Our Story, Mission & Vision

Our Story

There must be something in the soil! Three of America’s most celebrated authors called central Georgia home. Alice Walker, Flannery O’Connor, and Joel Chandler Harris began their literary journeys within 20 miles of Eatonton, Georgia. Together, their writing chronicles more than a century of creative Southern traditions.

Georgia Writers Museum honors our hometown authors through three exhibits that explore their paths to literary success. Walker, O’Connor, and Harris were drawn to writing by differing circumstances, but they shared an unwavering passion for literature, as do the over 60 members of the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame exhibited at Georgia Writers Museum in partnership with the University of Georgia’s Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

Georgia Writers Museum is dedicated to inspiring today’s writers and readers and celebrating Georgia’s literary heritage.

Our Mission

GWM celebrates the state’s rich literary history, promotes its contemporary writers, educates readers and writers of all ages, and connects people to the literary arts of Georgia.

Our Vision

To be the state’s foremost resource for Georgia readers and writers.

Contact Information

  • Visit

    109 S. Jefferson Ave. Eatonton, GA 31024

  • By Mail

    P.O. Box 3429 Eatonton, GA 31024

  • Email



Staff & Board Bios


Melissa Swindell

Melissa Swindell

Executive Director

Melissa began her museum career at the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of American History (NMAH), where she assisted with the plans for long-term artifact storage and researched colonial American foodways for the American Enterprise exhibit. Her favorite experience at NMAH was exploring the collections behind the scenes, from the inkwell that Abraham Lincoln used to sign the Emancipation Proclamation to the bongo drum that Desi Arnez played on I Love Lucy. Although she’s always enjoyed learning about history, this experience brought it to life. At that point, she knew her mission was to show people that history is not boring and static, that it is often stranger than fiction, and that it can be fun and engaging for people of all ages.

Melissa returned home to Georgia from Washington, D.C. with the passion and experience to bring history to life for the people visiting museums in our state. As Director of Historic Resources and Educational Programs at Heritage Sandy Springs (2015-2017), she launched the American Girl® Club, bringing the beloved children’s books to life through hands-on education. And as Executive Director at The Wren’s Nest (2017-2019), she invited paranormal investigators to introduce guests to the lingering spirits of Brer Rabbit author Joel Chandler Harris and his family.

As Executive Director of Georgia Writers Museum today, Melissa can’t wait to introduce readers across the state and beyond to our hometown writers.

Emme Clause

Emme Clause

Communications Coordinator

Emme Clause is an Eatonton native who has always been passionate about writing.

She earned a BS in Creative Writing from Georgia College & State University. After graduation, she volunteered with Georgia Writers Museum and quickly discovered that she wanted to be more than just a volunteer. As an intern Emme assisted with GWM’s external communications. Through this, she found her passion for graphic design and digital communication.

Today, Emme also works as a freelance community journalist for the Eatonton Messenger. And she has returned to school to earn her Master’s in Public Relations and Advertising at the University of Alabama. Emme is happy she gets to share her love of writing in her own hometown, a literary gold mine!


Lou Benjamin

Lou Benjamin


Lou was one of the founders and is the current President of Georgia Writers Museum. He and his wife, Paula, have been property owners in the area since 1989, and lived here full time since retiring in 2006. A native of Cincinnati, he is a graduate of Trinity College, with degrees in Psychology and Political Science. He was the founder and Managing Partner of a company that specialized in placing junior military officers into civilian careers.

His community involvement includes having served as President of Waters Edge Homeowners’ Association, and Chair of the Reynolds Lake Oconee Board of Advisors. He has acted in numerous plays, and is the current President of the Lake Country Arts Alliance.

Michael Homeier

Michael Homeier

Vice President

Bio to come soon.

Drew McCandless

Drew McCandless


Drew is a retired Sherwin-Williams executive spending thirty year with the Company in various sales, marketing, manufacturing and general management roles. He now makes his home in Greensboro, Georgia.

He graduated from Grove City College with a degree in Business Administration and earned his MBA at Kent State University.

Drew has served on the boards of Make-A-Wish, Marymount Hospital and as a member of the Alumni Council at Grove City College.

