Thursday, September 24, 2015

People of the Word

I've been touring around with Hotel Worthy since it was released in March. I've read at Piccolo Spoleto and gotten to know beautiful Charleston, SC. It was a hot July Sunday when I read in the Joaquin Miller Poetry Series in Rock Creek Park - a real pleasure to join Grace Cavalieri for the first time.
Always, whether the event is large or small, local or distant, a
Reading in the Dock Street Theater courtyard at Piccolo Spoleto
poetry reading draws the "People of the Word," those who treasure language and make the effort to seek it out in a noisy world. New friends and old - always the chance to make that connection.
I am looking forward to reading Oct. 9 for the Center for Women Writers at Salem College, then Oct. 10 in Fairmont, WV, for the 34th Kestrel Festival. It's hard to believe that it has been 34 years, 34 festivals, since I met Marty Lammon and John King to discuss starting a magazine. Sadly, John is no longer with us.
There will be old friends at both places - and new ones. I am excited about the Cervantes festival  taking place in Durham and the region. One literary event is planned for Oct. 12, and I will take part in a second on Nov. 23. More about that later!

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Homeward Bound

I read the other day that Paul Simon wrote "Homeward Bound" while on a train trip in or around Manchester, England. That song was a favorite when I was a teenager, though I'd traveled no farther than Maine, and still calls up strong emotion when I hear it.
So it's not surprising that when I connected with the folks at Kestrel literary journal to appear again this year at the Kestrel Festival in October, that music began playing in my thoughts. Kestrel was a special part of my years in West Virginia, where I began my work as a writer, gained my first publications, and then was "brought into the fold" as a literary magazine editor with the nascent Kestrel.
Martin Lammon and the late John King and I would gather over coffee at the Poky Dot restaurant in Fairmont, WV, a classic "breakfast all day" diner that's been upscaled in recent years, to exchange our stacks of manuscripts and discuss what we liked, and what we weren't certain about. I'm proud that in those early years were published many writers who were already well known or who would go on to gain distinction nationally.
Soon after the magazine began, we started thinking about a festival of literature, art, and music. That came to be, and we hosted such luminaries as Donald Hall and Jean Valentine and Margaret Gibson and many others.
Mary Dillow Stewart would join the editorial team, then John Hoppenthaler. I left West Virginia in 1997, but Kestrel is still going strong, under the leadership of Donna Long and Suzanne Heagy and Elizabeth Savage. The festival, too, endures.
If you are in or around Fairmont, WV, on Oct. 9-11, catch the events at the university and venues in town. I will be reading Saturday at 2 p.m. and doing manuscript consultations.
Here are some other readings this fall, after a very busy summer that took me to Piccolo Spoleto Festival and the Joaquin Miller Reading Series in Washington, DC:

SEPT. 20 - 4 p.m. - Reading at the New Bern- Craven County Public Library, New Bern, NC.

OCT. 4 - Reading at The Joyful Jewel, Pittsboro, NC.

OCT. 9 - 7 p.m. - Reading at the Center for Women Writers, Salem College, Winston-Salem NC.

OCT. 10 - Kestrel Festival, Fairmont State University, Fairmont, WV. Reading at 2 p.m., manuscript consultations.

OCT. 18 - 3 p.m. - Reading at Common Grounds at Deep Roots Market, Greensboro NC.

OCT. 25 - 2 p.m. - "Hotel Worthy" reading in the NC Poetry Society Series at McIntyre's Books, Fearrington Village, NC

NOV. 23 - 6 p.m. -Cameron Village Regional Library, invited guest for the literary gathering in celebration of Cervantes. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Books by Valerie Nieman’s Bed

I enjoyed taking part in the "Books by the Bed" feature at We Wanted to Be Writers. It's a bit of a fiction, however, as I just chose a handful of volumes from the stacks by the bed, ignoring the musch larger deposits in the den, the living room, bathroom, etc. etc. They are everywhere. Hallelujah.

