The 2016 Writers' Day of the Virginia Highlands Festival in Abingdon, Virginia, features a variety of workshops for writers in several genres. The events take place Friday, July 29, from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at Virginia Highlands Community College.
Featured writers include Sharyn McCrumb, the acclaimed author of many historical novels set in the Appalachian region; poet Don Johnson, recently retired as professor and poet-in-residence from East Tennessee State University; Catherine Bush, the playwright-in-residence at Barter Theatre; and Kathy Shearer, who has compiled several oral histories of Southwest Virginia communities and organizations.
McCrumb is best known for her Appalachian "Ballad" novels, which weave together the history and legends, natural wonders and contemporary issues of Appalachia. Some of her beloved novels include "She Walks These Hills," "The Rosewood Casket" and "The Songcatcher." Her new novel, "Prayers the Devil Answers," published in May 2016, examines one of the most famous public executions in U.S. history. Her workshops deal with how to research Appalachian history and mythology for incorporation into fiction and developing sensitivity to word choices and the rhythms of language as you write fiction.
Johnson is recently retired from East Tennessee State University where he taught English, was poet-in-residence and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. He has published four books of poetry, the most recent of which is "More Than Heavy Rain." He has published short stories, numerous critical articles on Appalachian writers, Seamus Heaney, and American fiction writer, Richard Ford. One of Johnson's workshops helps poets develop the ability to put concreteness, specificity and organization in their poetry. The other one gives poets tips on how to recreate seminal events in their lives in poetic form.
Bush, Barter Theatre's playwright-in-residence, has had more than 10 plays produced by Barter and more than 20 youth plays produced by the Barter Players. Her original works have included "I'll Never Be Hungry Again," "Tradin' Paint," "Wooden Snowflakes" and "The Road to Appomattox." Her new musical "Winter Wheat" about the suffragette movement is on the Barter schedule for October. Both of Bush's workshops are introductions to playwriting, one for original work and the other one for adapting works from other media into play form.
Shearer's oral histories have included "Memories from Dante: The Life of a Coal Town" and three others. Her most recent work is "Working for Stuarts: Life on One of the Oldest and Largest Cattle Farms East of the Mississippi," a history of the famed Stuart Land and Cattle Company, which spread over four counties in Southwest Virginia. One of Shearer's workshops instructs writers on the techniques for collecting oral histories, while the other one emphasizes the best practices for research in writing histories, sorting through primary and secondary sources.
Preregistration for Writers' Day workshops is available on the festival website, www.vahighlandsfestival.org. Onsite registration begins at 8 a.m. outside the Keyser-Aday Theatre at Virginia Highlands Community College, followed by an introductory reading by each of the writers at 9 a.m. The morning and afternoon workshops are held at 10 a.m., 1:15 p.m. and 3 p.m. There are opportunities for book sales and signings throughout the day.
The registration fee is $30. All students who are in high school, college or university are admitted to the day's events free of charge, funding being provided by the Poetry Society of Virginia.
Included with the registration fee is a ticket to "An Evening of Words and Music," at 7 p.m. at Heartwood. This event is a showcase of readings by participants McCrumb, Johnson and Bush, accompanied by music from award-winning musicians Wyatt Rice, Claiborne Woodall and Jack Hinshelwood. Rice and Woodall frequently play as a guitar duo together throughout the region. Hinshelwood is the executive director of The Crooked Road, based at Heartwood, and a longtime guitar accompanist to McCrumb's reading from her Ballad novels.
For more information about these events, including detailed descriptions of Writers' Day workshops and online registration, visit www.VaHighlandsFestival.org.