Betty Liedtke

Betty Liedtke


Betty is a writer, editor, proofreader, and the author of Find Your Buried Treasure—Nuggets Mined from Everyday Life, based on her award-winning weekly newspaper column, “Find Your Buried Treasure,” which ran in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager from 2001 to 2017, when she and her husband, Steve, relocated to Eatonton. Betty is also one of 40 female entrepreneurs featured in the book, Fearless Women, Fearless Wisdom. She currently serves as Secretary of Georgia Writers Museum, and is an active member of Toastmasters International, Pathways to Hope—Africa, and the Greensboro Writers Guild.

Board Members

Paula Benjamin

Paula Benjamin

Paula has served on the board of Georgia Writers Museum since 2016. A native of Atlanta, she graduated from Georgia State University with degrees in Political Science and English. Her professional career spanned 30 years in the communications technology industry with Southern Bell, AT&T, and BellSouth, specializing in business sales and marketing, but with assignments in consumer marketing, reseller operations, networks consulting, and executive support and messaging. She retired and moved to the Lake Country with her husband, Lou, in 2006.

Serving on the board of the local arts center in Eatonton inspired her to become an advocate for the arts in this rural town, largely unfamiliar to many outside the Lake Country around Lake Oconee. The area’s rich literary heritage spoke to her lifetime interest in the English language arts. Her work with GWM is a way to share her belief that the written word is important to individual development and living a fulfilling life.

Chip Bell

Chip Bell

Chip is a renowned keynote speaker and author of several bestselling, award-winning books, including Take Their Breath Away, Managing Knock Your Socks Off Service, Sprinkles, Kaleidoscope, and his newest book, Inside Your Customer’s Imagination.

Chip has appeared live on CNBC, Bloomberg TV, Fox Business, and CNN, and his work has been featured in Fortune, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, USA Today, Businessweek, Entrepreneur, Inc. Magazine, and Harvard Business Review.

Jim Cahoon

Jim Cahoon

Graduated from Washington and Jefferson in 1976 with a B.A. in Political Science. Acquired a State of Pennsylvania Comprehensive Social Studies Certificate and a Provisional Comprehensive Social Studies Certificate in Ohio. Attended the University of Akron (1976-77), in order to obtain a Comprehensive Certificate in Ohio. Earned a Masters Degree and a Secondary Administrative Certificate in 1990 from the University of Akron (continued Doctoral Studies in School Leadership at the University of Akron until 1999).

Began as a seventh grade Social Studies teacher at Jennings Middle School of the Akron Public Schools (1976-77). Transferred to Buchtel High School (APS) the following year as an American History, World Culture, American Government and Sociology Teacher (1977-1989). Coached Football, Girls Basketball, Girls Cross Country, Girls Softball, and Girls Track over the thirteen years at Buchtel.
Served as Coordinator of Pupil Services in Akron from 1989-1993.

In 1993 was hired as High School Principal for Black River Local Schools. Became the Superintendent of Black River Schools in 1995 through 1999.
Was hired as High School principal of Bay Village City Schools in 1999 and served until retirement in 2011.
The highlight of my tenure in Bay Village was when we were named a Blue Ribbon School by the United States Department of Education. We often were named in the top 100 of high schools in the US by US News and World Report due to the strength of our students’ success on Advanced Placement Tests.

Ame Haley

Ame Haley

Ame was born in Eatonton and grew up enjoying the stories of the antics of Joel Chandler Harris’ Brer Rabbit. Those stories fostered a love of reading, which included the writings not only of Harris but also of many other Georgia writers.

After leaving Eatonton for college, and several years working as director of marketing for a community bank in Newnan, Georgia, Ame moved back to Eatonton to work for The Peoples Bank for 30+ years. She also served as Chairman of the Board for the bank, and has volunteered as a board member with The Plaza Arts Center as well as The Eatonton-Putnam Chamber of Commerce. She has also served on the Eatonton Tree Board and chaired it for many years.

Ame and her husband, Chuck, also from Eatonton, have three adult children.

