Inlandia Founder Remembered by Cati Porter

No one could ever say “no” to Marion Mitchell-Wilson.

After I began attending Inlandia events in late 2007, Marion invited me for coffee. Before my cup was empty, I had agreed to become a member of Inlandia’s Advisory Council.

Smiling, thoughtful and almost always full of energy, Marion had a way of making you want to help with her projects. And you never regretted it.

Marion, founding director of the Inlandia Institute, died a week ago after a long battle with breast cancer.

I never envisioned an Inlandia without Marion. Occasionally she would say things like, “Cati, when I retire,” but I couldn’t think past the here and now.

Even after she officially “retired” in 2012 to work on getting well, she continued to be present for me, whispering suggestions and offering solutions, serving as Inlandia’s institutional memory.

Many of us have fond memories of Marion, and how she got us involved in promoting the Inland area’s literary life. We’ll share a few thoughts here from several Inlandia board members and local writers.

FRANCES J. VASQUEZ

Marion Mitchell-Wilson cared passionately about many things and all things Inlandia: the people, their stories, and the literary expression of our regional voices. Multi-talented, she was a wonderful gourmet cook who loved to share her bounty and her kindness with others.

One Friday, I helped Marion with preparations for an Inlandia member reception being held the next day. Her amazing menu included a favorite recipe for asparagus spears roasted with orange slices in lemon-infused olive oil and orange vinaigrette. And, a reconstructed whole poached salmon with cream cheese, cucumber sauces, and other delicacies.

During several hours of washing, peeling, and slicing fruits and vegetables, I spilled water on the kitchen floor. I asked for paper towels or rags to wipe the floor with. Marion, in her efficient way, quickly turned to a drawer and handed me a large cloth towel. I bent over to wipe the spills when Marion stopped me. “No, Frances. Don’t bend. Skate like this.”

Marion tossed the towel on the floor, stepped onto it with both feet and skated gracefully around her kitchen floor. We both laughed heartily and continued with the food preparations.

ELIO PALACIOS

I met Marion at last year’s Advisory Council workshop. My first impression was how unassuming she was considering the part she had played in creating and shaping Inlandia. And her love of and dedication to Inlandia was also very apparent as was her knowledge and wisdom.

KAREN RAE KRAUT

Marion and I met in 1990 when the California Humanities Council sponsored a series of public programs on the theme of “Place” and its effect on how we experience our lives. How’s that for foreshadowing?

Our expanding group of interested people went on to receive a grant from the Humanities Council to locally sponsor the American Renaissance Chautauqua, which resulted in the formation of a non-profit organization called the Inland Empire Educational Foundation. IEEF (rhymes with leaf), as we fondly called it, sponsored reading and discussion groups and public programs for the next five years.

Marion was an important part of all these free programs, and her vision and common sense contributed greatly to their success.

ELLEN ESTILAI

It was impossible to be part of the Riverside arts and culture scene and not know Marion Mitchell-Wilson, but I really got to know her after she invited me to a meeting with Malcolm Margolin at the Riverside Main Library to talk about the literary landscape of what we would eventually come to know as Inlandia.

That meeting helped lay the groundwork for Heyday’s book, “Inlandia: A Literary Journey through California’s Inland Empire.”

When the anthology was published, no one in the community wanted that journey to end. Marion was the engine that drove the bus, and she cajoled and sweet-talked fellow travelers into hopping on.

In 2007, I retired from the Riverside Arts Council to devote more time to writing. I was hoping for a respite from meetings and committees, but Marion was having none of that. She told me she wanted me to serve on the advisory council of a new organization, the Inlandia Institute.

“It’s just a few meetings a year,” she assured me. When I demurred, she said, “There will be liquid facilitation.”

I’ve now been in for eight years, as a council member and board member, but also as a writer. Luckily for me, the Inlandia Institute emerged just as I was learning to be a writer. I cannot imagine writing without Inlandia’s support. Like many others in this unique literary community, I am indebted to Marion for her vision, strength, and yes, occasional liquid facilitation.

