real setting of the true life events that inspired the movies Erin Brockovich and Won’t Back Down.
CEO Davida Siwisa James founded the nonprofit in 2013 with a grand mission—to build the first modern performing arts center in the area. But when that grand vision did not pick up traction—beyond people agreeing that it was a great idea—the nonprofit moved on to serve the community in other ways (including producing the Fourth Annual High Desert Book Festival, coming up on October 12, 2019!).
Wordsmith holds dear the belief that for a community to grow and come fully into its own, advancing its access to and awareness of professional performing arts is vital. To that end, the nonprofit was awarded a $10,000 James Irvine Grant from the Community Foundation that serves Riverside and San Bernardino Counties. With this grant, Wordsmith produced the play Love Letters by A.R. Guerney in local low-income housing complexes and senior citizen centers. Residents and members of the center acted in the play, and Wordsmith held acting lessons to help the stars prepare.
At the end of one performance, a woman in her eighties approached a Wordsmith board member to thank them for the show and share that she had never seen a play. “There are a lot of ways to measure how effective your programs are working,” James said. “Though these were small events, very little has been as gratifying as that moment.”
In addition to Wordsmith’s work in the performing arts, Wordsmith is also home to an adult literacy program, and is about to serve their second year as a Region-at-Large partner for the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.
Perhaps among the biggest of Wordsmith’s events is the annual High Desert Book Festival. As a writer herself, James combined her love of the written word to create an event she hoped would put the High Desert on the map. In its first year, the festival featured international bestselling author Anne Perry.
The upcoming High Desert Book Festival on October 12 has the usual author exhibitors, a series of writing workshops, and a variety of panels for authors and readers alike.
“We have a really eclectic group of speakers,” said Wordsmith CEO Davida Siwisa James. “There are literary agents, a memoirist, and a college professor who is a poet and editor. We have developed a wonderful panel on the ‘Exploring the Literature of the California Deserts.’” The panel will be led by Ruth Nolan, professor of English at College of the Desert in Palm Desert, and editor of an anthology focused on the desert, No Place for a Puritan: The Literature of California’s Deserts. The project was made possible with support from California Humanities, a partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Author John Saunders joins the festival directly from his home in Australia. Saunders’ recently published bestselling memoir on Amazon, One in Six, is much more than a story of overcoming childhood sexual abuse. It’s a story of manhood, relationships, awakening, and of the commonality in our life’s journey. John works as a counselor in his native Australia helping other adults find a path to heal from childhood trauma.
A panel of literary agents will be joining the festival as well, leading the presentation, “How to Make an Effective Pitch to an Agent.” Authors will have the opportunity to submit a ten-page writing sample to an agent, and meet one-on-one with an agent. For any aspiring authors out there, of which we know there are many, this is the place for you!
Wordsmith Productions joined the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers as a RAL partner for the 2019 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, judging writing categories from across RAL programs and supporting the creativity of teen artists and writers in their High Desert community. After inviting the many talented writers in their community to read and score student work in 2019, Wordsmith is excited to be returning as RAL adjudication partners again for the 2020 Awards.
Are you located in the High Desert area of the California Mojave? If so, check out the Fourth Annual High Desert Book Festival on Saturday, October 12, 2019 at Hesperia Civic Plaza Park. The book festival is hosted by Wordsmith Productions, and cosponsored by Hesperia Recreation & Park District and the City of Hesperia. Want to show your support? Become a Friend of the Festival! Contact an organizer directly at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.