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Bringing writers together
WV Writers annual conference
Bringing writers together
By Belinda Anderson
Networking has been the hallmark of Fay Thompson’s tenure as president of West Virginia Writers, Inc. (WVW).
It’s difficult to lead an organization in a state where members are so geographically distant from each other, but Thompson has worked hard to put writers in touch with each other and to help them find opportunities.
Thompson, primarily a fiction writer, has found success herself in such diverse publications as Woman’s World Magazine, First for Women, Grit, Star Magazine, Appalachian Log, Lover’s Knot, Confluence and Writer’s Digest, as well as markets in South Africa, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. She also has a critiquing service and is mentor to several writers.
The recipient of a 1998 Literature Fellowship from the West Virginia Commission on the Arts, Thompson has taught creative writing classes in West Virginia adult education programs and has served as a workshop leader at the WVW annual conference and the Goldenrod Writers Conference. She also led workshops for the joint West Virginia Humanities Council/WVW Circuit Writers Program.
Thompson has held several positions with WVW, including contest administrator, regional representative and first vice president. She has won several awards herself, including first place in The Charleston Stage Company’s new play competition in 1999 and honorable mention in the Writer’s Digest short story and articles competition.
In a recent e-mail exchange, Thompson discussed WVW, its goals and its future.
What does WVW offer?
We are a statewide organization, the only one of its kind in West Virginia. We offer members a web page, e-mail newsletter, subscription to ArtWorks, membership in the WVW Roundtable, a Yahoo Discussion Group, a free online critique site, fellowship with other writers, an annual conference, a prestigious writing competition offering cash prizes. We help beginning writers find their way and provide contest, publication and marketing information.
How and when did you become involved with WVW?
In 1991, I read a short story of mine at a writers group, and someone suggested I enter it in WVW competition. I’d been a writer for years, and had no idea this organization held its annual conference five miles from my home near Ripley. I attended and was hooked. Over the years I’ve only missed one annual conference.
What have been your goals as president? How have they been met?
I wanted over a thousand entries in our annual writing competition. Hopefully, we’ll make that this year.
I wanted an online discussion group. We’ve accomplished that with our WVW Roundtable, a Yahoo discussion group for West Virginians who write. (The Roundtable now has 88 members.) One doesn’t have to be a member of WVW to participate in this group or the critique group. I wanted an online boardroom for quick, easy communication with our board of directors. We’ve accomplished that. I wanted comprehensive manuals outlining duties and rules of procedure. That should be finished by June 2003.
I saw a need for a free critique service. We now have that as another Yahoo discussion group.
I wanted all past members to renew their memberships. This has been a journey, and we’re still working on it.
I saw a need for more frequent communication with our membership. We’re working on this, too.
And now for my wish list. And sometimes that’s just what it is. Wishes. I’d like to see a county representative for each county. We are so scattered, we really need county chapters in order to accomplish our goals and plow fertile ground for our state’s writers.
I’d like to see a mentoring service, where seasoned writers mentor up-and-coming writers. An advisory board of “names” would be great. I’d like to publish a monthly newsletter, but postage rates keep climbing, making this a nearly impossible dream.
I’d like all past members to renew their memberships and show they are interested in making a difference in these hills when it comes to the written word. I’d like to see a member alert system where a member calls six others with information and each of those, in turn, calls six.
We could use more volunteers. As an all-volunteer organization, volunteers are our life’s blood. Without volunteers, a few dedicated members end up doing all the work, making burn-out inevitable.
What are the group’s biggest strengths?
Our fundamental principles are our greatest strengths. WVW was established in 1977 by invitation of the West Virginia Arts and Humanities Council. We are founded on the principle that the written word is one of the distinguishing characteristics of all human endeavors. Our aim is to expand and develop creative writing and professional opporunities for writers and connect the state’s writers with others in the literary community and the public at large. We are bound together by a common goal — to support and encourage serious writing; promote writing as an art form; give voice to our people and way of life; expose the public, particularly our children, to the importance of writing; encourage appreciation of the literary arts; and strive to expand the horizons and deepen the appreciation of life, culture and communication among writers and all West Virginia citizens.
What are its greatest challenges?
Trying to remain a cohesive group with a common goal when we are scattered all over the state. Trying to stay in touch with only one meeting a year — our annual conference at Cedar Lakes in Ripley — makes this very difficult. E-mail has helped immensely. Now, if members would just inform our secretary when they change their e-mail address. Trying to get members to renew their membership is another challenge. We work on a very tight budget, and dues are critical. We are very proud of our annual writing competition, and its success is extremely important to our organization. We want to urge all writers, members or not, to enter. This year we have nine adult categories and three student categories.
What do you want writers in West Virginia to know?
I want them to know we are here, ready and willing to assist any writer who needs our help. Whatever stage they are in with their writing, our members have either been there or are just embarking on that long, lonely journey. We can help.
Rene Descartes once said: “I think; therefore, I am.” WVW has taken that a couple of steps further. We say, “I speak; therefore, I am for but a moment. I write; therefore, I am eternal.” Remember that the next time you’re ready to give up. And give WVW a call.
WVW membership dues are $20; students may join for $10. Contact Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her phone number is 372-9889 and her address is Rt. 6 Box 40, Ripley, WV 25271. Belinda Anderson is a past regional representative and first vice president of WVW.