ENDOWMENT

When Marion first learned the cancer had returned and was terminal, she met privately with Inlandia board members and staff, sharing her one big wish: that an endowment be founded in her name, so she could ensure the future of the organization.

In keeping with Marion’s wishes, the family is requesting donations in lieu of flowers.

Contributions can be made via PayPal, using donations@inlandiainstitute.org, through CrowdRise and by mailing a check to the Inlandia Institute, 4178 Chestnut St., Riverside, Ca., 92501.

And save these dates: Aug 28 for a memorial service at the California Citrus State Historic Park, and Sept 18 for a special endowment kickoff party in Marion’s honor at the Riverside Art Museum.

Contributor Biographies

Cynthia Anderson is a writer and editor living in Yucca Valley, CA. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals, and she has received poetry awards from the Santa Barbara Arts Council and the Santa Barbara Writers Conference. Her collaborations with photographer Bill Dahl are published in the book, Shared Visions.

Lee Balan was the first editor and art director for Beyond Baroque Magazine in Venice, CA.  His poems and stories have been featured in several magazines including Phantom Seed, Sun-Runner, and Storylandia. He was the facilitator for the Tenderloin Writer’s Workshop in San Francisco. His background in mental health has been a major influence on his work. Lee has been the featured poet at several events and venues including the Palm Springs Art Museum.  Recently, Lee self published his first novel Alien Journal.

Nancy Scott Campbell has been a desert hiker and resident for more than twenty years.  She has been a mediator, has taught English as a second Language, is a physical therapist,  and is delighted with the workshops of the Inlandia Institute.

With their girls grown and independent, Marcyn Del Clements and her husband, Richard, have more time to pursue their favorite activities: birding, butterfly and dragonfly watching, and fly-fishing. Marcy is published in Alaska Quarterly Review, Appalachia, Eureka Literary Magazine, Flyway, frogpond, Hollins Critic, Literary Review, Lyric, Sijo West, Snowy Egret, Wind, and others.

Mike Cluff is a fulltime English and Creative Writing instructor at Norco College. He has lived steadily in the Highland and Redlands area since 1998. His eighth book of poetry “Casino Evil was published in June 2009 by Petroglyph Books.

Rachelle Cruz is from the Bay Area but currently lives and writes in Riverside, CA.  She has taught creative writing, poetry, and performance to young people in New York City, the Bay Area, Los Angeles, and Riverside. She hosts “The Blood-Jet Writing Hour” Radio Show on Blog Talk Radio. She is an Emerging Voices Fellow and a Kundiman Fellow, she is working towards her first collection of poems.

Sheela Sitaram Free (“Doc Free”) was born in Mumbai, India and has spent equal halves of her life in India and in the United States. Her BA in English Literature and Language, MA in English and American Literature and Language, MA in Hindi, PhD in the Contemporary American Novel-novels of John Updike-and her twenty four years of teaching all across the United States in Universities, colleges, and community colleges reveal her lifelong passion for the power of words, especially in the context of world literature and writing. Her collection of poetry entitled “Of Fractured Clocks, Bones and Windshields was published in February 2009 and nominated for the Association of Asian American Studies as well as the Asian American Workshop awards in 2010. She has been writing for over 20 years, but it was the Inland Empire that inspired and motivated her to publish; she has simply loved being a part of it for 9 years now. It is home to her and she draws a great deal of material from it in her poetry.

Karen Greenbaum-Maya is a clinical psychologist in Claremont, California. She has been writing since she was nine. In another life, she was a German Literature major and read poetry for credit. She has placed poems and photographs in many publications, including Off the Coast, Umbrella, Abyss & Apex, qarrtsiluni, Poemeleon, Lilliput Review, In Posse Review, and Sow’s Ear Poetry Review. She was nominated for the 2010 Pushcart Prize. Her first chapbook, Eggs Satori, received an Honorable Mention in Pudding House Publications’ 2010 competition, and will be published in 2011.

Valerie Henderson is an MFA Fiction student at CSUSB. More of her work can be found in The Sand Canyon Review.

Edward Jones is a graduate of UC Riverside’s MFA program and has been published in Faultline, Crate, Mosaic, and Inlandia: A Literary Journey.

