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2016 Writers’ Day

July 29, 2016 @ 8:00 am - 4:30 pm


July 29, 2016
8:00 am - 4:30 pm
Event Category:


Virginia Highlands Community College
100 VHCC Drive
Abingdon, VA 24210 United States
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Event Date:
Friday, July 29, 2016 – 8:00am to 4:30pm

Important: Buying your ticket ensures entry to the Writers’ Day event, but does not register you for workshops. To register for workshops fill out the form here after purchasing your ticket.

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Event Schedule

8-9 am Registration
9-10 am Introduction of Speakers
10-11:30 Workshops
11:30-Noon Book Sales and Signings
Noon-1 pm Lunch
1:15-4:30 Workshops

7-9 pm An Evening of Words and Music at Heartwood


10:00am – Keepers of the Legends: Using History and Folklore in the Novel, Sharyn McCrumb

Fiction with a strong sense of place, for example, the works of Mark Twain, Flannery O’Connor, Tony Hillerman, Stephen King – and especially Sharyn McCrumb – are enriched by the incorporation of regional history and folklore into the narrative. This workshop discusses how to find stories of the region, the use of dialect, and other techniques. McCrumb has masterfully interwoven many incidents and figures of Appalachian history in her novels – the Battle of Kings Mountain, the divided loyalties during the Civil War, semi-mythical historical figures such as Tom Dooley, and many others.

10:00am – Embodying the World, Don Johnson

Seamus Heaney has advocated that the first priority of language was to embody the world before making it say something about the world. This workshop will explore techniques poets can use to “embody the world.” Participants will observe and discuss such issues as ways of seeing, concreteness, specificity, and organization of details in poems by professional poets and by Johnson himself. Workshop attendees are invited to bring one of their own poems to be critiqued, time permitting.

10:00am – Playwriting 101, Catherine Bush

After discussing the essential elements of playwriting, the participants will use different methods to create a jumping off point from which they will write their own short play. Bush says, “Be ready with pencil and paper… there will be time for questions and discussion before, during, and after the writing process. Fun will be had by all!” Bush’s original plays which have been produced at Barter Theatre include I’ll Never Be Hungry Again, Tradin’ Paint, Wooden Snowflakes, and The Road to Appomattox. Her new musical Winter Wheat about the suffragette movement will be produced in October 2016 at Barter Theatre.

1:15pm – Pagecraft – The Art of Enhancing Your Work with Tone, Pacing, and the Subtle Skills of Fine Writing, Sharyn McCrumb

Good stories are a skillful blend of character, setting, description, and, most elusive of all – tone, that magic combination of pacing and word choice that channels the emotions of the reader. This workshop will discuss how to combine these elements to make memorable stories rich in character and description and redolent of place. McCrumb says that one of the keys to being a successful novelist is being aware of “what poets know that novelists don’t know,” a sensitivity to word choices and the rhythms of language.

1:15pm – Saving Their Voices, Capturing Their Histories, Kathy Shearer

“When someone dies, all that history goes with them.” Kathy Shearer has heard that line and told it herself, as she encourages others to preserve the memories of their families and community members while there is still time. Whether you want to write and publish a comprehensive history of your special place or just create a personal record that you will share with your family, participants will learn the techniques of voice recording and transcription, and also proper photograph scanning for publication in this workshop. Compilation of this information into a readable book will be discussed. Participants are encouraged to bring smart phones or recording devices if they have them.

1:15pm – Adaptation: Breaking It Down, Catherine Bush

Have you ever read a story that you wanted to adapt into a play – but you didn’t know how?
In this workshop, the participants will read a short story and then break it down into its dramatic elements – conflict, dramatic action, dialogue, “What’s at stake?” and other issues – then they will use those elements to write a (very) short play. Bush says to “Bring paper, pencil, and willingness to have fun!” While a playwright at Barter Theatre, Bush has masterfully adapted classics such as The Three Musketeers and Antigone as well as contemporary novels such as Walking Across Egypt.

3:00pm – The Poem as Time Machine, Don Johnson

Poet Tess Gallagher has described the poem as a “time machine,” a device that can take both the poet and reader back in time to recreate seminal events in his/her life. This workshop will focus on the interplay between memory and history, how each figures in the recreation of the past, the conflict between fact and creation, and the degree to which each should be depended upon in the poem. Participants will be asked to choose a formative experience from their pasts and to discuss with the group ways in which that experience can be shaped and cultivated in order to create a poem. Workshop attendees are invited to bring one of their own poems to be critiqued, time permitting.

