Monday, August 24, 2020

History of the Arizona Authors Association 1978-1997 - by Kathleen Cook

Years after De Mente founded the association in 1978, Mali Berger served as its secretary. She had taught American literature in Michigan universities before moving to Fountain Hills, Arizona, where she published both novels and children’s books. While serving as secretary, she interviewed Boye De Mente at his home in Paradise Valley and asked him about this early period of the Arizona Authors Association history. According to that article: 

"De Mente was chosen as the first president of the AAA by unanimous vote. In addition to inaugurating a monthly newsletter, he also took the lead in sponsoring spring and fall seminars whose speakers included famous authors, agents, editors, publishers and book distributors from around the country. By the end of its first year the AAA had over 400 members. The following year De Mente initiated an annual Arizona Literary Contest and the Arizona Literary Magazine." 

David Rich recalls one of those famous early guest speakers, Zig Ziglar, a motivational guru whose meteoric rise earned him a place among the world's best-selling authors. One of Zig's famous quotes was, "You can get everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want." Another quote from Zig has been repeated for decades: "You don't have to be great at something to start, but you have to start to be great at something." 

De Mente served as the president of the Association for the next seven years, through 1985. He also continued as head of his company, Phoenix Books/Publishers, and sold AAA members' books through all of the major American book chains and also abroad to chains in Australia, Europe, South Africa and Japan. Eventually, however, the urge to travel and write became too great, and he stepped down from his position as president of the Arizona Authors Association.

Although some of the records are lost from the earliest days following De Mente's departure, we do know that Bill Bodell served on the Board from 1989 until the mid-90s. Another Board member, Mary Westheimer, served for a time starting in 1994.

Iva Lee Martin took over as president in April of 1995. Iva was the author of several stories in the anthology Chalkboard Dust: Twenty Six True Stories About Students As Remembered By Their Teachers. A long-time teacher in the Phoenix public school system before turning to writing about her students, she lived in Phoenix. Her Vice President at the time was Sandra Harnagel of Scottsdale, who first earned that position in 1992. Her secretary was Jack Benninger, who also took office in 1992. 

Gerry Benninger, Jack's wife, took over as president of the Arizona Authors Association in 1997; Jack remained as secretary. Gerry was born in 1942 in Colorado and worked as a freelance writer, poet, book editor, reviewer and teacher. She had a column in Romantic Times Magazine, a popular romance fiction magazine started in 1981 and ceased publication in 2018. Gerry was a graduate of ASU and the University of San Francisco; the latter is where she earned a degree in Theology at the age of 60. 

Gerry withdrew from her tasks as president of the Arizona Authors Association in 1998 when she moved out of state, but remained on the Board until her death in 2005. She turned the Association presidency over to a friend who had no experience as an author. During that time, membership declined and the organization faced a rough patch. 

The Association did not file a report with the Arizona Corporation Commission, as was due each year in April. The bank balance in December of 1997 was over three thousand dollars; a year later it had plummeted to little more than a hundred dollars. For the first time, the literary contest had to be canceled and refunds given for entry fees. 

In the next post, we'll feature the resurgence of 1998.

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