Conference Advisory Action, 1986:
“… Since each issue of the Grapevine cannot go through the Conference approval process, the Conference recognizes the AA Grapevine as the international journal of Alcoholics Anonymous. “
What’s portable, helpful, historic, inspiring, humorous, informative, international, timely, timeless, varied, original, and illustrated?
Yes, it’s the AA Grapevine!
The Grapevine’s Place in AA
How the AA Grapevine Began
In the spring of 1944, six members of AA – four women and two men – got together in an apartment in New York City and considered the idea of publishing a local AA newsletter. A newsletter was exactly what was needed in those early days of AA, when the Fellowship was only nine years old and still finding its way. There was plenty of news to report. New groups were being formed, new meeting formats were being tried out, and new ways of twelfth, stepping were being debated. AA’s were talking about how to practice the Steps (the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions hadn’t yet been written), groups were struggling to stay in existence, and recovering drunks were struggling to stay sober. What was needed, the six decided, was a way to open up lines of communication between AA members in different places. They conceived a newsletter that would cover the activities of AA groups in the New York City area, as well as bring news of the Fellowship to AA men and women serving in the armed forces.
The editors wanted the go-ahead from AA co-founder Bill W., so one of them, a woman named Lois K., went to see Bill at his home in Bedford Hills, New York. Did he think the magazine was a good idea? He did. “Go to it,” he told her, “and blessings on you!”
The First Issue
The six editors (whom Bill affectionately dubbed the “six ink, stained wretches”) worked hard for several months, and at the end of May 1944, they met to inspect Volume 1, Number 1, of their newsletter. It was called the Grapevine, and that first issue was an eight page, large, format bulletin, costing a total of$187. 10 to design, print, and mail. Of the 1,200 copies printed, many were sent free of charge to AAs in the U.S. and Canadian armed forces, and to every group registered with the Central Office (now the General Service Office). The first issue claimed 165 subscribers. Sixteen months later, that number had climbed to 3,500.
At the heart of the early Grapevines, then as now, were first person stories. For several years, these took the form of informal letters and commissioned articles. There were also news and notes on current happenings at the Central Office, a page for news of AAs in the armed services (including letters from servicemen and women), and a feature called “Along the Metropolitan Circuit,” which described meetings in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the suburbs in New Jersey and New York. The explosion of new meetings – from “Alaska to Arkansas, from Ireland to Australia” – was reported with particular excitement, and headlines read: “70 New Groups in Two Months!” or “33 New Groups Added in Less than a Month.”
Articles by AAs and Others
In addition to AA news, there was an eclectic mix of pieces written expressly for the Grapevine by non- AA writers. These included such literary lights as journalist Fulton Oursler, humorist S. J. Perlman, novelist Charles Jackson, and essayist Philip Wylie. For many years, the Grapevine continued to publish articles by non-AAs who were early friends and advocates of the Fellowship: Jack Alexander, the Reverend Samuel Shoemaker, Sister Ignatia, Dr. Harry Tiebout, Bernard Smith, and Lois W., among others. There were also lengthy articles on alcoholism education and research, book reviews of everything from murder mysteries to Hindu psychology, excerpts from published books, reprints from magazines and newspapers, notices of radio programs covering alcoholism or AA, and articles by relatives of AA members saying what AA meant to them. Cartoons and drawings made their appearance in the third issue. A humor column – “Barleycom” – was added in the second year. No poetry was published (though plenty was received!); the editors confessed to “an incurable allergy” to it. In the sixth issue, a series of editorials on the Steps began, and ran for several years.
Burning Issues: Women, Old-timers, and Cross-Addiction
The early Grapevines also discussed such things as the place of women in AA, problems of oldtimers (those with a month or more!), returning veterans, and whether or not to applaud a speaker. Issues that still concern contemporary AA’s were often addressed – for example, cross-addiction. The third issue carried a letter requesting a special “hophead’s corner” for alcoholics also recovering from narcotics addiction. There were subsequent articles on the “sleeping pill menace” and what to do about pill problems when twelfth-stepping. Bill’s article “Those GoofBalls” was published in the November 1945 issue.
