“Early we receive a call, yet it remains incomprehensible, and only later do we discover how obedient we were.”
Out of Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz’s “Capri,” the line is Steward Moss’s favorite, and according to the self-proclaimed “poet hobbyist,” it speaks strongly to his own experience: As new executive director at the Writer’s Center , he says he’s reached the vocational discovery it articulates.
“I feel like I’ve been obedient to my calling and here I am, working in a place that I’ve admired,” he said.
Coming from the The Madeira School in McLean, Virginia, where he led a number of successful fundraising initiatives, Moss has a strong background in fundraising and education. He has taught English and Creative Writing at various private schools in the U.S. and abroad, including Philips Exeter Academy and the Collegiate School in New York City.
Moss will take on an educational facility, which has long taught story craft on a massive scale. Founded over 30 years ago, at least 3,000 people attend more than 100 fiction, non-fiction, or poetry classes to hone their writing skills at the Writer's Center each year, he said.
In addition, the center serves as a venue for literary-themed events: It regularly holds book readings, and open mics and even has its own theater, which it uses to host plays put on by local theater companies like the Quotidian Theatre Company.
The center's robust scale of operations places it an elite group consisting of only about 10 or so other facilities in the country.
Moss said he was hired for the position primarily because of his experience in fundraising, and as director, his main task will be to sustain the center’s class offerings and special programs by helping it win more grants and bolster donations.
The Writer’s Center is “a small non-profit underfunded arts organization,” he said, and depends on the financial support of private donors and non-profit foundations like the National Endowment for the Arts.
Class fees cover about 60% of the center’s costs, he said, so the latter 40% is where he enters the picture. To combat "challenging times," which are jeopardizing the center's full array of classes, he said, he'll be out in the trenches, rallying donors and hunting down grants.
He's confident supporters will rise to the occasion. The center’s backbone of patrons have shepherded it through trying times in the past, according to the new director.
“We’ve been in existence for nearly 30 or 40 years, and that’s because of the loyalty of people who have benefited from the Writer’s Center. We have a large fan base,” he said.
Moss certainly ranks among the most enthusiastic members of that fan base. As an avid poet, he first became familiar with the Writer’s Center when he moved to Annapolis in the mid-90s and searched for a forum where he could get feedback on his work.
Over the next 10 years or so, he said, he enrolled in about one workshop at the center every year to tweak his poems. During these classes, Moss said he began to embrace the center’s philosophy that “everybody has a story to tell, and everybody has an ability to tell it in some form or another.”
The mediums of the written story are far-ranging, he said. From fiction – where Moss describes an author as the “foreman” who directs multiple elements of a story like dialogue, description, and plot – to the poem – where the author labors in a specialized capacity as jeweler of a single literary gem – the Writer’s Center mission is to help a writer identify “the most effective way of communicating their own story," he said.
Moss said as director he wants to ensure that the Writer’s Center continues to play this role of medium-midwife to as many writers as possible. He said he also wants to build on the efforts of Charles Jensen, the center’s previous executive director, to raise the visibility and scope of the center by fostering special programs and events.
He points to a program the center supports, which awards young, published writers a stipend and hosts book readings for these up-and-comers as an example. There are also the satellite Writer’s Center programs established in Leesburg and McLean he needs to think about and the prospect of creating another in Annapolis, he said.
In addition, continuing to have a robust presence at book festivals and hosting panel discussions of Writer’s Center workshop leaders are also initiatives he said means to sustain and even expand.
All of these objectives fit into Moss's "call," the subject addressed in his favorite line of poetry, he said. According to the new director, the pieces truly fit together: he's been "obedient" to it all along.
"We may not think we’re doing it but actually the decisions we make in our lives are really consistent with…what that calling is, what the thing is we’re meant to do.”