I attended my first completely online conference this past weekend, when the Tennessee Mountain Writers, Inc. (TMWI) held their annual conference via Zoom. I had attended a TMWI Workshop back in January that was undertaken through Zoom, and it worked seamlessly, so I had great confidence in the Board’s abilities to get things done. Still, two days of Zoom sessions seemed a bit daunting in both theory and practice. Loving this group and all that they stand for, however, I decided to take the chance and sign up for the conference. I was not disappointed!

Karen McElmurray served double duties for the conference, leading workshops on both days, as well as delivering the conference’s General Session on Saturday afternoon, where we learned more about “Writing Wonder.” Likewise, former North Carolina Poet Laureate, Joseph Bathanti, led workshops both days before bringing us the Keynote Address on Saturday evening. Joseph’s topic, “Stories Can Save Us,” dealt with his work with helping a group of North Carolina Vietnam Veterans record their stories creatively and try to help heal their decades-long wounds brought home from their military conflicts. To learn more, Google keywords like Brothers Like These, Bruce Kelly, Joseph Bathanti, Asheville. I promise, you will be moved, and will be inclined to agree with the presentation’s title – yes, “Stories Can Save Us,” and do!

Other workshop speakers tackled a bunch of topics. Rita Reali talked about Editing and Character Development. Tracy Barrett was our resident Children’s Literature expert for two sessions. Kim Trevathan tackled Nonfiction Narrative Nature Writing and Memoir/Personal Narrative. Stellasue Lee spoke on Journaling: Saying the Unsayable. Jennie Ivey addressed the Inspirational Writing Market. 

My two favorite regular sessions were delivered by Joseph Bethanti and Jennie Ivey. 

Joseph’s session on “The Poetry of Witness” was both inspiring and thought-provoking. He borrows the phrase from writer Carolyn Forche. For more about the ideas behind it, Google “Poetry of Witness” and “Carolyn Forche.” The crux of the idea is that poetry is created by those who have witnessed war, imprisonment, torture, slavery, etc. Joseph’s workshop focuses even more on the events and scenarios of life in the past 2-4 years as opportunities (maybe even obligations) for us to create our own Poetry of Witness, because we have, as normal citizens, witnessed so very much.

Jennie’s session on writing for the Inspirational Market was well-done and very informative. Her approach gives a lot of great details about her personal experiences writing for the Guidepost Family of Magazines and Chicken Soup for the Soul, and sharing invaluable tips and examples on how to improve your chances if this is a market in which you’re interested in submitting to/writing for. There are several upcoming Chicken Soup deadlines that others who are interested in the market should check out. www.chickensoup.com 

Additional activities included Workshop Leader Readings on Friday evening, then Readings by      2020 Contest Winners on Saturday Evening. The Annual Business Meeting also took place on Saturday morning. All of this happened through Zoom, and, so far as we could tell on our end, things went without a hitch. Many thanks to the TMWI Board, Zoom Gurus, and Presenters for making the whole experience so successful, delightful, and truly engaging! Next year’s Conference is set for The DoubleTree in Oak Ridge, TN, from April 7-9. Hope to see everyone there! For more info, follow the Tennessee Mountain Writers at www.TMWI.org