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Chippewa Valley Writers Guild sets sights on summer sessions

| Erin Finneman

This time of year it seems as though summer will never come to western Wisconsin. The days of windy walks across the UW-Eau Claire footbridge and drifting snowbanks seem endless. However, one UW-Eau Claire professor has his sights set on the warm days of summer a little bit early this year.

B.J. Hollars, an associate professor of English at UW-Eau Claire and the founder of the Chippewa Valley Writers Guild, has been working hard to organize and promote a unique writing opportunity for writers from all over the country. This summer, the Chippewa Valley Writers Guild will host five writing residencies that will be taking place at Cirenaica, a quaint cabin in the woods just outside of Fall Creek, Wisconsin. This is the second summer the residencies will be offered, and many participants from last year can’t wait to get back for more.

Jay Gilbertson, a published author and Cirenaica enthusiast, is excited for what's in store this year and reflects fondly on his first experience.

“I am still in touch with many of the students (as well as both instructors) I shared classes and workshops with,” Gilbertson said. “The networking and connections available are truly worth the really reasonable price. What B.J. has created in Fall Creek is pretty dang incredible and important and really, really useful to not only a new writer, but anyone wanting to be a better writer.”

Throughout June and July there will be five authors featured as well as some additional guest speakers. Allyson Goldin Loomis, Max Garland, Nickolas Butler, Marsha Qualey and June Melby will host the residencies, teaching writers new skills ranging from the theory and practice of fiction to poetry in the shadow of Walden. Each residency will entail three days of workshops and community building. This retreat aims to gather writers from all places and all skill levels. As Hollars said, “Everyone has something to gain, whether you have been writing for decades or days.”

Although Hollars and a team of authors and community members have been central to making the events at Cirenaica possible, UW-Eau Claire and several of its students have made a huge impact as well. The UW-Eau Claire Foundation has supported the Chippewa Valley Writers Guild from the start, and this year several Blugolds will have major roles at Cirenaica.

Erin Stevens, a 2014 UW-Eau Claire alumna with a creative writing degree, will work on marketing and advertising for the residencies through social media. She takes her role very seriously, because her experience at the residencies last year has stuck with her in a big way.

“One of the things I miss most about being a creative writing major at UW-Eau Claire is the community I found in my workshop classes,” Stevens said. “I was instantly connected with instructors and students who I could trust to offer constructive and supportive feedback on my work. Once I graduated, I felt like I was losing that community. When I went to Cirenaica last summer, I was excited to find that community once again.”

For writers like Stevens who feel as though life gets in the way sometimes, Cirenaica offers the perfect opportunity to get focused creatively. “When I graduated from college, I thought that I'd have more time to focus on my writing,” Stevens said. “That hasn't been as easy as I thought it'd be. I'm looking forward to mornings spent out on the deck at the Cirenaica cabin, while sipping a cup of coffee and only thinking about writing the story or essay that's right in front of me.”

Along with Stevens, another UW-Eau Claire alum was able to add spice to last year’s events and will be back for more this year. Chef Brent Halverson, a 2007 creative writing graduate, provides the meals throughout all of the residencies, and participants are still raving about his food in the meantime. His creativity in the kitchen is sure to spark creativity on paper.

From students to experienced authors to community members, everyone is encouraged to get involved with this relaxing and invigorating retreat, Hollars said.

“We really want to get as many writers involved as possible. It's exciting to get serious writers together to support one another. The connections that are made at Cirenaica have astounded me, and that’s really why I want to see people get involved. I always smile when I think of stories I heard from last year. I remember hearing about a 25-year-old man from San Francisco becoming close friends with an elderly participant and they went to get pizza in Eau Claire at midnight. That’s what this is all about — making connections that you just don’t get other places.”

The Northwoods is calling, and if you answer, expect some great food, a supportive community and endless inspiration on the other end. Visit cvwritersguild.org for pricing, specific residency dates and more.

Photo caption: Writers collaborate during a Chippewa Valley Writers Guild workshop at Cirenaica outside of Fall Creek. (Photo courtesy of Justin Patchin)