Midwest Writers Association traces its roots back to the Society of Magazine Writers which later became the American Society of Journalists and Authors, popularly known today as ASJA. In a jotting down of MWA mid-20th century beginnings, author Hal Higdon, whose marathon training manuals have become runners’ “bibles,” remembers that what started out as a local SMW chapter morphed into an ASJA chapter then broke off to become MWA.
“In the spring of 1959, I decided to leave Kiwanis (as assistant editor) and go back to
freelancing. I had gotten to know many of the local writers who wrote for Kiwanis and/or were members of SMW,” Higdon writes. He continues, “The group met once monthly at Riccardo’s. Probably around April, after I had made my decision to quit Kiwanis but before I told anybody, I begged an invitation to attend the local “meeting.” We met in a small room off the main dining room. I remember it as being a booth with a circular table, but since the restaurant has long been gone, nobody could prove it.”
Even though Higdon had been an assistant editor, which would qualify him today as a MWA member, he recalls being nervous before the meeting. “I had not yet sold my first article. My previous freelance work was gag cartoons. But that very day, I got a call from my wife that an article I wrote for Parent’s Magazine on spec had just been accepted.”
But Higdon was not yet a member of SMW. “You needed to have sold a half dozen articles to major (read NYC) magazines, and I didn’t have enough credits. It probably took me six months or so to accumulate the sales at which point I applied for membership in SMW and was accepted (probably early 1960),” he writes. Higdon adds, “To the best of my knowledge all the writers meeting at Riccardo’s were or became SMW members. This was the cream of the crop of Chicago-area writers. About that time I became a regular contributor to Today’s Health and got to know Elliott (McCleary, a former SMW member and longtime MWA member). That was one of my major markets for several decades, even after he left.”
During a recent MWA program that recapped MWA history, Elliott McCleary recalled getting together with other writers at the old John Barleycorn Tavern on Lincoln Avenue in Chicago. He remembered that local SMW members were invited to join the group which re-organized itself as the Midwest Writers Association with Barbara Goodheart as president.
MWA linked to ASJA as its Midwest Chapter but because not all MWA members joined ASJA the group eventually became totally independent. Higdon notes, “Those of us who were ASJA in the MWA did not want to turn our backs on our friends. We felt that the group was stronger because of the numbers. We split. The ASJA Chicago chapter ceased to exist, and still does not exist, which is a shame.”
At present many Midwest Writers Association members are also ASJA members.