Jim Powell, founder of Indiana Writers Center, dies

Jim Powell was “the real thing.” That’s what comes to my mind when I think of him. No frills, no phoniness, no extra baggage. He brought me back here to do workshops at The Writers Center when I lived in Boston. I later learned – from others, not from Jim, who liked to pat others on the back but never himself – that he had been the main endorser/defender here of my novel Going All The Way when others were disparaging both book and author.

He was one of the best editors I ever knew. I had sent him a long essay I was working on a few days ago, knowing he would understand how and where to cut it and shape it. He had offered to do this even though he knew his time was limited and there was work of his own to be done. His presence here was a gift.

— Dan Wakefield

Release from the Indiana Writers Center

The below is a copy of a release sent by the IWC on January 29, 2020

Honoring Jim Powell

Dear Friends and Writers – I am sad to write with the news that Jim Powell, the founder of Indiana Writers Center, and a great friend to writers, passed away on Monday.

The Indiana Writers Center exists because of Jim’s vision, and his drive and desire to support writers in Indiana. In 1979 Powell breathed life into the organization, and because of his efforts writers have continued to find each other, and the resources they need for success in our community, for over forty years.

If you have memories of Jim, we welcome them, and celebrate his life.

In 2019, Jim published Only Witness, a collection of short stories, through the Indiana Writers Center to commemorate the Center’s 40th anniversary. IWC was grateful and excited to be involved in this lifelong project with him. We talked to Jim about the founding of the organization in this article.

Read Jim Powell’s obituary, including details for his calling, here. Our hearts and thoughts are with Karen, his family, and his many friends. He will be missed.

Rachel Sahaidachny, IWC Staff, & Board


My feature on Butler University’s new “Naptown” podcast

I was honored to be a guest on Butler’s new “Naptown” podcast with my good friend Susan Neville. The new podcast series will be 20 episodes featuring stories about Broad Ripple, Indiana, my work as a journalist and writer, and more. The whole season will become available in May.

More from Butler’s release:

The soundbooth only fits two people, but the results are as high-level as anything on Podcast One. Neville and Wakefield mapped out every episode, about an hour in length each. So far, they’ve completed episodes focusing on Vonnegut, novelist James Baldwin, and a trio of Wakefield’s mentors from his undergraduate days at Columbia College: Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mark Van Doren, literary critic Lionel Trilling, and famed sociologist C. Wright Mills, who Wakefield served as a research assistant.

Neville enlisted the help of Academic Technology Specialist Megan Grady-Rutledge to help edit each episode, which starts with music and short introductions and outros from Neville. The rest is all Wakefield answering Neville’s questions, recalling major career milestones, and reading from his published works.

“Once he gets on a roll, he gets on a roll,” says Neville with a laugh. “I was a journalism major as an undergrad and have written a lot of freelance feature articles, so I’m used to doing interviews. Recording a podcast is a combination of radio and the print journalism I’m used to.”

Neville reveals that Season Two will consist of Vonnegut interviews she conducted in 1989 and 1990. Those conversations currently live on microcassettes, but will be transferred to a digital format after Season One launches.

“Talking with Susan, I’m remembering a lot of things,” Wakefield says. “I feel like there’s a big hole in our history and in Indianapolis, like the great jazz scene we had here. A lot of if isn’t mentioned in a lot of places so I’m glad to be able to talk about that.” 

— Tim Brouk, Butler University

You can read the whole story at Butler’s website here.


A Vote for Courtesy

Kamala Harris. Photo by Gage Skidmore
Kamala Harris. Photo by Gage Skidmore

Early in the assembling of the Democratic candidates for President, I remembered Kurt Vonnegut’s observation that we are no longer a society, but rather an “audience.” Who among the Democrats could challenge the Entertainer-in-Chief? I put my hopes on Senator Kamala Harris, who first came to my attention when she questioned Bret Kavanagh with razor-like precision. I could imagine her twisting the polemical knife in debate with the Twitter-man. Her retort to Joe Biden in the first debate showed she was quick, and her comment “I was that little girl” who benefitted from school busing earned attention and sympathy.

