My Writing Marathon Origin Story


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Many times, people ask me how I became interested in Writing Marathons. This is the story of my early years, learning about marathons by hosting them in the Nebraska Writing Project and attending them at National Writing Project Annual Meetings and Retreats whenever I could.   I’ve adapted the text in this post from a poster presentation I made years ago for the Nebraska Writing Project Spring Gathering in 2012.  Now, I share it to tell my marathon origin story.  Many thanks to my marathon mamma, Michelle Rogge Gannon (Director of the Dakota Writing Project), to my mentor Robert Brooke (Director of the Nebraska Writing Project), to my oldest marathon buddy, Jeff Grinvalds, and to Richard Louth (Director of the Southeastern Louisiana Writing Project) for founding the New Orleans Writing Marathon back in 1994. 

Summer 2006: I go on my first writing marathon, with Jeff Grinvalds and facilitator Michelle Rogge-Gannon (Director of the Dakota Writing Project) at the NWP Writing and Technology Professional Writing Retreat in Nebraska City. We also meet Natasha Whitton, Tech Liaison for the Southeastern Louisiana Writing Project, where the writing marathon was born in 1994. It’s simple. Powerful. Fun. I can’t wait to bring it back to the Nebraska Writing Project.

Fall 2006: With Robert Brooke, Director of the Nebraska Writing Project, I pilot the first NeWP writing marathon, Eye of NeWP, and invite the 2006 Summer Institute participants, the Advisory Board, and Michelle Rogge-Gannon. It’s a bunch of fun. We all want to do more.

April 2007: We plan the Second Writing Marathon in the NeWP, again in Lincoln’s  Haymarket, this time on the Saturday after the Spring Gathering. A small but mighty group of five convenes.

Summer 2007: I go off on my solo writing retreat at Platte River State Park. I keep thinking about how cool it would be to bring a group of NeWP teacher-writers out there for a retreat…

October 2007: We host the third NeWP writing marathon, this one in midtown Lincoln, ranging through the Sunken Gardens and Antelope Park. It concludes at Jeff’s parents’ house, where we bask in Latvian hospitality.

January 2008: The now-traditional Winter Writing Marathon in downtown Lincoln takes shape and starts to attract a larger crowd. We learn that Yia Yia’s is great for pizza and beer and artfully-lit photography, but too loud for read-arounds.

April 2008: Our first Omaha Writing Marathon ranges over the Old Market. This is also our first marathon with young writers! In future invites, we include the line, “Your writing-friendly family and friends are welcome to join us.” It’s a good thing.  I still use that line on all of my flyers today.

September 2008: We roll the fall writing marathon into the first Platte River Writing Retreat and end up reading by candlelight after an outrageous potluck. An awesome start to a new tradition!


November 2008: At the NWP Annual Meeting in NYC, I get to go on my first NWP-sponsored writing marathon, with Sharon Bishop and some upstate NY TCs. I meet writing marathon founder, Richard Louth (Director of the Southeastern Louisiana Writing Project), and join 200+ writing teachers as they flood into the NYC subway system, heading for Greenwich Village.

March 2009: I write my first writing marathon fan letter. Richard Louth succumbs to my gushing and agrees to meet with me in New Orleans. He and his wife shower me with books, New Orleans tips, and lots of support for my work. We realize that SLWP and NeWP are sister sites, both with long histories of valuing teachers as writers.

January 2009: We hold our second Winter Writing Marathon in downtown Lincoln. We have learned our lesson from Yia Yia’s and hold this read-around at Misty’s.

April 2009: Our first writing marathon held “out west.” Sharon Bishop hosts this one at the Stuhr Museum, and we get to write in a Pawnee Earth Lodge!  Awesome.

Fall 2009: We’re back at Platte River State Park for another great retreat and another great marathon. Lucy Carruthers writes a feature story about it showcasing gnomes and bees. Robert and Kate write in a paddleboat with Pan. More kids come. More campfire awesomeness ensues.

November 2009: Anne, Mary, and I make it to the NWP Writing Marathon in Philadelphia. Richard reads the Hemingway quote and I swoon. We write and wander and watch people throw pennies on Ben Franklin’s grave. I start to realize that writing marathons change the way writers interact with the people they encounter.

January 2010: The third Winter Writing Marathon draws a record crowd of 23. After a strange start at Sheldon Art Museum on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Campus, we’re off on the coffee-and-art tour of the city, then back at Misty’s for the read-around. Jen Stastny does her “big arms” Eddie Izzard bit as we cross P Street.

April 2010: Our first Riding/Writing Marathon in NoDo (North Downtown) Omaha. We have a great launch by the Omaha Writing Group at the Hot Shops Art Gallery and a read-around right back there. This was one picturesque, sunlit marathon!

