The Asian American Writers Workshop is celebrating its 30th anniversary with a series of digital events and a three-month fundraising campaign. “It’s a lot of different pieces and that’s intentional,” said Jafreen Uddin, executive director. “Retrospectives are critical for taking stock of where you came from and how you got there, but it’s also important to look forward.” The workshop hopes to take on the past and the future while raising $75,000 throughout the remainder of 2021 to help support the organization’s programming and operations.
“One of the first things I wanted to do when I started as executive director a year and a half ago was to have a big gala for the 30th anniversary,” Uddin explained. Covid and the delta variant, however, made that unfeasible. Digital isn’t anything new for the workshop, though. “We were one of the first organizations to go all out on virtual programming,” said Uddin. “Even pre-pandemic, we always thought about offering our events transnationally.” The workshop has been recording their in-person events and posting them on YouTube routinely.
The organization was started by Curtis Chin, Christina Chiu, Marie Myung-Ok Lee, and Bino A. Realuyo as a means of finding community in New York City because they didn’t feel at home in the standard literary scene. This mission has continued to “drive everything we do,” Uddin said. Though gone are the days of hosting their events in a basement at St. Marks Place, the organization’s everyday operation contains that drive for sustaining community.
As Uddin and her staff look at the future of the workshop, they aren’t slowing down with their venerable programming. Uddin took on her new role at the beginning of 2020, a month before the pandemic hit. The workshop closed weeks before the lockdown. “I’m generally overcautious and figured, ‘let’s try telecommuting for two weeks,' but we’ve been at home since.” Like many organizations, the workshop discovered that digital events attract a wide audience.
“I think a lot of the future is going to be hybrid,” Uddin said. In the nearly 60 events it has hosted since the pandemic started, the positive response and sizable attendance, especially with regards to people viewing events after the initial night, have bolstered the workshop's confidence in thinking of events as more than just in-person.
Among the remaining events planned for the year on October 27, Uddin will join Snigdha Sur, Cathy Linh Che, and Lawrence-Minh Bùi Davis to discuss the idea of home and what it means to create a home in different forms. November’s signature event will look back at the legacy of the organization’s print magazine and its evolution into a digital only. The campaign rounds out with a star-studded digital gala in December that celebrates the 30th anniversary of the workshop and the conclusion of the fundraiser.
These events are in conjunction with, rather than a replacement, for the workshops usual activities. “We‘re continuing to launch books and host conversations,” Uddin said. “We’re celebrating but we’re also doing the work that we’ve always done.”
“We do a lot on purpose,” Uddin added. “We want to provide as many channels as possible for people to plug into the worksop.”