OAKLAND -- The Berkeley branch of the California Writers Club has a lot of literary history to support it.
Its founding in 1909 makes it one of the oldest professional writers clubs in the United States, and the fact that it began with meetings held in the Oakland hills near the home of Joaquin Miller, where Jack London, poet George Sterling and California's first poet laureate, Ina Coolbrith, shared their work also gives it a lot to live up to.
It also had ties to nature, when the club, upon the death of Joaquin Miller in 1913, led the campaign for the city of Oakland to purchase his property for a park. Montclair resident Linda Brown, past president and Central Board delegate, feels that having these early-20th century artists in Oakland's past is important.
"I'm just intrigued with the confluence of the writing and the nature, which is what Joaquin Miller was promoting and this wonderful legacy we have," she said.
Today the Berkeley branch again meets in its founding city of Oakland and is carrying forward this legacy as a nonprofit professional organization working to educate published and aspiring writers of all genres in all aspects of writing and publishing, providing not only practical information but also promoting fellowship and support. Writers meet to attend speaker's programs and workshops, join support and critique groups, network and get insight into publishing.
A good place to start is at the club's monthly speaker program, highlighted by industry leaders who discuss the craft of writing, the publishing industry and the business of writing, as well as answer questions. These meetings are free and open to the public. The club also offers workshops presented by professionals in the writing world that focus on specific topics related to writing, including writing from a male view point, writing on the cusp of memoir and fiction and developing a publishing platform. Fees are charged with nonmembers paying a larger fee than members.
Other club-sponsored services and events are restricted to members only, and the club offers membership at two levels, for published writers and aspiring writers. Support groups meet for different writing genres at which members pass around copies of works in progress for the group to read and critique. Members receive and advertise in the monthly newsletter "Write Angles" and can join the marketing group for selling their work.
Many writers look to publish their work, so the club holds a monthly contest in "Write Angles" for members. The statewide California Writers Club magazine also welcomes submissions. Lucille Bellucci, of Piedmont Pines, has been a member for 15 years. She's placed or sold 56 short stories, essays and poems and has two published books.
"I appreciate the club's efforts to promote our work," she said. "The club arranged for those of us who have published books to display them at the yearly book fair, and I got a book signing event from that."
The club's flagship, "it's-never-too-soon-to-start-writing" program, the annual fifth-grade story contest, is open to students in Alameda and Contra Costa counties and carries a monetary prize. "We get between 300 and 400 submissions a year," Brown said. "The top three winners read their stories aloud at the awards presentation."
Throughout its history, the California Writers Club has continued to influence literacy, working in 2003 to promote October as California Writers Week and celebrating its 100-year anniversary in 2009. By September of last year nearly 1,600 writers had joined the 18 branches throughout the state.
Continuing to relish the club's ties to Oakland's early authors, Brown hopes to see many new faces at the club's annual picnic held at Joaquin Miller Park, ready to share all that writing has to offer with new members and a supportive community.
For more information about the California Writers Club's Berkeley branch, go to www.berkeley-cwc.com.
The club has a free monthly speaker program from 2 to 4:30 p.m. on the third Sundays of every month at the Oakland Main Library,
125 14th St.