BLAKE SCHNIRRING - EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
Blake grew up in the inland Northwest and attended the University of Idaho. In 1989 she left Idaho for Los Angeles where she spent the next thirteen years in business development for publishing and technology industries. In 1999, she relocated to the East Coast where she continued to build success in business development for technology, fitness, and retail industries. Blake was a member of the oral storytelling group Mouse Muse before she decided to put her memoirs to paper. She found Westport Writers' Workshop and fell in love with their workshops and community spirit. In 2015, Blake joined the Board of Directors and has served as Treasurer and Chairman of the Board of Directors. She is excited to serve as Executive Director and continue to nurture Westport Writers' creative writing workshops, outreach programs, and community events. Blake lives in Westport, CT with her husband, two children and two dogs.
ELIZABETH FOLEY - OFFICE MANAGER
Elizabeth Foley grew up in New Jersey, moved to California after college to begin her career in office management in the entertainment industry. After spending many years in LA, she moved to Charlotte, North Carolina. Elizabeth grew her professional skills over the years which eventually lead to becoming a Business & Marketing Director at a small creative firm. She also runs her own photography business, working with small and large businesses to capture photography for their social media and marketing collateral. Elizabeth relocated to Connecticut in 2022 with her family and joined Westport Writers' Workshop shortly after. She is thrilled to be a part of the WWW community and serve as the Office Manager.
LIZ MATTHEWS - PROGRAM DIRECTOR
Liz is a writer and editor who received her M.F.A. in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts (2008) and M.A. in English Education from Teachers College, Columbia University. Liz began her professional career in publishing, both at a literary agency and as an Editorial Assistant at Random House before teaching middle and high school English at Poly Prep Country Day School in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in Quality Women’s Fiction, Town & Country, Literary Mama, Brain Child, Mothers Always Write, The Rumpus, and Big Fiction Little Truths among other places. Liz teaches Introductory & Intermediate Fiction, Flash Fiction, and Creative Writing.
ALANA SANKO - DRAMATIC LAB DIRECTOR
Alana Sanko is an award-winning creator, writer and producer. For over two decades she has written and developed for comedy, drama and animated series, as well as TV movie and network and cable pilots across multiple platforms. Her Nickelodeon series, Just for Kicks, which she created and developed with Executive Producer Whoopi Goldberg, won her a WGA Award, and the animated MTV series Spy Groove, that she was Head Writer on, received an Annie Nomination. Credits include the original ABC comedy pilot, See Jayne Run, the Disney Channel Original Movie Get a Clue, and the acclaimed CBS television series Murphy Brown, starring Candace Bergen, which was named on the WGA’s list of 101 Best TV Series. Alana has also written for numerous children’s series and is currently producing an independent feature film. She's a proud member of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, BMI, SACD, New York Women in Film & Television and the Writers Guild of America.
JESSIE MCENTEE - COMMUNICATIONS
Jessie McEntee is the Poet Laureate for Westport as well as a long-time fiction instructor at WWW; she also provides editorial services and coaching. In addition, she's worked in house doing marketing and communications at WWW in the past and is delighted to resume her former duties as of June 2023. She also heads marketing and communications at Pequot Library in Southport.
Board of Directors
Our Board of Directors works hard to ensure that our programs and workshops meet the needs and criteria of our students. They each come from a background that showcases their love and passion for reading, writing, and volunteering.
BETH CRISWELL - BOARD CHAIRMAN
Beth Criswell has been writing with Westport Writers’ Workshop for over five years where she has developed her craft and enjoys diving into her YA high fantasy world series. She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and brings prior experience as a member of other local nonprofit boards and organizations, and as an attorney.
