What started as a meeting, where book coach and creative writing teacher Judith Cassis thought she was in trouble, became a 22-year-long commitment for Cassis teaching seniors that it is never too late to become a writer.
Cassis had been leading weekly support groups, taking place at the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center, in 2000. It was around this time that the director of the Senior Center asked Cassis to teach a creative writing class at the center.
Confused as to what his expectations were, she asked for clarity.
“Make it your own,” the director said.
Cassis’ mind filled with doubt, questioning if “her own” would be good enough.
Making a class “her own” was a special opportunity and she accepted.
The creative writing class had its first meeting soon after. Seven writers were in attendance, three women and four men. Even in their first meeting, Cassis saw exceptional writers in every single one of them.
Within just a few years, the group had titled themselves the Golden Pen Writer’s Guild and began publishing anthologies in 2003.
“My goal in life is to help anyone who wants to see their work published and see their names in print,” said Cassis. “Just the feeling that comes with that is so important, and I wanted to give people a chance. The interesting thing is, because they were seniors, they thought they missed the boat. They weren’t gonna miss the boat. We made it happen.”
Cassis’ passion for writing and wanting to see her class members succeed at their dreams brought in many aspiring writers to the class.
Barbara Forletta had just retired from her job as a teacher. Weekly, she would meet up with a friend and they would practice writing. When that friend moved to Texas, Forletta was encouraged to join a local writing group.
Forletta found the Golden Pen Writer’s Guild and attended one of their weekly meetings.
“Judith started talking and encouraging people to read what they had written and I thought this will be a good place for me because she has such a way of talking to you about your writing that is not intimidating,” said Forletta.
Forletta has now been a member for more than six years and published her book, “Unlocking the Writing Process: Inspiring Lessons and Stories to Get You Started.”
Forletta’s love for writing swayed her to join the guild, but Barbara Gassner had never seen writing in her path.
Gassner was at the SCV Senior Center one day and, as she said, doesn’t recall how she ended up listening in to one of the guild’s meetings.
“I started listening to Nancy (Alexandra Tozzi) and her love for poetry, all of her beautiful rhyming poems, other things that people have written, and the comments that the rest of the group would make were so positive, helpful, encouraging and it was such a warm group,” said Gassner.
Gassner had a spark lit inside of her and, after accidentally attending one meeting, she purposefully attended many more.
“I thought, ‘Well, this is really interesting. I want to come again,’ so I haven’t ever stopped,” said Gassner.
Cassis’ goal of helping people publish their work, and her success at it, was heard by resident Judith Bunten.
Bunten found much joy in writing and had a goal of one day seeing her name printed in a book. When she met with her financial advisor, he had shown her his book that Cassis helped him with.
Bunten was immediately intrigued.
“There’s somebody in this valley that can help me put a book together?!” recalled Bunten.
Bunten achieved her dream through the Golden Pen Writer’s Guild efforts.
After many years of writing, advising, making Valentine’s Day cards for the Senior Center and publishing, the Golden Pen Writer’s Guild will be disbanding after their 22-year run due to Cassis leaning more into her book coach career.
On Wednesday, they held their farewell brunch for Cassis at Black Bear Diner. This also happened to be their first, and last, in-person meeting since the pandemic, having held their meetings on Zoom starting in March 2020.
“This the best, the most fun and we’ll miss her terribly,” said the woman who named the guild, Nancy “Alex” Tozzi. “I have enjoyed every minute of this class and Judith helped me finish my book by encouraging me.”
Cassis’ members all shared stories from the 22-year span of the guild’s existence. Cassis’ moto of “write it down” stayed true in all of them, encouraging everyone to write their stories and write their legacy.
Nationwide, 69 members have passed through the Golden Pen Writer’s Guild and nine anthologies from the group have been published.
The connections and relationships with all of these members is what Cassis will miss most.
“It’s all about the relationships that we’ve built,” said Cassis. “I appreciate every single one of you in your own right, who you are, who you are to me and I appreciate what we have become as a group and it would not be the same without every single person who has passed through.”
With Cassis departing, the group is set to disband. However, this does not have to mean the end of these writers and their gatherings.
“This doesn’t need to be the end of our connection of our group,” said Cassis. “Put together whatever you want, guys. Just because I’m stepping away doesn’t mean I’m leaving the planet. I will always be here to help you. But keep going. Just keep going. I love you all very much.”