3:00pm – Getting It Right: Research Sources and Techniques, Kathy Shearer

Writers in all genres benefit from the careful exploration of documented information. The internet is teeming with “facts,” but how much of it is true? Are those dusty old books in the local historical societies the best way to go? Join in a discussion of reliable sources and best practices to organize your information and access what you need for your writing projects. Bring your own success stories to share with others. Shearer has had a lot of recent experience with sorting through primary and secondary sources as she was writing her most recent book, Working for Stuarts: Life on One of the Oldest & Largest Cattle Farms East of the Mississippi.

Writer Biographies

Catherine Bush

Catherine Bush lives in Abingdon, Virginia where she is the Playwright-in-Residence at Barter Theatre. She didn’t start out to be a playwright. In fact, Bush graduated from Eastern Kentucky University with a bachelor’s degree in industrial technology and spent her first few working years, of all things, designing vacuum cleaners.

Catherine Bush headshotWhen she was in her late 20s, Bush became interested in community theater, tried acting, liked it and went to New York’s American Academy of Dramatic Arts. It didn’t take very long, however, for her to give up on her dream of becoming a star on Broadway. “It was all auditioning! Auditioning! Auditioning!” Bush recalls somewhat bitterly. But what really got her upset was seeing all the “really crappy new work,” being written, and she resolved that she was going to see if she couldn’t do better.

One of the arenas that she staked out for her playwriting was the central Appalachian region. Bush says, “There are as many stories in Appalachia as there are people.” But finding these stories, digging through the crust of secrecy and distrust that is so often all the outside world sees of Appalachia and turning our stories into accessible yet realistic vignettes takes a special person – one who is close enough to us to see the area as it is, but not so close that the truth is hidden by that nearness.”

Barter’s Appalachian Festival of Plays and Playwrights just happened to be one place where she sent one of her early plays. Her knowledge of and respect for the people of our region, combined with a very strong writing style, finally got her plays noticed.

Bush has written both original plays and adaptations of literary works that have been produced at Barter: The Other Side of the Mountain, The Quiltmaker, Comin’ Up A Storm, Wooden Snowflakes, The Controversial Rescue of Fatty the Pig, Where Trouble Sleeps, The Three Musketeers, and several others. This fall her musical about the suffragette movement Winter Wheat will be produced by Barter.

Bush’s work has also been seen throughout the country. An award-winning production of Tradin’ Paint was celebrated in Atlanta in the spring of 2009, and her musical I’ll Never Be Hungry Again continues to be produced nationally. Her other plays include The Frankenstein Summer (Red Light Theatre District, NYC), The Executioner’s Sons, (Echo Theatre, TX), and Just A Kiss (New Theatre, FL), which was a finalist for the 2007 Steinberg Award presented by the American Theatre Critics Association.

Her plays for young audiences have been commissioned and produced by the Barter Players, and several have toured to schools across the southeast United States. Just this season, five of the eight plays which the Barter Players is presenting for youth audiences are written or adapted by Bush: My Imaginary Pirate, Cry Wolf!, The Princess and the Pea, Robin Hood, and All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth.

Don Johnson

Don Johnson retired in spring 2015 as professor and poet-in-residence at East Tennessee State University where he was a faculty member for 32 years. He has deep roots in the mountains, Appalachian by birth and by choice. He was born and grew up in Poca, West Virginia. He currently lives on seven acres along the banks of the Watauga River near Elizabethton, Tennessee, where he is restoring a log cabin his father and grandfather were born in.

Don Johnson headshotJohnson has published four volumes of poetry: The Importance of Visible Scars (1984), Watauga Drawdown (1991), Here and Gone: New and Selected Poems (2010), and the recent More Than Heavy Rain, published by Texas Review Press (2014). His poetry has appeared in such magazines as Poetry, The Iowa Review, Shenandoah, and The Georgia Review. He has published critical pieces on Jim Wayne Miller, Jeff Daniel Marion, Fred Chappell and Robert Morgan. His other published work has been on Seamus Heaney and 18th-century British Literature.

JohnsonIn addition, he has published numerous articles on the literature of sport and has edited a collection of contemporary baseball poetry: Hummers, Knucklers, and Slow Curves. He served as general editor of Aethlon: the Journal of Sport Literature for sixteen years before becoming the poetry editor of that journal for five. He is a two-time winner of the Ruth Berrien Fox Award from the New England Poetry Club and the recipient of a Tennessee Arts Commission Individual Artist Award.

Louisiana poet Jack Bedell says of Johnson’s work, “[Johnson’s] poems make real the rustle of quail, the bites of rat snakes, the flow of a river in Appalachia. Whether it’s staring into the woods in Tennessee or pulling fish out of the Barataria basin near my own back yard, Johnson’s poetry provides journeys as worthwhile as they are profound.”

