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2018 Writers’ Day

July 27, 2018 @ 8:00 am - 4:30 pm

| Free – $40


July 27, 2018
8:00 am - 4:30 pm
Free – $40
Event Category:


Virginia Highlands Community College
100 VHCC Drive
Abingdon, VA 24210 United States
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Event Date:
Friday, July 27, 2018 – 8:00am to 4:30pm

Registration Information

Tickets $40, students attend free
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Writers’ Day is a unique opportunity for writers (and the general public) to learn from regional authors and those who write about Appalachia. There’s something for everyone— writing for children and young adults, poetry, literary and popular fiction and a special storytelling workshop.

The day of workshops concludes with an evening of the presenters reading from their works accompanied by local musicians. Writers’ Day attendees will be admitted free.

Event Schedule

8:00 – 9:00am Registration
9:00 – 10:00am Opening Session: A Workshop with Adriana Trigiani
10:30am – 12:00pm Workshops with RJ Harris, Rita Quillen and Joan Donaldson
12:00 – 1:15pm Lunch, Book sales and Signings.
1:15 – 2:45pm Workshops with RJ Harris, Rita Quillen, and Joan Donaldson
3:00 – 4:30pm Workshop with Eugene Wolf and a Self-publishing Workshop.
7:00 – 9:00pm Words & Music

Writers’ Workshops

9:15am – Your Creative Life
Presenter: Adriana Trigiani, Keynote Speaker

Adriana Trigiani will open the day’s events with a lecture/workshop in which she will share with participants an overview of the writing life, practical steps to create a sacred space to work, and tips for the daily care and feeding of their imagination to tell their own stories through the craft of writing. There will be plenty of time for questions and answers from the audience. Participants should be prepared to write.

10:30am – Authorial Distance: Using POV, Tense, and Word Choice To Control Characters
Presenter: RJ Harris

Ever written from the POV of a character from a different gender, race, time, or life experience? Do you find your own voice intruding at the most inopportune times? If so, you might need to show your characters some tough love by providing distance—or lack thereof—from characters who need strong, independent voices of their own. Choosing the right POV, tense, and words of distance are crucial to creating memorable characters your audience will love for years to come.

10:30am – Expanding Your Writing Territory
Presenter: Rita Quillen

This workshop will focus on using two poetic forms: the ghazal and the pantoum, as a stimulus to branch out in your writing. The fact that both forms were originally associated with another language, place, and culture besides English/Western and the fact they both are very structured and challenging, yet don’t require any end rhyming, makes for some intriguing work. Moving out into unfamiliar forms is often just the stimulus the writer needs to come up with new poems, even if they wind up abandoning the form. Please come prepared to write!

10:30am – Writing for Children: The Opening Page
Presenter: Joan Donaldson

The opening sentence of a book must grab readers’ attentions in order for them to continue reading through the first paragraph, and finally the first page. How do authors create compelling stories? Donaldson and participants will explore elements of craft as displayed by various children’s authors and consider how these writers shaped their stories. Participants are encouraged to bring the first page from their work-in-progress, and if time permits, the workshop leader will guide a discussion of selected pages.

1:15pm – A Chilling in my Bones: How Past and Present Merge to Inspire Story
Presenter: RJ Harris

Though we all come from different life experiences, one thing we all have in common is a past. Whether it centers around fond childhood memories or tragedies that leave us forever changed, our sense of history and family shapes our lives and the stories we tell. Learn more about how different types of history (including family genealogy, local history, folklore, legends, and superstitions) can flow through our writing to create complicated characters, unique settings, and haunting plotlines that not only appeal to readers but also showcase who you are and where you come from.

1:15pm – A Lightning Round
Presenter: Rita Quillen

We will look at some poems and excerpts from prose for examples and will then do a series of quick hit-and-run writing prompts. This workshop will be suitable for not only poets but prose writers as well. Our goal will be to generate some ideas you can develop later into poems, stories, or essays. The benefits to the writer of pursuing both prose and poetry will be discussed. Please come prepared to write!

1:15pm – The Familiar Essay: Blending Brain and Heart
Presenter: Joan Donaldson

The narrative nonfiction writer, Anne Fadiman, defines the familiar essay as “a cross between a critical essay, with more brain than heart, and the personal essay, that displays more heart than brain.” Donaldson will examine storytelling techniques employed by nonfiction writers to fashion essays with drama and meaning. In addition, participants will look at Fadiman’s writings as examples of familiar essays and discover how to add details that will blend the characteristics of brain and heart.

