Shanley keynotes Women in Denim conference

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The upcoming Women in Denim conference will feature many interesting speakers again this year, including Iowa author Mary Kay Shanley, who has authored nine books.

Mary Kay will share ideas on why it is important and how to go about writing your personal stories for generations to enjoy.

Writing Your Legacy - Part 1 and Part 2 - will be presented during the afternoon sessions on Saturday, Jan. 20.

"It is important that we take time to think about our past and put them in story form because once you are gone these rich stories you've experienced will be gone," the author said. "People don't realize what they have to share or what's gone on in their lives."

A good place for writers to start, she said, is comparing life today and when they were young. Mary Kay admitted that she has started writing her memoirs three times - interrupted each time for another book. But she is now making compiling her memoirs her number one priority.

Mary Kay grew up in Webster City. It was her sixth grade teacher, she said, that gave her the confidence to be a writer. Though she believed the only activity she was good at was "chatting" her teacher saw a very different side of her.

"One day after school she stopped me to ask, 'Mary Kay, did you know you could write?' Back in the '50s, the whole class groaned at writing assignments. Me, too, cause I didn't want to be different. But on my home, I'd whisper, 'Yes! I get to write. Because of a teacher who saw talent I didn't know existed, I decided I'd grow up and become a writer. I did exactly that. And you know what? I just love it."

Mary Kay graduated from Creighton University. Her writing career got under way at the Des Moines Register, where she intended on staying all of her life. And then came marriage and she put down her reporter's pad to have a family. She never made it back.

For 20 years, she freelanced, "writing for pretty much anyone who would hire me," she quipped. Her articles appeared in many popular magazines, including Better Homes and Gardens, Midwest Living, Family Circle and Women's Sports and Fitness.

In 1991, her good friend Karen died of cancer. From that loss came the book, "She Taught Me to Eat Artichokes," the story about women's friendships.

Many more books followed: "Little Lessons for Teachers" (1995); "The Memory Box" (1996, recipient of the Mid-America Publishers Association Award); "Rhythm of the Seasons - A Journey Beyond Loss" (1997 with Marilyn Adams, founder of Farm Safety 4 Just Kids) and "When I Think About My Father" (1996).

One of her favorite accomplishments was writing "Our State Fair - Iowa's Blue Ribbon Story" written in 2000 and chronicles the first 150 years of the state fair.

Mary Kay has teamed up with author Julia Johnston on three projects. "For Parents Only: Tips for Surviving the Journey from Homeroom to Dorm room" (2000, which includes interviews from parents across the nation) and "Best Answers to the 201 Most Frequently Asked Questions About Getting into College" (2004.) The two authors will release, "Survival Secrets of College Students" this spring. This book will include advice from college students to graduating high school seniors about what to expect when they get to campus.

In her "spare" time, she conducts writing workshops and teaches at the University of Iowa's Summer Writing Festival. Writing memoirs, she said, is something she stresses to her students.

Through the years, she has spoken at many teacher conferences and she always points out to them the story of the sixth grade teacher that recognized her talent.

"I share with them this story so they can see how much power they have and how they can influence children."

If you have not signed up for the Women in Denim conference yet, you may do so by calling 1-800-242-5022.

The event will be held in the Buena Vista University Forum Friday evening and all day Saturday. This is the third annual conference, devoted to women in agriculture.

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