Watauga Morning
River mist song sparrow sun
Limb creak heron wings ripple music
Honeysuckle cloud shadow wind
Blue wings crane flies trout splash
Kingfisher waxwings swallows

Pine green sycamores teal
Goose palaver train whistle crows
Leaf whisper leaf whisper leaf

Sharyn McCrumb

“I find that the more I write, the more fascinated I become with the idea of the land as an intricate element in the lives of the mountain people, and of the past as prologue for any contemporary narrative. This connection to the land is personal as well as thematic.”—Sharyn McCrumb
Sharyn McCrumb is an award-winning Southern writer, best known for her Appalachian “Ballad” novels, set in the North Carolina/Tennessee mountains, including the New York Times Best Sellers: The Ballad of Tom Dooley, She Walks These Hills and The Rosewood Casket. Recent novels include King’s Mountain, the story of the 1780 Revolutionary War battle and the Overmountain Men as well as Prayers the Devil Answer, published in May 2016.

Sharyn McCrumb headshot (1)Her books are frequently used in One Community/One Book programs, most recently The Ballad of Frankie Silver by the town of Gallatin TN and Volunteer State College, and The Devil Amongst the Lawyers in Winchester VA.

In April 2014, Sharyn McCrumb was awarded the Mary Frances Hobson Prize for Southern Literature by North Carolina’s Chowan University. Named a “Virginia Woman of History” in 2008 for Achievement in Literature, she was a guest author at the National Festival of the Book in Washington, D.C. sponsored by the White House in 2006.

St. Dale, The Canterbury Tales in a NASCAR setting, in which ordinary people on a pilgrimage in honor of racing legend Dale Earnhardt find a miracle, won a 2006 Library of Virginia Award as well as the AWA Book of the Year Award.

Sharyn McCrumb’s other best-selling novels include The Ballad of Frankie Silver, the story of the first woman hanged for murder in the state of North Carolina (new edition, March 2013,) Ghost Riders, an account of the Civil War in the mountains of western North Carolina, which won the Wilma Dykeman Award for Literature given by the East Tennessee Historical Society and the Audie Award for Best Recorded Book, was published in a new edition in March 2012 by J.F. Blair Press. A theatrical version of Ghost Riders was staged in June 2014 at the Parkway Playhouse in Burnsville NC.

McCrumb’s other honors include: AWA Outstanding Contribution to Appalachian Literature Award; the Chaffin Award for Southern Literature; the Plattner Award for Short Story; and AWA’s Best Appalachian Novel. She was recently named “Best Mountain Writer 2013” by Blue Ridge Country Magazine. A graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, with an M.A. in English from Virginia Tech, McCrumb was the first writer-in-residence at King College in Tennessee. In 2005 she honored as the Writer of the Year at Emory & Henry College. She is married to David McCrumb, a corporate environmental director, and has two children, Laura and Spencer.

Her novels, studied in universities throughout the world, have been translated into eleven languages, including French, German, Dutch, Japanese, Arabic, and Italian. She has lectured on her work at Oxford University, the University of Bonn-Germany, and at the Smithsonian Institution; taught a writers workshop in Paris,and at the Chautauqua Institute in western New York.

Prayers the Devil Answered coverSharyn McCrumb is the subject of the book From A Race of Storytellers: The Ballad Novels of Sharyn McCrumb. Ed: Kimberley M. Holloway. Atlanta: Mercer University Press, 2005. McCrumb’s great-grandfathers were circuit preachers in North Carolina’s Smoky Mountains a hundred years ago, riding horseback over the ridges to preach in a different community each week. It is from them, she says, that she gets her regard for books, her gift of storytelling and public speaking, and her love of the Appalachian Mountains.

“My books are like Appalachian quilts,” says Sharyn McCrumb. “I take brightly colored scraps of legends, ballads, fragments of rural life, and local tragedy, and I piece them together into a complex whole that tells not only a story, but also a deeper truth about the culture of the mountain South.”

McCrumb provides her own point of view about living in and between these cultures in the following excerpts from an interview with Rebecca Laine:

“I always was interested in the songs and the legends. Those from my father’s side of the family always seemed to have so much substance. Mother was from the flatlands of North Carolina around New Bern; that was, I suppose, the Plantation South. Her stories didn’t resonate with me. I guess I wasn’t meant to be a Southern writer in the Pat Conroy sense of the word.”