March 2010: At CCCC in Louisville, I present a paper about writing marathons and ecocritical notions of “spirit of place.” I’m on a panel chaired by Robert Brooke about writing marathons with Richard Louth and Natasha Whitton, from the Southeastern Louisiana Writing Project, and Marjorie Roemer from the Rhode Island Writing Project. . No one thinks to take a picture of the panelists, but everyone is loves this slide with the John Muir quote I got from Jeff Lacey: “I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out until sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”

July 2010: We do an optional writing marathon during the Professional Writing Retreat at St. Benedict’s Retreat Center in Schuyler, Nebraska, with c0-facilitators Robert Petrone and Jane Connealy.  I write a cheeky sequence about “What writers need,” “What St. Benedict needs,” and “What the world needs.”

September 2010: Returning again to Platte River for Writing Retreat and Marathon #3. By now we’ve several got several emerging traditions and themes, including a Quilt Show, an Angry Cardinal Clan, and a Write about Found Stuff Ritual.

November 2010: I organize a Rogue Writing Marathon at Downtown Disney during NCTE. Richard and Natasha come from SLWP, along with the fantastic Michelle Russo.  we are also joined by  Gigi and Wilma and other folks from the Oxbow Writing Project.  This is the start of our “go rogue” option when we want to have a writing marathon but it doesn’t fit into the official program (we revived this at the Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., in 2014).

Nov. 2010

In 2011, I started this blog, so the story continues back at the beginning.  In August of 2013, I became Director of the Prairie Lands Writing Project at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph, Missouri– a site with a long history of writing marathons where it was easy to continue my research and my work, spreading marathon joy to the masses.  I am fortunate, indeed!

Many thanks to my Teaching Writing with Technology classes at MWSU and the great teacher-writers in them who help inspire me to keep writing–digitally and otherwise.  Here is the latest group, on a class marathon in downtown Saint Joseph in March of 2016, beholding the magic of the s’mores pizza at GeneO’s:

marathon smore pizza



  1. Appreciate: Wow! Look at all of those writing adventures you have been on! It makes me happy to think that maybe I can someday go as many as you have been on. I love that you got to do the pilot for the first Nebraska Writing Project. I think it is neat how this writing thing sort of spreads out and can touch a bunch of different lives. I really like all of the different pictures. I like seeing the different groups of people and where you guys have decided to write at. Everyone just seems so happy and at peace with what they are doing.

    Notice: I notice that you, not only in your pictures but also when I see you write, use a notebook that appears to be the same one. Do you use the same notebook each time you go on a writing marathon? Do you start a new one? I refuse to write in my original one from the summer anymore, it is sacred and I don’t want to taint it with things that aren’t up to par with what we did in the Summer Institute!

    Wonder: I wonder if you were nervous to go on your first writing marathon? I know I was a little terrified to go on my first one last summer. I didn’t know what to expect and I didn’t consider myself a writer at all. I thought I would be judged for the way that I wrote. I also wonder if you prefer to write in a group of people or to write by yourself. I think it does depend on where you are and what the mood of the place seems like.

  2. Thanks, Jamie. I appreciate being reminded that a marathon can be very scary for people at first. It’s hard to convey how low-key and open-ended it really is. Yes, I do have a marathon notebook that I prefer. My friend Jeff gave me a Moleskine notebook once, and I used it for tons of marathons. It is nice and sturdy and just the right size. I filled it up last year, though, so I need a new one. I do prefer to write in groups on marathons. It keeps me honest and fluid and inspired. I hope you will consider joining us on the open marathon in PLWP on April 9 and/or for the marathon class next semester. Thanks for reading!

  3. I appreciate the chronology of this post and am amazed that you have the names, dates, and pictures. This really highlights why organization is a writer’s friend! I wish I had started keeping my racing bibs and medals in a scrapbook instead of in piles in a cabinet. It didn’t occur to me to write times and placings on them. I love your line “so the story begins back at the beginning.” I think it’s true of our lives!

    I noticed you’ve aged very well! Your love of writing and writing marathons is clear to see! You’ve traveled so much and met so many people! I notice you use present tense which is effective in making us feel like we are on this journey with you. I remember thinking how cool it was when I read on a flyer or poster for PLWPSI14 “Your writing-friendly family and friends are welcome to join us.” My husband is an aspiring writer and there’s Miss Hailey. Writers are part of a “family” and one to which teachers invite their students!

    Did you know from the start that you were going to record everything in a notebook? I recall your PhD was about marathons. I like the “go rogue” idea even though I’m not sure what it means, but I like the sound of it! I have a feeling that you’ll be writing marathons all of your life–what great adventures you have waiting!

  4. Appreciate – Man, alive. How I do appreciate the dedication you have given to the Writing Marathons. You truly are a great example of one who is persistent in their writing. I can only imagine the stories you could tell if you sat down and wrote a book, Do you have a composition notebook for every marathon you have been on? Have you ever counted how many composition notebooks you have that you have written in all of these years?

    Notice – One of the first items I noticed from the pictures slides is that, you do not always wear black. You have a nice wardrobe and many colors, and designs. I also notice in all of your pictures, your hair looks great.

    Wonder – In all of these years that you have been writing, how many states have you traveled to? In all of your travels,I am wondering where is state, that you enjoyed writing the most and why?
    It is no wonder now after reading this portion of your blog, why you are so good at teaching writing.

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