The Voice of AA
By the fourth issue, the magazine began printing this description of itself under the mast head:
A Monthly Journal devoted to those seeking further knowledge on the problem of alcoholism, in the hope that it may prove a unifying bond to all alcoholics everywhere. Individual opinions expressed here are not, necessarily, those of AA as a whole.
The Grapevine was in fact appealing to “alcoholics everywhere” and it quickly caught on around the country. In 1945, at the request of the groups, the Grapevine became the national AA periodical.
In March 1945, Bill W. wrote to the lawyer who was drafting incorporation papers for the magazine, laying out some basic tenets of how the magazine should operate. Bill stressed the Grapevine’s independence and suggested the following:
- the Grapevine should be the voice of AA as a whole;
- the trustees of the Grapevine should be able to suggest and advise – but not command;
- no individual or single group should ever dominate the magazine; and
- the Grapevine should print articles expressing the Wildest differences of opinion on all AA topics.
Bill also suggested that the Grapevine should not publish any pieces on politics or religion, should not carry outside advertising, and should engage in no propaganda concerning outside causes. In other words, the primary purpose of the magazine – like that of individual members – was to carry the AA message to alcoholics and to practice the AA principles in all its affairs. The spirit of these guidelines – autonomy, diversity, and singleness of purpose – continues to be central to the Grapevine to this day.
Bill W.’s Role
Officially, Bill was the Grapevine’s “senior editorial advisor”; unofficially, he was its mentor, spiritual guide, chief booster – and a major contributor. Early on, Bill saw in the Grapevine a way to communicate effectively and rapidly with the Fellowship as a whole. Over the years, he published more than 150 articles in the magazine, setting forth his hopes and fears and practical ideas about the Fellowship. In the forties, as AA struggled to find its place in the larger society, the Grapevine became an important source of information on the vital issues of anonymity. membership, professionalism, public relations, and singleness of purpose. As AA groups tried to clarify the basic principles that would guide them, Bill W. hammered out his thoughts in the pages of the Grapevine, recognizing the necessity to preserve the “powerful unity” of AA in the face of ever pressing questions of leadership, money, and authority.”
AA Traditions and the Preamble
In response to these pressing questions, Bill wrote the “Twelve Suggested Points for AA Tradition,” laying out the framework of what would become the Traditions. The April 1946 issue of the Grapevine published this historic piece. In subsequent articles, Bill examined individual Traditions – for example, the principles behind the “safe use of money” in the Fellowship (Tradition Seven), good public relations policy (Tradition Eleven), and the practical and spiritual aspects of anonymity (Tradition Twelve).
As interest grew in the new Fellowship, the Grapevine editors decided to write a brief definition to make clear the nature of the Fellowship to both members and non-alcoholics. Thus, the AA Preamble – setting forth in two concise paragraphs what AA is and is not – made its first appearance in the June 1947 issue. It was written by the first editor of the Grapevine, using portions of the Foreword to the first edition of the Big Book. The Preamble was quickly adopted, and today it is an integral part of the format of many AA meetings.
As the Grapevine gained readers, it gained contributors as well, and it was able to trust its pages more and more to the voices of recovering alcoholics. It gradually abandoned book re- views and reprints and general interest articles, and greatly reduced the articles written by non-alcoholics.
Later issues of the Grapevine reported on AA history in the making. In December 1950, Bill and Dr. Bob suggested that the AA membership as a whole should take over the leadership of the Fellowship through a General Service Conference. Over the next five years, while experimental Conferences were held, the Grapevine kept AAs up to date. After 1955, when the Conference became the permanent embodiment of AA service, the magazine began reporting on each annual Conference. ‘Me controversial plan to increase the ratio of alcoholics to non-alcoholics on the General Service Board of Trustees was published in the magazine in 1966, and voted into being that year by the 16th Conference.
The Slogans, the Serenity Prayer, and the Stories
Many of the sights and sounds familiar to us today at AA meetings were first introduced in the Grapevine, as well. After seeing the Serenity Prayer in a newspaper in 1942, Bill W. and the early AA’s had the Serenity Prayer printed on cards and began including it in all AA correspondence. By publishing it in early issues, the Grapevine helped usher it into general use. The January 1950 issue ran Dr. Reinhold Niebhur’s account of the origin of the Serenity Prayer, and his part in its authorship, and the prayer has been a regular part of the magazine’s format since July 1967.