KIngs's Mountain cover“Hollywood doesn’t seem to pick up on this, but it’s pretty obvious to everyone else that the South has more than one culture. The Flatland South is very different from the Mountain South. The Flatland South was settled primarily by the English, by people who didn’t mind neighbors, who liked living in community. I’ve always joked that the mountain people don’t work and play very well with others.
“The first indication my parents had that they were from two cultures, although they were born only two hundred miles apart, came when my mother first took my father home for Sunday dinner. He was a young second lieutenant in World War II. Miss Helen was dating the entire officer corps from Camp Davis. When it came his turn to go to dinner, her mother put out all the silver and crystal and linen and served fried chicken and homebaked biscuits and green peas and rice. Lt. Arwood took it all, then reached for the cream and sugar… and put it on his rice! In the mountain culture, the Scots-Irish people saw rice as a grain and used it as a breakfast cereal like oatmeal or porridge; in the flatland South, people put gravy on their rice… that’s what the gravy boat was there for. So right there, the cultural chasm was defined.

“On the other side the Arrowoods [pronounced “Arwood”] and the Honeycutts came about the same time, around 1790, to what is now Mitchell County. Today we think of the West as Matt and Miss Kitty and Dodge City, Kansas, but that was the 1880s. In the 1780s the West was the Pennsylvania border around Fort Duquesne and western Carolina and east Tennessee and southwest Virginia. I grew up with all these wonderful stories of relatives finding lost silver mines and running away from armies during the Civil War.”


The Ballad Novels: The Ballad novels are a series of books set in the mountains, weaving together the legends, natural wonders and contemporary issues of Appalachia.

If Ever I Return, Pretty Peggy-O, Scribner (New York, NY) 1990
The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter, Scribner (New York, NY) 1992
She Walks These Hills, Scribner (New York, NY) 1994
The Rosewood Casket, Dutton (New York, NY) 1996
The Ballad of Frankie Silver, Dutton (New York, NY) 1998
The Songcatcher, Dutton (New York, NY) 2001
Ghost Riders, Dutton (New York, NY) 2003
The Devil Amongst the Lawyers, Thomas Dunne (New York, NY) 2010
The Ballad of Tom Dooley, Thomas Dunne (New York, NY) 2011
King’s Mountain: A Ballad Novel (St. Martin’s Press) 2014
Nora Bonesteel’s Christmas Past (Abingdon Press) 2014
Prayers the Devil Answers (Atria) 2016

The NASCAR Novels:
St. Dale, Kensington (New York, NY) 2005
Once Around the Track, Kensington (New York, NY) 2007
Faster Pastor, (with Adam Edwards) – High Country Press (Boone NC) 2010)

Elizabeth MacPherson Novels:
Sick of Shadows, Ballantine (New York, NY) 1984
Lovely in Her Bones, Ballantine (New York, NY) 1985
Highland Laddie Gone, Ballantine (New York, NY) 1986
Paying the Piper, Ballantine (New York, NY) 1988
The Windsor Knot, Ballantine (New York, NY) 1989
Missing Susan, Ballantine (New York, NY) 1990
MacPherson’s Lament, Ballantine (New York, NY) 1992
If I’d Killed Him When I Met Him, Ballantine (New York, NY) 1994
The PMS Outlaws, Ballantine (New York, NY) 2000

The Jay Omega Novels:
Bimbos of the Death Sun, TSR Books 1986
Zombies of the Gene Pool, Simon & Schuster 1992

Short Story Collection:
Foggy Mountain Breakdown, Ballantine (New York, NY) 1997

Website: www.sharynmccrumb.com/

Kathy Shearer

Working for Stuarts ShearerKathy Shearer began collecting oral history in the Russell County coalfields while working on a community rehabilitation project in the 1990s. She found people there eager to tell her stories and show her pictures of their lives in the “old days.” The result of that fortunate collaboration was her first community book, Memories from Dante: The Life of a Coal Town. Three more histories followed, the most recent being Working for Stuarts: Life on One of the Oldest & Largest Cattle Farms East of the Mississippi, a history of the famed Stuart Land & Cattle Company, which spread over four counties in Southwest Virginia.

Kathy ShearerWorking for Stuarts chronicles the labor and lives of people who worked on one of the oldest and largest cattle farms east of the Mississippi, Stuart Land & Cattle Company. Organized in 1884, at its peak, the Stuart Land & Cattle Company’s farmland covered over 45,000 acres, mainly in Russell County, with smaller acreage in Tazewell, Smyth, and Washington counties. The Company had four holdings: the Elk Garden, Rich Mountain, Rosedale, and Clifton farms.

This book presents a history of Stuart Land & Cattle Company and its sister operation, Elk Garden Products, as told by the people who worked the thousands of acres at Clifton, Rosedale, Rich Mountain, and Elk Garden, and the ones who managed the Company. The book contains nearly 100 oral histories and many documents, as well as hundreds of photographs.