3:00pm – The Business of Independence: Are You Ready to Self-Publish?
Presenter: Panel of Writers

If you’re considering publishing your work independently, this workshop covers it all. Whether you want to publish and sell locally or distribute across multiple markets—or if you’re trying to decide if self-publishing is the right path for you—learn how to get your project from your computer to your target audience. This self-publishing workshop will cover all the hard work involved in creating your own high-quality product. The panel, moderated by Kathy Shearer, will also include Rita Quillen, Rebekah Harris, and Joan Donaldson.

3:00pm – Making Art of Who and What You Are
Presenter: Eugene Wolf

How do you shape your stories and songs into a cohesive work of art? Eugene Wolf has been singing, acting and telling stories since the age of two. And now, at 63, he has brought it all to fruition in The Book of Mamaw, a hilarious one-man show of songs and stories about growing up with a grandmother who attended the Church of Christ. He will talk about the power of “using the dirt you come from to make a satisfying mudpie that can feed the multitudes.” Wolf’s tips can be applicable to any genre of writing, whether poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, drama, songwriting, or even screenwriting.

Writers’ Biographies

Adriana Trigiani has become much beloved around the world for her novels, including the Big Stone Gap and the Valentine trilogies, The Shoemaker’s Wife, Lucia, Lucia, All the Stars in the Heavens, and the recent Kiss Carlo. The New York Times has called her a ”comedy writer with a heart of gold” and Trigiani often notes, “If there is one thing I hope my books do always and forever, it’s that they honor working people.” Trigiani wrote and directed the film adaptation of Big Stone Gap, shot entirely in her hometown, which starred Ashley Judd, Patrick Wilson, Jenna Elfman, and Whoopi Goldberg.


Joan Donaldson is the author of works in a variety of genres, primarily for young people. Her two picture books are The Secret of the Red Shoes and The Real Pretend. Her most famous young adult work, On Viney’s Mountain, is set in the historic utopian community of Rugby, Tennessee. Her collection of essays, Wedded to the Land, about farm life, includes the selection, “Saint George and the Dragon” that won the 2007 Hearst Prize for Excellence in Literary Nonfiction. She has contributed essays to The Christian Science Monitor and has recorded features from her farm for the Kalamazoo NPR affiliate, WMUK. Donaldson earned a MFA from Spalding University with a concentration in creative nonfiction and a minor in writing for children.


RJ Harris has been writing since she could hold a pencil. The beauty of her home in the Appalachian Mountains, along with the legends, myths, and folklore of that area, is what inspires the unique plots and settings captured in her young adult fiction. She is the author of the Native Guardians series, a four-book series that includes: The Spirit Breather, The Spirit Warrior, The Spirit Battle, and The Spirit Reaping (Fall 2018). In addition to her love of all things fictional, Harris is also a freelance writer and editor, a public speaker, and an occasional adjunct professor.


Rita Quillen is one of the region’s finest poets. Her new volume, The Mad Farmer’s Wife, is a response to a life lived on a mountain cattle farm in Southwest Virginia and also to a poetic persona created by noted Kentucky poet and essayist Wendell Berry over thirty years ago: the Mad Farmer. Quillen has also published two previous volumes of poetry, Counting the Sums and Her Secret Dreams, as well as a novel Hiding Ezra, set in Scott County, Virginia, about a man during World War I who has to choose between participating in World War I or taking care of his family. Rita is retired from a career in college English teaching.


Kathy Shearer loves to tell people that she started writing a book because of a sewer. (There is a good story there!) This pulled her into a culture that she knew nothing about and after several years, the result was Memories from Dante, a 525-page book of oral histories and old photos anchored in an old coal town. A book that resonated deeply with the storytellers and their families, and that started her career as a self-publisher of local history. Through her small company, Clinch Mountain Press, Kathy has published four more of her own books plus a few for other people, handling all the facets of the production from the writing to the marketing, and she is eager to share her methods.


Eugene Wolf is an actor/storyteller who has been performing since he was two years old. He was a 16-year member of Johnson City’s original Road Company Theater and a 20-year member of Barter Theatre’s acting company. As half of the country duo, The Brother Boys, he and Ed Snodderly have performed throughout the country and appeared on recordings with Jerry Douglas, Alison Krauss and Dolly Parton. At Barter Theatre, Wolf is best known for his signature role as A. P. Carter in Keep on the Sunny Side which was seen by more people than any play in Barter’s history. He is also remembered for his roles as varied as Iago in Othello and the creature in Frankenstein.