Thursday, July 16, 2015

Dispatches from the 2015 West Virginia Writers’ Workshop: Day One

Hello, and welcome back to another weekend full of blog updates from the West Virginia Writers’ Workshop! I hope that all of you will read along with my ramblings this year, and if you have any time this weekend, please do come to our many readings and events held in Elizabeth Moore Hall, and in Colson. Here is a (tentative) schedule of who will be where, and when. Remember all of our readings are free and open to the public, so bring a friend (or five)!

Along with some blogging, I will be cultivating our social media presence for the next four days. If you have a Twitter account, you can follow us here, or just use the handle @WV_Workshop. If you have a Facebook, be sure to “Like” our Page, here. I made sure to attach a poster of all of our free readings to the Facebook page, and you'll see it if you scroll back through my Workshop Countdown. (It’s from day seven, so one week ago.)  Also, we have an Instagram (I have some adorable pictures of Renee’s golden retriever on there and I know everyone loves puppies). The Instagram site is here, or just find the handle: @wv_writersworkshop to follow along.  There were a lot of posts today on several different social media platforms, so check us out!

The first day of the Workshop is always busy, because all of the writers registered and picked up their packets around nine or ten this morning, and this year we moved our Registration Station down to Elizabeth Moore Hall this year, putting our Literary Journal Display on the first floor of Colson, right by that (fortuitously?) closed front entrance. It turns out that area is perfect for a Literary Journal Display, so go figure! Our writers checked in with the lovely miracle-worker who is Marsha Bissett, and then if they are staying in Stalnaker/Dadisman for the weekend, they came up the hill and settled in there, where I gave them some maps, and pointed them towards breakfast beverages.  Then our writers were free to take a walk, grab a coffee, and explore the campus until our lunch in Elizabeth Moore Hall. It was a gorgeous morning!

At noon, Mark started us off with some opening remarks, and announcements, and then we were free to get a slice of pizza or two (and to reunite with all of our writer-friends from workshops past).  After lunch, we all had a grand old time with Mark's mini-craft-talk, from the point of view of Sam-I-Am, of Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham, obviously (it matched his Dr. Seuss tie)! So there were “Ten Questions to Ask a Fiction Writer” and you can check Twitter to see all ten. The last one was a rather cheeky,  10) “No, seriously, I’m stuck. How do I begin?” Which was an excellent segue to Mark’s flash-writing prompt, which focused on “obstacles” and conflicts to be dramatized for the best writing. The flash pieces that resulted were heartfelt, empathetic, and occasionally hilarious, and I for one really loved hearing all of them.  Each year, Mark sets us up for great writing with an exercise like this in honor of Shann Palmer, a long-time member and fan of the workshop, who passed away two years ago. The lottery and fundraiser we set up last year has created a few “mini-scholarships” for several of our writers, and I think that would make Shann very happy.  

Our first big craft talk of the workshop was Renee Nicholson’s, titled: “Your Virtual Writing Life: Managing an Online Presence to Support Your Work.” Renee called on Natalie Sypolt, (our High School Workshop maven) and yours truly, to talk about how social media branding works with our own jobs as writers and academics.  Renee talked about Twitter, and Squarespace, and how she publicized her book of poems with a book trailer. Natalie talked about Facebook, and Weebly, and how to cultivate a public online writerly presence (versus a private Facebook persona) specifically in regards to Renee and Natalie's podcast, which you can listen to here.  Lastly, I talked about Instagram, the Layout App, and what it means to live-tweet, as well as how I worked my Workshop Countdown for the last four weeks. Of course, life’s little ironies include the fact that it was impossible to live-tweet my presentation I couldn't have my face buried in my phone while up in front of the crowd, but the rest of the Twitter feed has all of the brilliant things that Renee and Natalie said, regarding the curating as Renee called it, of your social media presence.  And I think curating is a really perfect word for what this feels like each year, at least for the Workshop. Of course it's about maintenance and keeping the information updated. But it’s also about making choices from life’s beautiful miasma as to what would be pretty, witty, and shiny enough to go on public display. 'Definitely worth thinking about!

Our workshoppers broke into their writing groups after the craft talk, to work with Mark (working with fiction and nonfiction writers), Renee (working with fiction writers), Natalie (working with the high school writers), and Erin Murphy (working with poetry writers). Due to a family emergency, Howard Owen will not be able to join us in Morgantown this year.  So Mark graciously took on two fiction workshops this evening, and tomorrow, the brilliantly talented Rebecca Thomas (an alum of Colson's own MFA program) will take over Howard’s workshop.  Howard has already sent comments to the writers, so that writing group will be getting comments and writerly advice from the triple-threat: Howard, Mark, and Rebecca. I am rather jealous of that writing group, to be honest.

This evening, the Workshop enjoyed a reading by the poet Erin Murphy, and our own Renee Nicholson as well. (It was, as I am sure you have guessed, a very busy day for Assistant to the Director of the Workshop: Renee Nicholson, author of Roundabout Directions to Lincoln Center out of Urban Farmhouse Press: get your copies now.) Erin and Renee worked together during Renee’s previous residency at Penn State Altoona, where Erin currently teaches. After Mark’s introduction, Renee read her titular poem, “Roundabout Directions to Lincoln Center,” and followed it up with some advice from “Audition Girl,” who’s sort of like Gossip Girl, but for ballet auditions. She even brought out a tiara to amp up the effects of the reading, and the audience loved it.

Who doesn’t love perfectly selected props, right? (See what I mean about the curating?) Renee's "Audition Girl" piece was sarcastic, passionate, and intensely funny, which was a great tie-in to Erin’s work. Professor Erin Murphy is a member of the creative writing faculty at Penn State Altoona and the author of six(!) books of poetry, and we're so excited that she could come to our Workshop this year. Erin's really inventive, and she read poems from a form she created called the "demi-sonnet," because it's formally balanced, but shorter than a standard sonnet. Demi-sonnets can pack a punch, but also be really funny, as Erin showed us this evening. To balance her humorous works, Erin was also able to read gorgeous poems about her son and daughter, because they weren’t here to be embarrassed by their mom. :-) It was adorable. 

Erin is an incredibly smart writer, and a beautiful reader, just like Renee, and I think that Renee and Erin read in tandem really well, tonight. For those poor souls who missed tonight's reading, you're in luck, because there’s more great readings to be had all weekend long! Tune in tomorrow afternoon at 1:30PM to hear John Hoppenthaler and Colson Hall’s own Kevin Oderman in Elizabeth Moore Hall, and then tomorrow night in Colson 130, we will have Mark, and David Hassler.  You don’t want to miss our Friday events!

Until Tomorrow, Dear Reader(s) -


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