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

Click the person’s name or picture if you would like to learn more about them.


Melissa Swindell

Executive Director

Amanda Vining

Museum Manager


Lou Benjamin


Michael Homeier

Vice President

Drew McCandless


Betty Liedtke


Board Members

Paula Benjamin

Chip Bell

Jim Cahoon

Ame Haley

Jim Halloran

Fred Kitchens

Barbara Leach

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”

Amanda Vining photo

Amanda holds a BS in Biology from Georgia College & State University. She began her career as an educator with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. After leaving the DNR, Amanda became a formal educator with Baldwin County School System and Jasper County School System. Amanda began her museum career at the Museum of Arts and Sciences (MAS) in Macon, Georgia, where she served as Curator of Environmental Science
(2011-2020). While at MAS, Amanda developed a love for sharing the world around us with the many students who visited on school field trips. During her time as Curator of Environmental Science, Amanda launched a storytime
program for preschool children.

Since 2020, Amanda has been serving Georgia Writers Museum as a volunteer on the Education Committee. Amanda has brought her love of sharing stories with students by launching Peaches’ Reading Pasture. As Museum Manager, Amanda looks forward to serving the community and helping to inspire those within our community to put words to paper and share their stories.

Amanda was born and raised in nearby Shady Dale, Georgia. Her husband, Rodney, is a native of Eatonton, and they currently reside in Putnam County. They have three children.

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.

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 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.

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.

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.

Betty Liedtke - Secretary

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.

Lou Benjamin - President

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.

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.