By Noche Gauthier, reporter
Award-winning writer Ann Pancake hosted a masterclass at Shepherd University for local writers on Sept. 28 as part of the ongoing literary series Appalachian Heritage Writer-in-Residence Festival, which features a different Appalachian writer every year and their selected body of work.
The festival finds its focus in writing; but also features concerts, photographic exhibits, and a night of storytelling with folklorist and educator Adam Booth. The festival’s literary events merge at the end of the year in a publication spear-headed by each year’s chosen author, called, “The Anthology of Appalachian Writers.”
Previous Writers-in-Residence have included New York Times best-selling author and Pulitzer Prize Winner—Barbara Kingsolver, Southern Book Prize winner and Kentucky Poet Laureate, Silas House; and Grammy-nominee and Rosa Parks Woman of Courage Award recipient, Nikki Giovanni. The Writer-in-Residence is selected yearly by Shepherd University’s Appalachian Studies Dept. and The West Virginia Center for the Book.
Dr. Sylvia Shurbutt, head of Appalachian Studies at Shepherd, emphasized that the festival is to “promote conversations about fine writing.”
The masterclass’ aim is to create community involvement with Appalachia’s literary scene. The crowd was a mix of Shepherd students, writers local to Jefferson County, and those simply interested in the arts.
“The objective of the masterclass,” said Shurbutt, “Is for writers and poets to hear constructive feedback from Ann Pancake and I, as well as the audience.” The masterclass featured seven participants who read short fiction, poetry, or essay excerpts and received both written and live commentary, including praise for other writers.
“We have to consider the economy of poetry,” Pancake said, emphasizing New York Times published and Ohio Poet Laureate Kari Gunter-Seymour’s lyrical, yet evocative poetry. She noted that every word in Gunter-Seymour’s work, “Fits, or has a very intentional place.”
“I believe that events such as the one presented by Ann Pancake serve to bring more awareness towards the appreciation and love many of the people in Appalachia share for their heritage and livelihood,” Shepherd Sophomore Josiah Wink said. “Programs such as the masterclass allow candidates pursuing their Master’s or Bachelor’s degree to experience firsthand one of the main principles Appalachia is known for, which is our storytelling.”
Among the other keynote speakers was Pushcart Prize nominee and local poet, Tom Donlon, who read a poem entitled, “Pythagorean Theorem,” a crowd favorite during the masterclass.
While commenting on Pancake’s poetry, he said “Ann Pancake’s poetry is very activism-focused, which is very important. Everything we heard today, the poetry and prose, it’s just all very interesting to me.”
Submissions open this month for the “Anthology of Appalachian Writers, Ann Pancake Volume” which will feature both masterclass participants and writers of all levels from all over the region. There is no age restriction on submissions; students and veteran writers are welcome to submit prose, poetry, essays, or creative nonfiction to be featured. Copies of the volume will be available in the spring of 2024 and can be purchased through the Shepherd University Bookstore and Four Seasons Books on German Street in Shepherdstown. Festival events are set to pick up again in Sept. 2024 and will feature West Virginia Poet Laureate, Marc Harshman as the Writer-in-Residence.