Monday, November 24, 2014

Emerging Poet Wins The Writer’s Center’s 2014-15 Undiscovered Voices Scholarship

The Writer’s Center is pleased to announce that poet Caitlin Reid is the recipient of its 2014-15 Undiscovered Voices Scholarship. In this initiative, The Writer’s Center provides a one-year-long scholarship to a promising writer earning less than $25,000 annually. At a time when economic challenges make it difficult for many writers to pursue their literary goals, The Writer’s Center’s Undiscovered Voices program aims to provide that extra professional boost for talented writers like Reid.

With her Undiscovered Voices Scholarship, Reid will receive complimentary writing workshops for a period of one year. During the course of the year, she plans
to take workshops that will help her write a full-length poetry manuscript by her thirty-second birthday in May. “I have found both mentoring and community at The Writer’s Center, and I’d like to continue my education there,” Reid said.

Reid’s poetry has earned scholarships to The Gettysburg Review Writer’s Conference, Wesleyan’s Conference for Writers, and a Murphy Writing Seminar in Wales. She was a finalist for the 2014 Larry Neal Award, and the Millay Colony of Arts has her on a wait-list.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Studio at The Writer's Center

When I came back from East Africa last month with five notepads full of material for a new book, I started looking for a place to sit down and write, and do nothing else. I have a study at home, but it’s full of unfinished business, and in our house there’s a lot of deferred maintenance. So I trolled the internet for an office (nothing under $500/month), or a shared work space (not quite as expensive, but you have to put up with hopeful new entrepreneurs Skyping away at the desk next to you). Then I called Sunil Freeman (Assistant Director of The Writer's Center).

I've known Sunil for more than twenty years. When The Writer’s Center was still on Old Georgetown Road, he and Al Lefcowitz offered computer classes to writers who were trying to make the transition from the Underwood and the fountain pen. I’m looking for a work space, I said. Any ideas?

"Well," he said, "it’s funny that you mention it. While you were away in Africa, we've completely rebuilt the lower level, and turned it into a writer's studio. It’s not totally finished yet, but Stewart (Moss, Executive Director) says you’re welcome to try it out."

So that’s where I’ve been these past three weeks, happily doing my 1,000 words a day.    

Ernest Hemingway did some of his best writing in cafes in Paris and Madrid. He preferred large, airy rooms that were not tomb-silent like a library, but places where people talk in low voices and leave you alone when they pass your table. He even wrote a story about it. He called it "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place," and that’s exactly what you'll find at the new Studio at The Writer's Center on Walsh Street.

For $100 per month, Studio subscribers have access to one of eighteen writers’ carrels with a port for your computer and internet access, a lounge with a coffee maker, and locker space for a small additional fee. Rent three months in advance and pay just $250. Members of The Writer’s Center will receive a 15% discount. For more informaiton, please call us at 301-654-8664.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Writing Non-Fiction and Memoir: What’s Your Appeal?

by Jennifer McLean Marsh

In November, The Writer’s Center-Leesburg hosted Hilary Black, Senior Editor at National Geographic Books, for a fabulous session on writing and publishing engaging non-fiction and memoir at Leesburg First Friday. Black, who edited The Secret Currency of Love (William Morrow), showered audience members with advice on tailoring their writing for books, magazines, and online publications. Her experience in each of these formats evoked some pessimistic observation observations about today’s sales-based publishing culture, in which the number of Facebook followers and Internet clicks can outweigh fact-checking and good writing. But she also offered this paradoxically hopeful advice: Since even great writing might not sell well, it may be easier for an editor—an author’s in-house advocate—to make the case for publishing a first-time writer who has no sales record. Black also shared topics that interest her as a National Geographic editor and placed a special emphasis on women’s personal essay.

While Black gave specific guidance for pitching proposals based on the publication format, she flagged some universal recommendations as well. Among these: Consider your particular audience. Write about subjects you care about, theses you want to prove, emotions you want to work out. Be ready to “go there”—that is, don’t skirt hard topics in memoir or fail to exhaust every source for reported works. Write colorfully and provocatively; be “universal in a non-traditional way.” And practice!

Looking Ahead to 2015

Along the lines of practicing, next year’s theme for Leesburg First Friday events is ACTION. Our speakers will give attendees writing challenges, and the first 30 people who register in the new year will receive a notebook to bring to each program. We will be on hiatus in December and January. Happy holidays, and we look forward to some great revving up exercises in February!

The Writer’s Center-Leesburg Committee offers events the first Friday of every month except for December, January, July, and August. Events are held at the Leesburg Town Hall, 25 W. Market St., Leesburg, VA 20176.