Judy Kronenfeld is the author of four poetry collections including “Ghost Nurseries,” a Finishing Line chapbook (2005) and “Light Lowering in Diminished Sevenths”, winner of the Litchfield Review Poetry Book Prize (2008). Her poems, as well as the occasional short story and personal essay have appeared in many print and online journals including Calyx, Cimarron Review, The American Poetry Journal, Fox Chase Review, The Innisfree Poetry Journal, Natural Bridge, The Hiram Poetry Review, Passager, Poetry International, The Spoon River Poetry Review, Stirring, The Women’s Review of Books, and The Pedestal, as well as in a dozen and a half anthologies or text books, including Bear Flag Republic: Prose Poems and Poetics from California (Greenhouse Review Press/Alcatraz Editions, 2008), Beyond Forgetting: Poetry and Prose about Alzheimer’s Disease (Kent State University Press, 2009), and Love over 60: An Anthology of Women’s Poems (Mayapple Press, 2010). She is a lecturer Emerita—after twenty-five years of teaching in the Creative Writing Department at UC Riverside. Her new poetry collection, “Shimmer,” has just been accepted by WordTech Editions.

Associate Fiction Editor Ruth Nolan, a former wildland firefighter and native of San Bernardino and the Mojave Desert, teaches Creative Writing and Literature at College of the Desert in Palm Desert. She is a poet and prose writer with works forthcoming in New California Writing, 2011 (Heyday, 2011) and in Sierra Club Magazine. She is editor of No Place for a Puritan: The Literature of California’s Deserts (Heyday, 2009) and a contributor to Inlandia: A Literary Journey (Heyday, 2006) She has collaborated on two film projects, “Escape to Reality: 24 hrs @ 24 fps” with the UCR-California Museum of Photography (2008), is a writer for a film in progress, Solar Gold: the Killing of Kokopelli (2011), and represents our region’s deserts in the “Nature Dreaming: Rediscovering California’s Landscapes” public radio series sponsored by Santa Clara University and the California Council for the Humanities (2011) She lives in Palm Desert.

Cindy Rinne has lived in the Inland Empire for 29 years. She is an artist and poet. Her poetry includes nature inspiration, parts of overheard conversations, observations on walks, life events, and her response to her own artwork and the works of others.

Except for a short-lived adventure to Long Beach, CA, Heather Rinne has lived in the Inland Empire her entire life. She grew up in San Bernardino and attended college at Cal Poly Pomona where she received a BFA in 2008. She  loved and still loves exploring the art community in the downtown Arts Colony. A fire took her parents’ home, the home where her childhood memories lived, in the fall of 2003. Even with the unexpected chance to move, her parents decided to rebuild on the same lot. Back in the place where she grew up, she makes new memories. She currently works as a Graphic Designer and Photographer out of her home office and dances at a studio in Redlands. She enjoys Redlands because it has a lot of history and is only a short trip to the desert, the city, the mountains, and the ocean.

Ash Russell is an MFA candidate at CSUSB. She has been telling stories since she learned how to speak and writing since she learned to string the alphabet together. She relearns regularly that the magnitude of space is emotionally devastating.

Mae Wagner is firmly rooted in the Inland Empire area and sees Inlandia stories everywhere just waiting to be told. She says, “writing has always been a passion, but was largely relegated to the back burner while she focused on raising a family, earning a living, and going to school.” Over the years, as a longtime Inland Empire resident, she has written for a public relations firm, the Riverside Chamber of Commerce, The Chino Champion newspaper, and had several columns published in the Op-Ed page of the Press-Enterprise when it was locally owned, including a noted investigate journalism series focused on a landmark environmental case involving the Stringfellow Acid Pits in Glen Avon, just west of Riverside. She currently writes a column for her home town paper in Hettinger, North Dakota and is enjoying being a member of the Inlandia Creative Writing Workshops, which she has attended since its opening session in the summer of 2008.

As a child, Rayme Waters spent some time each year at her grandmother’s house in Rancho Mirage and watched the desert cities grow up around it. Rayme’s stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and the Dzanc Best of the Web and have been published most recently in The Meadowland Review and The Summerset Review.