Professor Gene Brooks of the South Dakota School of Mines first suggested the formation of a writers’ group in 1956. By 1958, the group was well-established and flourishing. It was during this year that Laura Bower Van Nuys, a charter member of the group, finished her autobiography The Family Band. Members of the writers’ group had participated in its progress by listening to chapters as Laura read them at the twice-monthly meetings.
On November 13, 1961, an autograph tea was held for Laura to celebrate the publication of her book by the University of Nebraska Press, #5 in its Pioneer Heritage Series. According to Laura, the book was rejected nine times before being accepted, a fact she often cited to new writers when they were discouraged.
The year 1967 was a year of great excitement for the group. Walt Disney Studios purchased and produced Laura’s book under the title of The One and Only Genuine Original Family Band. Plans were made to hold the movie premiere in Rapid City on June 9, 1967. In honor of the member who had put Rapid City on the Hollywood Movie Map, the writers’ group voted to sponsor an annual creative writing contest in her name. Although no longer an annual event, this contest is still held today.
The University of South Dakota sponsored the first South Dakota Writers’ Workshop from July 19 to July 30, 1971. This two-week workshop, held at Lake Pactola’s Black Forest Inn, was initiated by Majorie Roller, who was the President of the Black Hills Writers’ Group at that time. It featured Dr. John Milton, author and editor of the South Dakota Review, and Frederick Manfred, a well-known western author. This was the first writing workshop of this length to be presented in the Black Hills area.
On Memorial Day 1974, the group said farewell to Laura Van Nuys. At the age of 93, she decided to move to Denver to live with her son. This marked the end of meetings held in her home on Quincy Street. The group then moved to the Rapid City Public Library.
During that same year, a contest determined a theme and logo for the writers’ group. The winner, Irene Kverne, designed a logo based on the motto “The pen is mightier than the sword.” That logo was still in use until 2008, when it was updated.
Laura Bower Van Nuys returned to the Black Hills in 1978 to act as Parade Marshal for The Dakota Days Band Festival. She was 97 years old. It was the last time that BHWG members would see her. She died the following year, August 23, 1979.
Despite predictions that the group would disintegrate with Laura’s passing, it still goes on. It has become the oldest continuous writing group in South Dakota, and professional writers continue to emerge from its circle. In 2004, the monthly meetings were moved to the City-School Administration Building, and a website was started in 2006. The group hosts workshops, contests, or other public events on a regular basis. In 2017, the group returned to the Rapid City Public Library.
The Black Hills Writers’ Group has a rich and diverse mixture of writing talent with members who are both novice and experienced. The members provide each other with support, motivation, camaraderie, and networking opportunities.
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