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NOW More than Ever 

Forced to cancel fundraising event, The Nature of Words needs community support

Times are tough for The Nature of Words, the Bend-based literary nonprofit.

In January, NOW released its executive director, Robert McDowell, less than one year after the Ashland poet, author and founder of Story Line Press failed to raise sufficient funds for the organization. And last week, NOW announced the cancellation of Bookplate, an annual auction and fundraiser scheduled for May 16.

"We're three weeks out with only half of the tickets sold," said Christine Coffin, a NOW board member. "We were definitely behind schedule."

Coffin, the director of communications and outreach at Oregon State University-Cascades Campus, explained the NOW board of directors didn't want to proceed with the auction with such limited participation.

But, it's not all bad news: Coffin is confident the annual Literary Festival will go off in November as planned. In 2011, the five-day festival attracted 3,000 participants from across the country. Highlights included presentations by Augusten Burroughs, the author of "Running With Scissors," slam-poet Buddy Wakefield and Oregon writer William Kittredge.

In the meantime, though, money remains tight, partly because McDowell wasn't able to generate capital as hoped.

"McDowell probably wasn't the best fit, and [NOW] lost ground in fundraising during his tenure," offered Coffin. "Community support is crucial—we're definitely at a challenging point right now."

In McDowell's absence, Programs Director Jamie Houghton has stepped in as interim executive director. But Houghton, NOW's sole staff member, already has plenty on her plate. She creates and directs NOW's various school and outreach programs, like Words Without Walls, a creative writing residency program within area schools, as well as The Storefront Project, a free, after-school creative writing workshop for middle and high school students.

The literary organization also continues to benefit from the guidance of founder and former Executive Director Ellen Waterston, who stepped away from official duties last June. Waterston, who's now focusing on her own writing, met with the NOW board as recently as last month. Coffin, however, said it is unlikely Waterston would return as executive director.

The hunt for a new director remains NOW's top priority.

The NOW board of directors remains stable, Coffin noted, other than the recent replacement of President Stephen Archer, who resigned in mid-April for personal reasons. Archer is succeeded by Kristin Kovalik, the board's former vice president.

Despite setbacks, Coffin and Programs Director Jamie Houghton remain optimistic.

"We plan to continue what Ellie [Waterston] founded and create an excellent festival and great school programs," Coffin concluded.


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