Monday, November 10, 2014

2014 First Novel Prize Winner Announced

The Writer’s Center is pleased to announce that Raoul Wientzen has been awarded the McLaughlin-Esstman-Stearns First Novel Prize for his book, The Assembler of Parts (Arcade Publishing, 2013). Seventy writers applied for the award from across the country and included a diverse pool of voices from a variety of backgrounds and traditions.

Each year, The Writer's Center awards $500 to the author of the best first novel published in the previous calendar year. Conceived and funded by board member Neal P. Gillen, the McLaughlin-Esstman-Stearns Prize honors three dedicated writers and members of The Writer’s Center faculty—Ann McLaughlin, Barbara Esstman, and Lynn Stearns—each of whom unselfishly nourish and inspire students and fellow writers.

The Assembler of Parts is a remarkable modern fable of grief, redemption, and the durability of family love,” said Jessica Handler, author of Invisible Sisters: A Memoir. “With humor, insight, and a touch of the bizarre, the narrator makes us think about the ways we are loved despite our imperfections, and the spark of the divine that makes us human. Raoul Wientzen is a heavenly writer.”

From the start of this extraordinary novel, eight-year-old Jess finds herself in heaven reviewing her short life. She is guided by a being she calls the Assembler of Parts, and her task, as she understands it, is to glean her life’s meaning. From birth, it was obvious that she was unlike other children: she was born without thumbs. The Assembler left out other parts too, she suffers from a syndrome of birth defects that leaves her flawed. But soon it becomes apparent that by her very imperfections she has a unique ability to draw love from—and heal—those around her, from the team of doctors who rally to her care, to the parents who come together over her, to the family friend whom she helps reconcile with an angry past. With a voice full of wisdom and humor, she tells their stories too. Yet, only when she dies suddenly and her parents are suspected of neglect, unleashing a chain of events beyond her healing, does the meaning of her life come into full focus. And only then does the Assembler’s purpose become clear.

Raoul Wientzen is a pediatrician and teacher. He taught pediatrics and pediatric infectious diseases at Georgetown University for more than 30 years, and he is currently the Medical Director of The Rostropovich Foundation, a Non-Governmental Organization that promotes large-scale programs for children in the developing world.

Don’t miss Karen Thompson Walker, winner of the 2013 McLaughlin-Esstman-Stearns First Novel Prize, when she reads from The Age of Miracles on November 16 at 2:00 PM. The reading will be followed by a reception and book signing.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Joram Piatigorsky Reads from Jellyfish Have Eyes

On November 2, Board member and friend to The Writer's Center Joram Piatigorsky read from his new book Jellyfish Have Eyes (IP Books). He read to a packed house, but if you missed it, you can watch it here.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Poems from Emerging Writer Fellow Christopher Goodrich

The Writer's Center congratulates Emerging Writer Fellow Christopher Goodrich on his second book of poems. We are pleased to present four poems excerpted from No Texting at the Dinner Table (NYQ Books, 2014)

Confronting Plagiarism
Frostburg University

You expect tears, groveling,
but not the impossible truth spoken
with convincing pathos by one
Mindy Gillian, genius of English 101.
That it is they who stole from her
How Goethe—lost soul that he is—crept
into her dorm, onto her computer,
how Darwin discovered her essay
on the internet, wrote Origin of Species
without once citing her. Never mind
the needed time travel, we’d figure that out later.
What we wanted now was action.
We were both angry and near crying.
And because I knew the cost
of consequence, the inevitable disaster
if we let this thing get out of hand,
I advised her to sue hard and fast.
I’d prepare the paperwork myself.
With the help of the University’s Judicial Committee
we’d get Confucius on that witness stand,
mere bones now, to shed his tears of desperate dust
for sweet Mindy Gillian’s vast intellect.
Only a matter of time before we’d break
Virgil together. Squeeze Sophocles dry.
Stop Plato’s ridiculous rape of Gillian’s third paper,
the argumentative essay. It’s embarrassing—
to unearth Shakespeare, once legend,
only to expel him, if we have any scruples at all,
from the entire Maryland School System, forever.
Inner City English
North Philadelphia, Mastbaum High School

Students skip through Whitman’s Brooklyn,
Bradstreet’s fire—that Anglo-Saxon vision
of violence—and teacher teaches and Puritans
pray for an answer from an angry God
and below the screaming of early American literature,
the sound of pens pirouetting the paper stage.
Now I remember why I took this job.
Everyone is on task, even Idrees, who I know I’ll fail.
And though he has forgotten his pen and paper, his head is up
which, believe me, is a step forward.
Rhianna, who forgets her journal every day,
has borrowed the needed supplies, answers today’s
essential question. Yesterday’s speech has worked: Respect
and quiet and raising your hand and love
for your peers and blossoming community and I am walking
around the room in awe when almost predictably,
Diamond drops her book, turns to Lavelle,
who cannot quell his laughter and intones:
“Get your motherfucking hands off
my fucking body. I. Will. Fuck. You. Up.”
Rhianna and the rest, in choreographed time,
look from Diamond, who knows she’s right, to me,
their reluctant leader. No one’s head is down.
Everyone listens. They wait. They want to know who I really am.
Advice on Advice