The Slogans – “First Things First,” “There But for the Grace of God,” “Easy Does It,” “Think, Think, Think,” and “Live and Let Live”- first appeared in the Grapevine in the late 1956 and early 1957 issues. The hand-lettered versions were reproduced on the inside cover and each slogan was accompanied by an article about it.
The Grapevine was also the source of many of the stories and articles that have been useful to the Fellowship over the years. More than a dozen stories in the second, third, and fourth editions of the Big Book were first published in the Grapevine, as were the stories in AA in Prison: Inmate to Inmate and many quotations in As Bill Sees It. Over the years, the Grapevine has provided articles for several AA pamphlets including “Problems Other Than Alcohol” and the Traditions Checklist. In December 1950, the Grapevine published “Leadership in AA: Ever a Vital Need,” which was later incorporated in Concept IX.
An International Journal of Alcoholics Anonymous
The Grapevine has continued to mark significant happenings as the Fellowship has matured and settled in. Since the January 1949 issue, the magazine has been known as “the international monthly journal of Alcoholics Anonymous,” and all the International Conventions have been chronicled in its pages. The Around AA section brings Grapevine readers up to date on each year’s General Service Conference and other news of interest to the Fellowship as a whole. The June 1985 issue marked AA’s 50th anniversary, with articles devoted to AA history and the state of AA around the world. In 2000, the magazine described the International Convention in Minneapolis, which celebrated the 65th anniversary of the program.
In the Grapevine’s very first issue, an editorial by Bill stated the magazine’s goals rather grandly: “May its rays of hope and experience ever fall upon the current of our AA life and one day illumine every dark corner of this alcoholic world.” Yet Bill’s hope came to be. The magazine is now read all over the world, sent to 115,000 plus AA’s, AA groups, and non alcoholics in over seventy countries.
The history of the Grapevine is the history of the growth of Alcoholics Anonymous from its early struggles for survival to the worldwide Fellowship it is today, undergoing the struggles associated with success and growth. Throughout its history, it has been what Bill W. once imagined it to be: simply, the voice of AA. Here alcoholics share again and again the miracle of their transformation.
How the AA Grapevine Carries the Message Today
In the fourth issue of the Grapevine, in September 1944, the editors put forth a few simple points of policy and declared that they were “dedicated to furthering, to the best of their abilities. the philosophy of life and action laid down in the Twelve Steps of AA. ” This simple policy has enabled the Grapevine to carry the message of Alcoholics Anonymous successfully for about 60 years. Readers have used it a variety of ways:
To Members of Alcoholics Anonymous
OUR MEETING IN PRINT – Grapevine articles are direct and personal-, they cover a wide range of experiences, geographic areas, and points of view. Like a meeting, the Grapevine tells what AA experience, strength, and hope arc like on a day to day basis – from problems solved to emotional and spiritual healing affected. As a monthly magazine, the Grapevine is the only AA literature that offers a month-by-month picture of the Fellow-ship. Articles on the Twelve Steps, the Twelve Traditions, and AA history help ground newcomers or returnees in basic AA, while articles on the importance of sponsorship, home groups, and service offer them practical ways to stay sober.
FOR TWELFTH STEP WORK – Many AAs use the magazine in Twelfth Step work: After subscribers read the latest issue, they pass it along; others use subscriptions as gifts to sponsees or newcomers. A monthly Grapevine is a regular reminder of living sober, even if the newcomer slips; as one Grapevine representative put it, “The Grapevine keeps coming, even when the alcoholic doesn’t.”
TO STRENGTHEN INDIVIDUAL SOBRIETY – Readers often use the Grapevine as a portable meeting, taking it with them when they travel or commute to work. The magazine is a meeting in print on vacations, business or family trips, and during illness, when live meetings are not always available.
FOR MEETINGS – The Grapevine is an excellent basic resource since each issue reprints essential AA texts: the Steps, Traditions, Preamble, Serenity Prayer, and Responsibility Declaration. Discussion topics culled from each issue form the basis for many discussion groups.
