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Chaffee County Writers Exchange

By Judy Reese

The Upper Arkansas River Valley is a smorgasbord of creative folks – some sculpting stunning vases from aspen, some capturing the beauty of the Chalk Cliffs in oils, others entertaining with bluegrass tunes or making characters come alive on stage. Some create with fiber or craft whimsical beasts in papier-mâché. Yet those drawn to the enchantment of words can look to a welcoming, yet perhaps less known, community flourishing in Colorado’s heartland, an organization which might take its motto from Hamlet’s “Words! Words! Words!”

The Chaffee County Writers Exchange brings together those called by a writer’s muse, whether in fiction, poetry, memoir, journalism or creative nonfiction. CCWE holds monthly morning writing get-togethers (We Writes) and full-day workshops semi-annually, and a December Cocoa Loco get-together.

“I look forward to the meetings when I can pull out my quill,” says CCWE President Jennifer Sweete. “I’m big on this group of people who really care about writing – not about being ‘New York’ writers – just simpatico people who laugh and share their love of writing.” Sweete is the author of two published books “Dear Sandy: the letter that wrote itself into a book” and “The Poet & The Widow.”

We Writes follow the acclaimed Natalie Goldberg method which encourages “keep-the-pen-moving” spontaneity and non-judgmental sharing. Local writers offer inventive prompts. Journalist Brian McCabe had writers condense a classic story down to a Hemingwayesque six-word sentence – not an easy endeavor. Sweete had members fashion futuristic headgear from aluminum foil to wear as they created futuristic pieces from her sci-fi prompts.  Don Owens, who identifies himself as a project manager rather than a writer, recently led a round-robin where literary quotes sparked story development.


CCWE’s full-day workshops bring accomplished writers to Chaffee County, including author B.K. Loren, Colorado Poet Laureate Joseph Hutchinson, podcaster and novelist Laurel McHargue and writer and instructor at Colorado Mountain College, Jeff Runyon. In the fall, CCWE will host short-story writer Dr. Carol Samson, with Loren returning in the spring.

“Our first meeting back in 1995 was held upstairs at the BV Museum,” recalls Marge Dorfmeister, one of CCWE’s founding members. “We published three anthologies. “Valley Voices: Mountain Dreams” came out in 1998 followed by “Passages” and “Stream of Life.” The writers also had short pieces in The Chaffee County Times. “A lot of people were working on a lot of things, some selling their work,” says Dorfmeister. “Another co-founder, Barbara Munyon, contributed to an Aspen publication.” Dorfmeister’s poetry will appear in the “Poets of Colorado” anthology to be released in September. She is an accomplished journalist, and in the past wrote melodramas to entertain tourists in BV.

Dorfmeister, affectionately known as “the mad hatter,” recently lead a We Write at the Buena Vista Library. She sent writers into the children’s section to glean images for the morning’s session. “You have to stretch yourself to get more depth in your writing, and just keep writing. You don’t cross out. That was the original intention. You’re not pleasing someone else.” Currently she is working on her memoir, her legacy for her family.

“I didn’t know a soul here when I came in 1998,” shares past president Maria Weber. “I was coming out of the corporate world as a tech writer and saw a notice for a Fifth Monday (today we call it We Write) in the paper.” After joining, she started working with her mother’s poetry and responded in her own words. Her memoir,  “I’ll be There to Write the Story: a mother-daughter journey beyond death,” grew out of her engagement with CCWE. The National Federation of State Poetry Societies awarded Weber first place and her work has appeared in Colorado Central Magazine.

“The Writers Exchange branched out of the Chaffee County Council on the Arts,” she says, “so, back then we did poetry readings.”

“I’m probably the only member who hasn’t had a writing class,” jokes Marcie Adams. “I joined because a friend tricked me into going to a meeting at the museum,” she says. “I’d describe my writing as very amateurish, but it’s fun writing with a group of people who are very special.” Adams remembers when the meetings were formal and stiff. “The organization was ready to fold,“ she recalls. “I said, ‘Let’s make it a potluck and workshop.’” That format holds today.

Pat Clark joined in 2009. “I always wanted to write,” she explains, “but I never had taken the time to do it regularly.” She adds, “I like the idea of how we just get together and write using the Goldberg approach.” Clark enjoys enlivening “unusual characters” captured “with humor.”

The group would like to find a venue for sharing their writing in a publication, an idea similar to the original column of the early years. They also hope to join the writing movement “LitQuake,” oral readings in small local businesses, a celebration which happens across the country and internationally each fall. That plan is targeted for 2019.

“We’re moving ahead,” says Owens. “We have a fabulous website with resources for writers, and we welcome new members.” We Write rotates between Salida and Buena Vista and once a year moves to Leadville.

Information about CCWE is available at

Judy Reese writes from her Nathrop home overlooking the Chalk Cliffs.