The best you can give, at 2:27am,
to your in-sickness-or-in-health wife
whose nipples are chapped, who’s rocked
for an hour, your whimpering, deflated
second child, who leaks from one eye, whose
indiscernible blaspheming carries with it
the clear repetition of your Christian name,
who sharpens into a stake a sippy-cup on the bottom post
of your marriage bed, who, when you awake,
is chanting over fire, sacrificing a mountain goat,
the best advice you can give at a time like this,
is no advice at all. I found this out on Tuesday evening,
last week. Best not to begin with:
What I would do is, and you need to calm
down because. And speaking from experience,
death will certainly do you part sooner
if you do what appears the sensible, rational,
understated, respectful bowing out, and return to sleep.
This, perhaps, is worse than any advice you
could have given in the first place. I found this out
on Wednesday evening, last week. Shut up and stay awake.
Sit with your back to the headboard,
starring, focused, ahead. Study the lesson with the intensity
of a college freshman. There is paper and pencil
on the bedside table. Take Cornell notes.
Stay afterwards to ask questions. Be the first to arrive
next time. Raise your hand before speaking.
Never, not ever again, not ever ever again
ask to use the bathroom during class.
Tell her, when everyone else departs,
it was your lack of medication that caused the disruption,
and tomorrow you will bring a doctor’s note,
the prescription itself, and the introduction
to your work-in-progress dissertation, the thesis of which
has something to do with the sexual cannibalism
of certain insects: A male’s survival rate post copulation.
The Possibility of Poop

During delivery, I mean.
There was a chance
I would see my wife poop.
We had even discussed it
beforehand, how scared
she was that with the head
of the child would come
the head of something else—
as if the world could not
bestow beauty alone.
Some balance underscored
every glory. But the baby
was, how to say this, not
beautiful either, she hadn’t
yet earned it. Far too gray
and red in funny places,
more orifices than is
possible spitting pus
and a cone head. I mean
this girl had a real cone
head. And we loved that
ugly thing, we knew
it would become human
in minutes before our eyes.
Soon as she looked at us,
we knew her. And, Darling,
not an inch of poop.
Though even if there was
I wouldn’t say because
I love you and I’d like you
to continue to love me
and poop sometimes
gets in the way of love
if you let it, if you admit to it,
if you admit to it every time.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Getting Your Poetry Published

by Michelle Wolf
Guest blogger Michele Wolf, who leads a workshop on How to Get Your Poetry Published this Saturday, November 1 at The Writer’s Center, speaks about her own publishing experiences.  

Years ago, once I had started to submit my poems to literary journals and anthologies, a classified ad in a prominent writers’ magazine caught my attention. The ad sought poems, fiction and photographs for an anthology about women and aging, and I had a poem—“For My Mother,” below—that I thought might be a good fit for it.            

         For My Mother*

I sharpen more and more to your
Likeness every year, your mirror
In height, autonomous
Flying cloud of hair,
In torso, curve of the leg,
In high-arched, prim, meticulous
Feet. I watch my aging face,
In a speeding time lapse,
Become yours. Notice the eyes,
Their heavy inherited sadness,
The inertia that sags the cheeks,
The sense of limits that sets
The grooves along the mouth.
Grip my hand.
Let me show you the way
To revolt against what
We are born to,
To bash through the walls,
To burn a warning torch
In the darkness,
To leave home.

I sent off the poem, and it made the cut. My payment was a few contributors’ copies—until the anthology, When I Am an Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple, took off, winning national awards and eventually selling 1.7 million copies. For several years, thanks to an extremely generous publisher, who sent new contracts to all the contributors, I earned $2,000 to $3,000 annually in royalties. It was an amazing windfall, a real aberration in the poetry world. Of course, I can’t promise that a little miracle like this could also happen for you. But I can offer some tips to boost your odds of making the cut.

If you'd like to place your poems in literary journals and anthologies, what are the best resources for helping you discover which venues are soliciting work? What tactics are best to help you determine the specific publications that are right for you? What is a chapbook? How do you know when your manuscript is ready to submit to a book competition? Is self-publishing a direction to consider?