Books by Valerie Nieman’s Bed

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Going Back to Brasstown

I was trying to explain the Folk School experience to a friend the other day. How nourishing it is, how you learn within the classroom and over meals and on rambles across the mountain landscape. How it is a place apart that returns you to the world restored. I am anticipating my return in July as both a teacher and then a student. In this interview for the John C. Campbell website, I talk about teaching and learning in a noncompetitive environment.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

A visit with "Geosi Reads"

Technology can be a marvelous thing, especially when it links you with readers and writers all around the world.
That was the case with a blogger from Ghana, West-Africa, who posts at "Geosi Reads." He says, "I am a book addict and I just can’t stop reading. I am particularly interested in literary fiction, be it contemporary or classic and poetry."
It was a pleasure to correspond with Geoffrey and be interviewed by him about my work, from my first novel to my newest poetry collection. If you'd like to read the interview, click here.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Thursday, July 31, 2014

My Writing Process Blog Tour

A big thank you to James Tate Hill, my colleague at North Carolina A&T State University, for inviting me on this blog tour, My Writing Process. His post appeared last week at this site.
It’s always interesting when people ask us to step back and explain exactly what we’re doing, what I’m doing there in the corner in front of the computer, early in the morning or into the night, typing in words in uneven bursts.

1)                  What are you working on?
Right now, I’m engaged in far too many projects. I am completing final edits to a new collection of poetry, Hotel Worthy, which will be published in the spring by Press 53. I’m pretty pumped about that – the best of ten years’ worth of poetizing. The editing has been light from the publisher, but I have to skinny down three formal poems – a ghazal, pantoum, and sestina – to fit the page width. Free verse and prose poems are not an issue, but form poems are the devil!
I am also doing another edit on Backwater, my new novel, which is making the rounds as we speak. Short pitch: Sixteen-year-old Maggie is trying to cope with her broken family and a difficult transition to adulthood by fictionalizing her life and categorizing the world around the North Carolina marina where she lives. The lies she used to shape an alternate identity help her cope at school, though her beautiful cousin Charisse is among her tormentors. When Charisse’s brutalized body is found at the marina, suspicion comes to rest on Maggie and a fictional lover she’s made far too believable.
Once those books are put to bed, I can focus all my attention on starting a new novel and on completing The Leopard Lady Speaks, a novel in verse. If you’d like a look at that one, The Missouri Review has six poems in its summer issue and will have audio up soon.
Oh, and at my “day job,” as a professor of English, I’m co-authoring a history of NC A&T State University for our 125th year. Aggie Pride!

2)                  How does your work differ from others of its genre? 
            Hmmm – well, if I had a genre, that might be interesting. In terms of novels, I’ve written science fiction (Neena Gathering, my first novel, recently reissued), Appalachian literature (Survivors and a short story collection, Fidelities), Southern/women’s/crime fiction (Blood Clay), and this latest which might be considered a literary coming-of-age/suspense novel. Up next: a second book about Maggie, and a historical novel set in Scotland. I think that, despite my genre-hopping, what ties these books together is a devotion to the land, an interest in how people overcome difficult circumstances, and an inclination toward younger female narrators.

3)                  Why do you write what you do?  
Stories claim me, rather than the other way around. I hear a character talking and once she’s caught my attention, the game’s afoot! I heard the first line of Backwater before I had any idea who spoke it or why: “There wasn’t anything wrong between Charisse Swicegood and me except that she was her and I was me, and with the family history and all it was just natural.”
The Leopard Lady made her appearance in a burst of poems, and I’ve been listening for her distinctive voice and accumulating her story of hard times and hard-won friendship on the road with a carnival.  I’m about two-thirds of the way done, and hope to complete the project this year.

