The Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop
The Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop
The Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop has been dubbed the “Woodstock of Humor.” Another writer described it as a “utopia” for writers — one “that only appears every other year, out of the mist, on the edge of the Great Miami River in Dayton, Ohio (like Brigadoon).”
The University of Dayton held the first workshop in 2000 as a one-time event to commemorate the Bombeck family’s gift of Erma’s papers to her alma mater. Erma’s famous friends — columnist Art Buchwald, “Family Circus” cartoonist Bil Keane, and author and ERA advocate Liz Carpenter — headlined the event. The workshop was so successful – and so much fun – that the university decided to continue it, reconvening every other year.
Today, the event has grown immensely popular with writers across the nation and sells out within hours. Inspired by Erma’s humor and humanity, writers gather to laugh and learn from the likes of Dave Barry, Garrison Keillor, Phil Donahue, Nancy Cartwright, Don Novello, Roy Blount Jr., Gail Collins, Alan Zweibel, Lisa Scottoline and other celebrated humorists.
The workshop’s mission is simple: to encourage and inspire writers in the same way Erma Bombeck found encouragement and inspiration at the University of Dayton.
Its mantra is timeless: “You can write!”
Erma Bombeck is one of America’s most celebrated humorists. She achieved extraordinary fame as a syndicated newspaper columnist by chronicling the absurdities of ordinary suburban family life with wit and wisdom.
“My idea of housework,” she wrote, “is to sweep the room with a glance.”
At her height of popularity, 900 newspapers carried her column, nine out of her 12 books landed on the New York Times’ bestseller list, and she appeared regularly on “Good Morning America” as part of the original cast. A champion for women’s rights, she stumped tirelessly for the Equal Rights Amendment.
Born in Dayton, Ohio, on Feb. 21, 1927, she graduated from the University of Dayton in 1949. An English professor encouraged her to write humor — and changed her life with three magic words: “You can write!”
Erma died from complications of a kidney transplant on April 22, 1996, but her legacy endures.
“Her words won her the permanent place of honor in American life: the refrigerator door,” syndicated columnist Ellen Goodman wrote after her death. Former neighbor and legendary talk show host Phil Donahue eulogized, “When the scholars gather hundreds of years from now to learn about us, they can’t know it all if they don’t read Erma.”
Anna Lefler is a lifelong fangirl and devotee of Erma Bombeck. She discovered Erma’s books in sixth grade and has not stopped laughing — or marveling at Erma’s powerful comic gifts — since then. A three-time faculty member of the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, Anna is the author of the novel Preschooled as well as the humor book The Chicktionary: From A-Line To Z-Snap, the Words Every Woman Should Know. She was a staff writer on the Nickelodeon/NickMom show “Parental Discretion with Stefanie Wilder-Taylor,” where she also appeared as a recurring guest comedian.
Anna did not dedicate herself to writing until she was in her mid-thirties and a full-time mother of two. Taking that leap changed her view of herself and opened up an entirely new chapter of her life — one for which she is forever grateful. In 2017, Anna approached her friends at the workshop about founding a program — one that would provide other emerging comedy writers with a meaningful step toward their own creative, life-changing experiences. From these conversations, “A Hotel Room of One’s Own” was born.