By Whitney Jones
No matter their skill level, creative writers seeking to improve their craft flocked to Union for a day that exposed them to the work of other talented writers and sharpened the newer writers into better wordsmiths.
Creative writers from Union and several area high schools joined together to critique their work, compete in a writing competition and listen to an award-winning author at an annual creative writing event at Union University, March 3.
This year the event featured Lorraine Lopez, associate professor of English at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. Her book, “Call Me Henri,” won the Paterson Prize for Young Adult Literature, and her short story collection, “Homicide Survivors Picnic,” was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction.
Dr. Chris Bailey, visiting instructor of English, is working closely with Lopez in her master of fine arts program at Murray (Ky.) State University and helped bring the award-winning author in to read to aspiring writers.
Bailey introduced Lopez as an imaginative and gifted writer and praised the speaker’s work in front of the crowd of students and faculty.
“Lorraine has the facility to seek out not only tragedy and humor in her characters’ lives and paint up a scene with narrative power that is all at once beautiful, warm and generous,” Bailey said. “She writes with a savvy and skillful hand to accomplish what some critics have defined as influential and necessary works of prose in today’s literary landscape.”
Lopez read “Sugar Boots,” a short story from her collection about a tabby cat and its owners’ struggles, to a crowd of faculty, Union students and high school creative writers.
Julia Appleton, sophomore English major who worked one-on-one with some of the high school students in one of several workshops offered, said she enjoyed hearing the short story read by its author.
“It’s really neat to know the tones, the way the characters are speaking and their attitudes,” she said. “You get exactly that hearing an author read (his or her) own work.”
Before the reading, the high school students attended workshops led by Union professors and English students, which was followed by a lunch break and an awards ceremony where the winners of the competition were announced.
Dr. Bobby Rogers, professor of English, said the workshops gave students a chance to step up and pass on their knowledge to younger writers.
“It gives our college students experience teaching,” Rogers said. “They get to lead small-group workshops in which high school students write original work that gets critiqued.”
At the awards ceremony, the winning students, both college and high school, read their work for the audience. The first-place winners in the college competition included Renae Matz, senior English major, for poetry; Michael O’Malley, junior English major, for fiction; and Ellen Cline, freshman undecided major, for creative nonfiction.
Rogers said he enjoyed listening to his students share their work with fellow writers.
“It’s a lot of fun to hear our students’ work,” Rogers said.
Participating high schools in Jackson included Madison Academic, North Side High School and Jackson Christian School. Other Tennessee high schools involved in the creative writing workshop and competition were Lake County High School in Tiptonville, Hardin County High School in Savannah, Milan High School and Peabody High School in Trenton.