Jim Halloran

Jim Halloran

Jim is a retired professor of entrepreneurship and management. He was on the faculty of several liberal arts colleges, the most recent being Wesleyan College in Macon. In the academic arena, he wrote or co-authored nine books on entrepreneurship. Four were textbooks for Southwestern Publishing, and five were professional trade books for McGraw-Hill. His greatest writing claim to fame was when his first book was chosen as a national Book of the Month selection. Prior to his academic career, he was a retailer for 17 years.

Jim married his college sweetheart, Diane, and they have lived in Madison for twenty years. They have two married sons and four grandchildren. Jim’s retired hobby life is consumed with baseball research and writing baseball books. He now enjoys doing presentations centered on his recent book, Baseball and America.

Fred Kitchens

Fred Kitchens

Fred is a retired attorney and trade association executive. His love of reading and a desire to volunteer in his community led him to join the Georgia Writers Museum board in 2019. Fred and his wife, Ginny, reside in Madison.

Ginger Crosswhite

Ginger Crosswhite

Ginger Sims Crosswhite was born and raised in Barrow County. She graduated from Georgia Southern College with a Bachelor’s degree in Education. She returned home and began her teaching career. She continued to teach l, while attending the University of Georgia earning a Masters and later a Education Specialist degree. She the became the Assistant Principal at Haymon-Morris Middle School before transitioning to the district office to serve as the Instruction Improvement Specialist and District Gifted Coordinator. She retired from Barrow County in June 2020 and now works for the Georgia Department of Education as a Federal Program Specialist. Mrs. Crosswhite received many awards during her 30+ year career- school level Teacher of the Year at Russell Middle and Winder-Barrow High School, District Teacher of the Year, District STAR Teacher of the Year and she was selected by National Science Teachers Association as a NASA Educator Workshop Participant.
Mrs. Crosswhite and her husband, Jesse, have been married for over twenty-nine years. They have a daughter, Elizabeth. The Crosswhite’s moved to Eatonton permanently in 2022. Mrs. Crosswhite joined the Georgia Writers Museum Board in January of 2024.

Volunteer Opportunities

We welcome new volunteers to the Georgia Writers Museum. If you are interested, please contact Melissa Swindell, Executive Director at director@georgiawritersmuseum.org.

Museum Greeter

Welcome visitors to Georgia Writers Museum. No experience necessary. We provide volunteers with our top FAQ’s, and a staff member will be on-site to help you throughout your shift.

Museum Guide

Welcome visitors to Georgia Writers Museum and provide individual and group tours of the exhibits. Be available to answer questions about our three Eatonton authors, as well as Hall of Fame writers. We provide volunteers with behind-the-scenes stories of each author, along with a docent manual, and our top FAQ’s. A staff member will be on-site to help you throughout your shift.

Education Committee

Working with other volunteers and board members, the Education Committee develops ideas from concept through fruition for our K-12 students in the local area and across the state through virtual platforms.

Programs & Events Committee

Working with other volunteers and board members, the Programs & Events Committee develops ideas from concept through fruition for our adult audiences in the local area and across the state through virtual platforms. Each month we host Georgia authors at our Meet the Author series, and we work with writing instructors each quarter to bring workshops to budding and experienced writers.

Marketing & Outreach Committee

This committee helps get the word out! GWM’s Marketing & Outreach Committee maintains our strong brand identity, develops effective relationships with media outlets, and communicates with our members regularly through email and social media.

Development & Finance Committee

Help GWM with our long-term fundraising and retail strategies. This committee oversees the financial performance of the museum and assists with everything from annual giving to capital campaigns. GWM is excited to grow into its next phase. We hired our first Executive Director in 2020. We rebranded and launched a new, more dynamic website, and are in the process of introducing a retail plan and imagining new exhibits!

Become a Board Member!

GWM was founded in 2014 by active volunteer board members who developed this museum from idea to reality. Our board is composed of hard-working, passionate volunteers, each of whom brings unique talents and skills to GWM. We ask that all board members actively participate on one or more committees and contribute financially to the organization. Board members are expected to represent the interests of the museum and participate in strategic planning, financial and operation oversight, resource development, external community relations, and board development, as needed throughout the course of their term. We are happy to meet with anyone who is seeking a meaningful way to be more connected to our statewide writers’ community.

For more information about becoming a GWM Board Member, please email director@georgiawritersmuseum.org.

“Why I volunteer at GWM”