KANWALROOP KATHY DHANDA - TREASURER
Kanwalroop Kathy Dhanda is passionate about the environment and the protection of natural resources. She is a Professor of Management at Sacred Heart University and her scholarly work focuses on sustainability issues. She has published about 40 journal articles and co-authored two books. She loves to read and travel in her free time. Recently, with the encouragement of instructors at the Westport Writers’ Workshop, she has begun working on a memoir and short stories that she hopes to publish someday. Kathy graduated cum laude from Angelo State University and received her doctorate degree from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. She lives in Wilton with her husband, Adrian, and her two children, Arman and Ariana.
LEILA SHIELDS - SECRETARY
Leila Shields has enjoyed the inspiration and instruction offered by the Westport Writers Workshop for many years, experiencing classes with various instructors and students in both memoir and fiction; she’s currently at work finishing her first manuscript. Dedicated to the arts, she serves on the board of Norwalk’s Shakespeare on the Sound. Currently a middle school Language Arts teacher at Wilton’s Montessori School, Leila was previously a writer and editor with Condé Nast Publications, specifically for Allure, Self, and Women’s Sports & Fitness Magazines. She’s a graduate of Yale University and Phillips Academy Andover, where she currently contributes as a Head Agent and member of Andover’s Alumni Council and Development Board. She lives in Westport with her husband, three children, and two dogs.
Galia Gichon is an independent personal financial expert with more than 20 years in financial services, including nearly 10 years on Wall Street and an MBA in Finance. Her career has spanned corporate bond research analyst, personal finance expert, angel investor, entrepreneur advisor and author. As an angel investor, she actively supports women led and impact start-ups. She is the Founder of Down to Earth Finance, independent personal finance education. She has been teaching at Barnard College’s Athena Center for Leadership and Freelancers Union for 10+ years. She has been widely quoted in The New York Times, NBC, CNN, and more. Previously, she worked at Bear Stearns and Nomura Securities. Galia is also the author of “My Money Matters” which was featured on TODAY SHOW, the author of a novel The Accidental Suffragist, and co-host of the popular podcast “Fiscal Firecrackers” with leading actress Susan Yeagley - Funny Finally Meets Money.
Beth Stevens is an Emmy-winning writer, editor, and producer. She is a founding editor of Broadway.com, where she continues to serve as Managing Editor. She is the Supervising Producer for The Broadway Show, the only nationally syndicated weekly theater news program. She co-wrote and produced the Emmy-winning CBS Special At the Tonys and has worked for such companies as Bravo Television, Barrington Stage Company, Warner Brothers, the Sundance Institute, Richard Frankel Productions, and more. She taught creative writing and playwriting at the Frederick Douglass Creative Arts Center and The Writers' Wing. Her articles, fiction, and poetry have appeared in Time Out New York, American Theatre Magazine, Cleveland Magazine, The Syndrome, The Cape Rock, Chiron Review, The Waverly Review, and others. There are many people named Beth Stevens—this one is not the Harvard neuroscientist, country singer, finance consultant, or young performer in Liverpool.
Deirdre Kelly is a Westport based writer and editor. After moving to the area from London, she took her first class at WWW in 2019 and has been hooked ever since. She has a background in advertising and is a life-long reader and chronic buyer of far too many books. She received her B.A. from Wesleyan University and her MSt in Creative Writing from the University of Oxford. She's been a contributor at writing conferences at Bread Loaf and Yale and is currently finishing what she hopes will be her first published novel.
Natasha Bowens has loved writing since the first grade when she gave out her laminated literary creations as Christmas gifts. She followed the Writing track of an English major at St. Lawrence University, edited the college newspaper and pursued an early career in public relations in Boston, New York and London. After then holding various communications positions at New Canaan Country School and many years into raising a family, she realized how much she missed the creative expression and freedom writing afforded; happily, this was about the time she discovered the Westport Writers Workshop. Since then, and following an awesome first class in fiction writing, Natasha has been involved in screenwriting classes, and currently is in the very ongoing process of revising her first feature screenplay - a comedy, because, life. She lives in Westport with her husband and three daughters of varying college- and high school-ages, and is so happy and grateful to be a part of this amazing and inspiring community.