4)                  How does your writing process work?
I write almost exclusively on the computer, the legacy of decades as a newspaper journalist. I will make notes, especially for poems, on whatever scrap of paper I can find, but get them digital pretty quickly. That said, I never trust a computer, so I save copies to the cloud, to a flash drive, and print out finished pieces. That last bit of over-protection has been fortuitous. Some 20 years ago, I did a lot of research and about 300 pages of writing on a historical novel with a bit of fantasy – then lost the discs, notes, and manuscript during a divorce and relocation. Maybe I should say misplaced. The manuscript and research (but not those old floppy discs!) turned up last year as I was going through another divorce and relocation. (Those who do not learn from history are….) Anyway, it seems this book wishes to be written, and so I am going to plow back into it very soon.
I work better in the morning than at night – generally, my brain is tired then, so when I come home I often do yard work or cleaning rather than “mind work.” I also need to do a certain amount of physical activity to feel well – walking or hiking,kayaking, t'ai chi, swimming.
I do tend to bobble between my various projects, so they all move forward in hitches and starts. (Oh, and I forgot - have a chapbook of poems in the works from the month I spent hiking in Scotland!)
And I confess I use Mahjong Titans to freewheel my thoughts. It looks like play, but clicking on the little tiles lets my mind work but doesn’t take me away from my computer.

Coming up at My Writing Process blog tour on Aug. 7 are three extraordinary writers: Ed Davis, Elaine Neil Orr, and Jacinta White. Stop by their sites next Thursday to learn how they tackle getting “black on white.”

West Virginia native Ed Davis recently retired from teaching writing full-time at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio. He has also taught both fiction and poetry at the Antioch Writers’ Workshop and is the author of the novels I Was So Much Older Then(Disc-Us Books, 2001) and The Measure of Everything (Plain View Press, 2005); four poetry chapbooks; and many published stories and poems in anthologies and journals.  His full-length poetry collection Time of the Light was released in November 2013 from Main Street Rag Press, and West Virginia University Press will release his novel The Psalms of Israel Jones in September, 2014. He lives with his wife in the village of Yellow Springs, Ohio, where he bikes, hikes and blogs mainly on literary topics.  Please visit him at

Elaine Neil Orr is a trans-Atlantic writer of fiction, memoir, and poetry. Themes of home, country, and spiritual longing run through her writing.  A Different Sun: A Novel of Africa, her newest book (Berkley/Penguin, 2013), has been called by Lee Smith “as lyrical and passionate a novel as has ever been written. [It] shines in the mind like a rare gem.” Her memoir, Gods of Noonday (Virginia, 2003), was a Top-20 Book Sense selection. She is associate editor of a collection of essays on international childhoods, Writing Out of Limbo, and the author of two scholarly books. Orr has published extensively in literary magazines including The Missouri Review, Blackbird, Shenandoah, and Image Journal.  Her short stories and short memoirs have won several Pushcart Prize nominations and competition prizes. She has been awarded grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the North Carolina Arts Council, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Born in Nigeria to medical missionary parents, she spent her growing-up years in the savannahs and rain forests of that country. Orr left West Africa at sixteen and attended college in Kentucky. She studied creative writing and literature at the University of Louisville before taking her Ph.D. in Literature and Theology at Emory University. She is an award-winning Professor of English at North Carolina State University and serves on the faculty of the brief-residency MFA in Writing Program at Spalding University. Orr lives in Raleigh, NC, with her husband, Anderson Orr. Visit her website at

Jacinta V. White is a NC Arts Council Teaching Artist and the recipient of numerous awards and scholarships for creative endeavors. She was the first to receive the Press 53 Open Award in Poetry, in 2008; and Finishing Line Press published her first chapbook of poetry, broken ritual, in 2012. Most recently, Jacinta has been published in Prime Number Magazine and the “What Matters” anthology published by Jacar Press. After completing her MPA degree at Georgia State University in 2000, Jacinta found The Word Project – a company dedicated to using poetry as a catalyst for personal and community healing. Through The Word Project, Jacinta has facilitated numerous workshops and trainings for organizations, hospitals and schools. She served as the NC Poetry Out Loud Coordinator in 2012 and 2013; and in 2014, Jacinta coordinated the NC Triad area’s “One City, One Prompt” initiative. You can find out more at and You can also follow Jacinta and her work on Twitter: @JacintaVWhite.