Erma Bombeck: Bringing the generations together

When I mentioned that I’d be attending the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop, the two millennials I work with had no idea what I was talking about. “Really,” I said, “You don’t know what a workshop is?”

Kidding! What I really said was, “Erma Bombeck was only one of America’s most loved humor columnists and the idea of turning the reins of this country over to a generation of people who might not know who she is, is downright terrifying.”

“How could you not know,” I asked. “She wrote 15 best-selling books and published more than four thousand syndicated columns in 900 newspapers.”

They said, “What’s a newspaper?”

No, they didn’t. I’m pretty sure they know what a newspaper is. I'm sure you do. And, I bet you know who Erma Bombeck is too. She died in 1996, when my coworkers were still reading picture books, but one of the many ways she lives on is through the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop, held every other year at her alma mater, the University of Dayton in Dayton, Ohio.

Around 350 writers from around the country attend, but far more than 350 writers want to attend, so the minute registration opens, they all go to the website at once and the conference fills up in a matter of hours. This is followed by much virtual high fiving on social media by those who got in and much weeping and gnashing of teeth by those who did not. Lucky me, I was one of the high fivers.

The people who attend are impressive in their own right, and not just because they managed to sign up when so many others didn’t. Some have been compared to Erma Bombeck; some have even been told they might be the “next Erma Bombeck,” which is, of course, impossible. I’d settle for being the first Dorothy Rosby. You probably think I should set my sights higher.

But I do have a few things in common with Erma Bombeck. We both grew up in the Midwest. She was a successful, world-renowned humor columnist and I wish I was.

We both spent some time working as newspaper reporters. She once interviewed Shirley Temple. I once drank a Shirley Temple—but not while I was working at the newspaper.

Erma Bombeck’s husband was a school administrator who eventually managed her career. My husband is also a school administrator who eventually tolerated mine.

Erma Bombeck had three children who frequently showed up in her columns. I have one child who frequently shows up in mine. Judging by the way they speak about her, Erma’s children have forgiven her for writing about them. Judging by the way my son speaks about me, he might forgive me someday. 

There’s a street in Dayton, Ohio named Erma Bombeck Way. And there’s also a street in Dayton named Dorothy Lane. No, it’s not Dorothy Rosby Lane, but it could be—with enough spray paint.

Maybe I’ll bring some with me next time. Because I do plan to attend again. I had a fabulous time. But then, if you can’t have fun at a humor writers convention, you’re just not trying.

And by the way, I was relieved to know there were many millennials at the workshop. They obviously know who Erma Bombeck is. Maybe there’s hope for this country after all.

(Dorothy Rosby is the author of several humor books, including I Used to Think I Was Not That Bad and Then I Got to Know Me Better. Contact