In 1982, four out of one hundred ninety-six authors on the reading list at Wilson High School in Long Beach were women. Appalled by this ratio, two community-spirited women—Harriet Williams and Virginia Laddey—decided to alter the imbalance. Together, with a committee of women from fifteen other community organizations, they created Literary Women and designed a Festival of Authors as an all-day event where readers would be introduced to women authors in an informal setting conducive to the free exchange of literary ideas.
Today, thirty-two years later, the Founders’ vision of making the works of women authors more accessible to the public continues. To date, more than 10,000 women have had opportunities to meet and hear more than two hundred highly successful women authors.
The Committee of Literary Women which annually organizes the Festival is comprised of unpaid volunteers. They believe in the continuing need to provide the Long Beach community with a cultural forum which reflects its diversity of literary interests and viewpoints. The success of their efforts is seen in the ongoing popularity of each event; eight hundred avid readers attend yearly. Their enthusiastic responses to the authors attest to the fact that the intentions of the original committee were well-founded and have been brought to fruition by succeeding generations of women.
Literary Women: The Festival of Women Authors has become a showcase in the cultural calendar of the City of Long Beach. So successful is it that other cities in the State of California have used it as a model to create festivals of their own.
Another community service offered by the Committee of Literary Women is its presentation of scholarships to new and aspiring writers. The recipients of such scholarships are invited to attend the Festival expressly to meet the presenting authors who offer invaluable support as role models for them.
As an added incentive for students to read more works by women authors, the Literary Women’s Committee donates both books and funds to the Long Beach Public Library and to libraries in local schools.
Since its inception, Literary Women has been honored by numerous public organizations for its continuing dedication to the original proposition of its founding members that literature by women greatly enhances a community’s quality of life.