Ellen Placey Wadey
I've said it before. Being involved with PALABRA PURA has been an immense privilege and a pleasure. And I've also mentioned in this space the key role of The Guild Complex. To briefly re-cap: the current board president, and poet, Mike Puican was the person who first reached out to me to help create and develop PALABRA PURA. This would have been back in the Fall of 2005. In fact, the series was primarily his idea. After that first phone call, he made the drive to South Bend from Chicago and brought with him the person I would end up working most closely with on PALABRA PURA month in and month out for the last four years: Ellen Placey Wadey, the Executive Director of the Guild.
What I didn't know at the time was what a crucial learning experience it would be to work with Ellen. Much of what I've come to believe about literary programming and non-profit work in the arts I learned by working closely with her. When asked why she does the work she does as a literary arts administratory, her response is more sophisticated and nuanced than the too easy: "I believe in diversity" which, on the surface, is an empty phrase. Ellen's take on this question is deeper:
I want to help create the world I want to live in.
This past Saturday evening there was a special event in Chicago at PALABRA PURA's first home: The California Clipper. It was a bon voyage party and homage reading for Ellen, who is stepping down in order to concentrate on her own writing. Had I not been hosting the poetry readings at the Smithsonian, I would have been in Chicago.
A fine prose writer in her own right, Ellen holds an M.A. and M.F.A. in creative writing from University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Pittsburgh, respectively. Ellen is also a member of the Macondo. She wants to finish her novel, will finish her novel.
I'd like to echo what was said on Saturday, here at Letras Latinas Blog: she's been an inspiration and mentor to me, to a number of us: If you've read in PALABRA PURA, you've experienced, first hand, her dedication and hospitality on behalf of writers. Below are some photos. In the first, you'll see Ellen waiting to go on the air in a radio studio in Chicago along with Jacob Saenz, the fine poet from Chicago. And below that you'll see a scene from last Saturday's event at the Clipper. Ellen is in the audience on the right, and behind the mic is Paul Martínez Pompa, who happened to be the first poet to read in PALABRA PURA in February of 2006. Below that is another pic of Ellen last Satuday night.