I had donated $5 to her campaign, but when the stakes were raised to a minimum of $10 I had to retire to the sidelines. When her campaign asked for volunteers to get signatures to put her on the primary ballot in Indiana, I was happy to offer my help. A few days later I got a call from Maya Rodriquez from the Harris campaign, who came to my house with petition forms. Ms. Rodriguez was a pleasant, professional young woman who gave me instructions. Those who signed the petition to have her name on the primary ballot were not required to vote for her. Signers had to list their name, address and the county they lived in. A separate sheet was required for each county.

I decided to begin at The Red Key, where I was most likely to know people and be known. I got the permission of Jim Settle, the owner-bartender, to ask fellow customers to sign the petition. (Jim carries on a gentler version of the strict Rules established by his founder-father, the legendary Russ Settle.) There were a handful of customers I knew who readily signed, and maybe others who saw them figured it must be OK; I emphasized that signing did not mean voting for the candidate, but only insuring her a place on the primary ballot in Indiana. Two pleasant women admitted they had never heard of Senator Harris, but signed in the spirit of giving her a chance.

After The Red Key, I hung out at the Cornerstone coffeehouse at Moe and Johnny’s, where owner Chuck Mack himself signed the petition and others followed. In the second and third debates, other candidates got more attention and publicity than Senator Harris, but none of the people I approached mentioned the debates, and I didn’t bring them up. I even got some of my pals who work the cash registers at the check-out lines of a local grocery to sign,

I took my petitions with me whenever I went out, and on a Saturday night I carried them to meet a friend at Fat Dan’s delicatessen. I arrived early and saw a table outside with about ten people, a potential coup for my petitions. I smiled and made my pitch, assuring that signatures didn’t mean votes, but offered an opportunity to take a small part in our democracy. Most of those at the table looked at me blankly, but one woman turned toward me with a kind of wince of disdain and said, as if explaining to an alien –
“We’re from Carmel.”
“Oh,” I said.
I wanted to ask “Is that in the United States?”

There were better times ahead. I was asked to speak to a meeting of a book club at the big back table of The Red Key, and after discussing a piece I had written, I closed my remarks with a pitch for putting Kamala on the primary ballot. A perceptive bunch, they all signed.

Maya Rodriguez came by to pick up my petitions, and I was proud to contribute thirty-six signatures. I later learned it takes 500 signatures from each country to qualify for the primary ballot. My well-intentioned efforts were a drop in the bucket, which made it all the more surprising and gratifying when a week or so later I received a handwritten “Thank You note” from Maya Rodriguez, with return address in Senator Harris’ national campaign headquarters in Baltimore.

I tried to remember the last time I received a “Thank You note” from anyone. I have covered a lot of people and events for magazines, local and national, and in the nine years I have been back in Indianapolis I have given dozens of talks to clubs, libraries, schools, universities, and religious groups. Many people told me of their appreciation and thanked me, but to the best of my memory the only “Thank You note” I’ve received was from Maya Rodrigues of the Kamala Harris campaign.

Senator Harris has been outshined in the last two over-populated debates (Please. if you’re a Democrat and want to be President, try to control yourself!) I wish her well in the round-table, free-for-all discussion and the ones to follow, but no matter what promises others may make, I am voting in favor of a quality that I feared was lost in our national politics. I am voting for courtesy. I am voting for it in our in our politics and in our everyday dealings with one another.

I emailed Maya Rodrigues to ask if she was related to Kamala Harris, whose sister is also named Maya. Ms. Rodriguez said no, that was only a coincidence. I doubt it’s a coincidence that Senator Harris hired a young woman who writes Thank You notes to volunteers who collect only a handful of signatures for their cause.

Maybe Senator Harris asks all her organizers to write Thank You notes to anyone who helps. I am voting for that as long as I have the chance. I am voting for courtesy.

Thank you, Maya Rodriguez. Thank you, Kamala Harris. You have elevated this campaign.

Dan Wakefield

Dan Wakefield