FOR LONERS, HOMERS, AND INTERNATIONALISTS – AA’s who can’t get to meetings often rely on the Grapevine (along with correspondence and GSO bulletins) for their AA sharing.
A FORUM FOR NEWS AND DIFFERENT VIEWPOINTS – Matters of importance to AA as a whole – for example, Conference Actions and international AA activities – are reported in the magazine. Concerns about current issues -the roles of old-timers and young people, crossaddiction, special interest groups, and the effect of treatment centers – are also aired. Because the Grapevine reflects AA’s diversity, readers can learn how members in other parts of the country and the world are dealing with changing times.
To the Suffering Alcoholic
By June 1947, the Grapevine reported, AA’s had begun a movement to get the magazine into prisons nationwide. For years, AA service committees on correctional facilities, as well as those on public information, cooperation with the professional community, and treatment facilities have used the magazine in their work with active alcoholics. Members and groups often give subscriptions to local prisons, hospitals, treatment centers, and the magazine is often found in the waiting rooms of those who treat alcoholics – doctors and lawyers, for example. The Grapevine gives new and prospective members a chance to get acquainted with AA in a low-key, no-pressure way – in private. It often helps people make a more comfortable transition between AA and a treatment or correctional facility.
To the General Public and Professionals
Through its direct, first-person stories, the Grapevine helps inform the general public and members of the professional community about the way AA members stay sober. Copies and subscriptions donated to schools and libraries are an important part of this outreach. An AA member whose work frequently brings him into contact with professionals who work with alcoholics says this about the Grapevine: “Whenever I speak to a group of professionals, I tell them they need the Grapevine in order to understand AA. These are busy people, and they don’t often have time to attend open meetings. But for only $18.00 a year and about 45 minutes of reading time every month, at their leisure, they can get a picture of AA as it is lived today.”
La Viña: Our Spanish, Language Meeting in Print
The Need for the Magazine
Spanish speaking members of AA had wanted to be able to read and submit articles to the Grapevine in their own language for some time. This expressed need was taken to the General Service Conference in 1991 and a recommendation was issued that the Grapevine begin publishing a Spanish translation of at least one article in the magazine each month. These articles appeared regularly between September 1991 and June 1996.
In 1995, the Fellowship requested a Spanish language edition of the Grapevine, and the General Service Conference endorsed the idea. It asked the General Service Board to finance the project for a trial period of five years; three months later, a special edition of the Grapevine in Spanish was produced. After a business plan for the new magazine was presented to the trustees’ Finance Committee and approved, the Grapevine began preparations for a bimonthly publication for Spanish speaking members of AA. The name of the new magazine was La Viña, and the first issue came off the press in June 1996. Copies were distributed to subscribers in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean and Europe. In 2001, the General Service Conference recommended that La Viña continue to be published by the AA Grapevine.
How La Viña Carries the Message
In accordance with its primary purpose, La Viña is distributed in treatment and correctional facilities and to any other institution where it can carry the message to Spanish speaking alcoholics. At present, 15,000 copies of each issue are printed every other month, and the number of subscribers continues to grow, slowly but steadily. Currently, there are about 9,000 subscribers. Originally, many of the stories were translated from the English edition, but today, La Viña publishes mostly original material in Spanish, and occasionally its articles are translated into English and appear in the Grapevine. The editor of La Viña is an AA member with editorial experience and whose native language is Spanish.
How Is Material Selected for Publication?
Each manuscript received at the Grapevine office is read and evaluated by the editorial staff, and sometimes by the Editorial Advisory Board. As the editors read a manuscript, they ask: “If I heard this at a meeting, would it help me?” “Is this in accord with AA’s Twelve Traditions?” “Will this help the Fellowship as a whole?” Some articles are “success” stories, while others deal with problems, but in all cases an honest expression of experience, strength, and hope is more important than professional writing or AA “expertise.” Since the Grapevine’s emphasis is on first person accounts of lives reclaimed from alcoholism, the focus is always on recovery through the AA program and issues within AA – and not, for example, on the wider field of alcoholism.
For more information on the Grapevine or becoming a Grapevine representative, speak to your sponsor and/or visit www.aagrapevine.org.