These are just a few of the questions I will answer in Getting Your Poetry Published. Though it’s exceptionally competitive to get your poems accepted for publication—either in print or Web literary journals or in book form—there are lots of ways to enhance your chances. I look forward to meeting you so I can share what I've learned.

Michele Wolf is the author of Immersion (selected by Denise Duhamel, Hilary Tham Capital Collection), Conversations During Sleep (Anhinga Prize for Poetry) and The Keeper of the Light (Painted Bride Quarterly Poetry Chapbook Series award). Her poems have also appeared in Poetry, The Hudson Review, North American Review, Boulevard, and numerous other literary journals and anthologies. She serves as a contributing editor for Poet Lore. Visit her website.
* “For My Mother,” by Michele Wolf. Published in Conversations During Sleep © 1998 Michele Wolf. Published by Anhinga Press and winner of the Anhinga Prize for Poetry. Originally published in When I Am an Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple, edited by Sandra Martz.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Anam Cara, on Ireland’s West Coast, a Place that Nurtures Creativity

Writer retreats offer authors an opportunity to get away from daily concerns for weeks and focus on their writing. They come in many forms, some in faraway locales, others, closer to home. Long-time workshop leader Solveig Eggerz, who has led workshops as a visiting writer at the Anam Cara retreat in Ireland, shares her interview with director Sue Booth-Forbes.

Last summer I spent one week teaching a memoir class at Anam Cara Writer’s and Artist’s Retreat on the Beara Peninsula and another week doing my own writing. In this beautiful setting of  blue ocean, green meadows, and purple wild rhododendrons, my restless urban world receded and the writing I’d struggled with back home flowed. Having experienced this miracle of unleashed creativity, I was curious to learn about the origins of Anam Cara. In an interview, Anam Cara’s director, Sue Booth-Forbes, who originally hails from Utah, describes Anam Cara  as her dream realized. Back in 1997, she was working at a stressful job in Boston and ready to make some changes in her life.
What inspired you to found Anam Cara?
In August 1997, I decided to spend a month in a thatched cottage overlooking Galway Bay in Connemara, Ireland, with two longtime writer friends. We organized our days around our own writing. I hired a horse for the month and learned the skills necessary to run the beautiful cottage—building turf fires, picking and preparing our huge harvest of blackberries, using stones from the strand to cook Kansas-style barbecued ribs. 
How did that experience impact your own writing?
We all found that the rhythm of life and nature in Connemara supported our writing and our souls. Our days there became the model for Anam Cara. I discovered that if I had a place where I could slow down inside—enough to hear my own voice—I could do my best creative work. My daughter Maren and I spent the first week of December 1997 buying Anam Cara, which means “soul friend,” named in the hope that it would house many, including myself, who would become soul friends to themselves and to each other. By June 1998, I had moved in and had begun recreating for others what I had experienced.
How did you choose the house for Anam Cara?
Claudia Harris, a writer and English professor, who ten years before had introduced me to her beloved Ireland, came to West Cork. Claudia saw a "For Sale" sign on a house with a lovely view. She had visited us in Connemara and knew that she was seeing here what I had described to her as what I was seeking. That house is now this retreat and my home.
Over 400 books fill the alumni shelves and art work covers the walls at Anam Cara. Can you talk about the origin of these works?
The books are written by writers-in-residence, the art created by artists-in-residence, the end products of people pursuing their passion, honing their skills, and giving themselves permission and time to retreat from the dailiness of their lives. These include Jhumpa Lahiri, Billy Collins, Leanne O'Sullivan, Alex Barclay, and nearly 1,000 other creative people, who found that working at Anam Cara supported their producing their best work. One of the first writers to come to Anam Cara said that the peace of Anam Cara and of Beara made it possible to quiet down inside and hear her own voice.
What would you say to writers and artists planning a retreat at Anam Cara? 
Come focused on your work and replace any expectations with your good intentions for your time on retreat. The best part of being Anam Cara's director is getting to know the writers- and artists-in-residence and their work. They have taught me much about the creative process. Your genre or medium may be similar to someone else's, but your approach and creative process are always unique and inspirational. My aim is to provide a space for you, as you work with your creative gifts, that will help you recognize the "soul friend" in yourself, in your work, and in others.
To contact Sue Booth-Forbes at Anam Cara Writer’s and Artist’s Retreat, please visit

Solveig Eggerz is the author of the award-winning novel Seal Woman. Her writing has appeared in The Northern Virginia Review, Palo Alto Review, Lincoln Review, Midstream, Issues, The Journal of the Baltimore Writers’ Alliance, The Christian Century, and Open Windows: An Anthology. She holds a Ph.D. in comparative literature with a focus on medieval English, German, and Scandinavian works.