It was a beautiful day in Morgantown to kick off the 2014 West Virginia Writers’ Workshop! After registering in Stalnaker Hall (and getting to peruse our literary journal display) participants enjoyed a Welcome Lunch in Elizabeth Moore Hall, and an impromptu writing exercise led by our own fearless leader and Director: Professor Mark Brazaitis. This chance to write-on-the-fly was followed by an opportunity for our participants to read their pieces aloud, as a means of introducing themselves to the other members of the workshop, and, as Mark said, to bookend the entire weekend with writing and sharing: once at the beginning, and then once towards the end of the weekend, when the Workshop will host its famous “Open Mic Night.”
Participants wrote this afternoon in memory of our beloved fellow writer and workshop participant, Shann Palmer. Shann passed away in December of last year. To honor her memory, her humor, and her warmly shrewd voice on the page, the workshop is selling raffle tickets for books and writerly prizes. The money will go to pay for a fellow writer to attend this Workshop. We know that Shann would’ve loved to help other writers find their way, and this is our chance to do the same. For more details about the Shann Palmer Memorial Scholarship Fund, please see Assistant to the Director, Renee Nicholson.
Mark then gave the participants an amazing craft talk titled, “Eye-opening Openings.” As well as establishing good ground rules and tips for how to write an opening (or find an opening in what you have already written). The workshop participants also engaged in a spirited discussion of what’s at stake in Kafka’s Metamorphosis, how to make an opening appear trustworthy (or not) and what kinds of openings we like, or don’t like, or even love to hate. Mark included an excerpt from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (which almost caused me a moment of fan-girl squealing, but I restrained myself) before letting us look at his own excellent examples of work with opening lines.
Next, all of our participants got their first chance to workshop their own pieces within their genres. With Natalie Sypolt at the helm to workshop writing from our high school group, this year, the workshop has also brought the poet Allison Joseph to Morgantown, and Mark Brazaitis will be workshopping fiction and nonfiction all weekend here as well. After a glowing review from last year’s participants regarding their talks on publication, two editors from PageSpring Publishing, Lynn Bartels and Katherine Matthews will be workshopping polished texts from our participants this weekend, and offering advice for writers ready to take the next step with their work. No other writers’ workshop that I know of offers this unique service, coupled with the kind of in-depth mentoring and advising that the ladies from PageSpring give us here. We are extremely lucky to have them at the workshop.
The evening culminated with two readings in Colson Hall. Dean Robert Jones of the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences first stopped in to welcome all of this year’s participants and wish them good luck and happy writing, after which the poet Jon Tribble had the room in stitches with his deep, detailed, and occasionally heartbreaking descriptions of working in the American fast-food industry. Then our own beloved Ethel Morgan Smith brought the house down with her witty, nostalgic excerpts from Reflections of the Other: Being Black in Germany that delved into the complex vibrations between homesickness, pedagogy, female friendships, and the racial divide.
It has certainly been a productive and enjoyable first day of the 2014 West Virginia Writer’s Workshop. All of you social-media mavens: friend us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter with the handle: @WV_Workshop. (I have been live-tweeting all of the day’s events, and I will be continuing for the rest of the weekend, so we’ll have fun, I promise.)
Until tomorrow, enjoy these pictures!
Listening to our readers after our first writing exercise in E. Moore Hall.
Mark introduces Dean Jones at the first night's reading in Colson Hall.
Dean Jones was kind enough to stop by and welcome all of our writers this evening!
Here, we are learning a lot about Kentucky Fried Chicken from the brilliant poet Jon Tribble.
Professor Ethel Morgan Smith read poignant, and sometimes hilarious anecdotes from her time in Europe, chronicled in her book, Reflections of the Other: Being Black in Germany.