Discovering the Stories of Us

Women from across the Appalachian region traveled to the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace to partake in the final Pearl S. Buck Creative Writing Workshop of the year. The workshop was led by Sherrell Wigal, of Parkersburg, and focused on “The Gateway between Your Story and Your Self.”
Women from across the Appalachian region traveled to the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace to partake in the final Pearl S. Buck Creative Writing Workshop of the year. The workshop was led by Sherrell Wigal, of Parkersburg, and focused on “The Gateway between Your Story and Your Self.” C. Moore photo

Cailey Moore
Staff Writer

Saturday’s Creative Writing Workshop at the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace was the final workshop in a series of three that integrated the discovery and exploration “Finding the Gateway to New Understanding” theme into the teachings.

Led by Sherrell Wigal, of Parkersburg, participants explored “The Gateway between Your Story and Your Self,” and found themselves focusing on their own stories through a variety of hands-on writing exercises and group discussion.

“The point is to be with writers, to share that energy and to share that creativeness,” Wigal reminded the group. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be writers. Anybody with creative essence, you know – it can be music, it can be visual art, it can be anything. I spent a lot of my life around people who aren’t that way.

“One thing I wish to do here is, at various times, open this up for discussion about writing or the creative energy. It feeds and creates a great vortex that sends our energy to the universe, and it draws the universe down to us.”

Wigal began the workshop’s first exercise by reading an excerpt from Terry Tempest Williams’ When Women Were Birds, after which she encouraged her fellow writers to ponder the meaning behind Williams’ statement that women only exist in direct sunlight.

Claudia Duffee-Hill, of Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, responded with a free verse poem aptly titled, “Sunlight,” while Elaine Satterfield, of Bridgeport, linked sunlight to energy.

“We’ve all identified with everyone’s that shared,” Wigal remarked. “With our stories, when we share those stories, we make a connection with someone, somewhere. As you start sharing those stories, there is still a commonality there.

“If we share that story, somewhere someone, who is in need of a little fleck of light, will say, ‘Oh, there’s somebody’s who’s had the same experience as me. I’m not alone in this world.’ That will, a lot of times, pull them up. Sharing our stories, even if they’re not our stories – if they’re our parents’ or grandparents’ stories – someone, somewhere, will identify with them.”

The second exercise had the writers facing unexpected secrets as Wigal encouraged them to follow a “My mother/My father/Nobody told me…” prompt.

“It was really unexpected,” Mary Jo McLaughlin, of Ashland, Virginia, said of the exercise. In her piece, McLaughlin painted a solemn portrayal of a daughter at her father’s bedside, listening as he traveled back in time to his years spent fighting in World War II.

In the form of a dialogue, Sarah Robinson, of Morgantown, recounted a mystery of her youth – the truth behind her grandfather’s untimely death – and Satterfield’s story was one of long-awaited peace as she, unknowingly, pried the lid off of a tight-lipped family secret.

Wigal encouraged those in attendance to think about the stories they wrote at the workshop and have recounted in the past.

“A lot of times when we tell the same story, healing happens to us,” she explained, “and we may not even realize it. I think that’s one of the importances of telling our own stories and our family’s stories.”

Poem sketching, an exercise found in Sandford Lyne’s Writing Poetry from the Inside Out, was the third exercise the writers faced. Using a provided word bank, the writers selected four words that they felt related to one another and proceeded to draft a poem, utilizing their chosen words and the five senses.

Wigal’s final exercise had the writers revisiting their childhood as they penned their piece in crayon. Choosing crayons at random, the writers linked each color to a sense.

One example, courtesy of Pearl S. Buck Birthplace Board of Directors president Kirk Judd, was that “Yellow walks like a duck, looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, but I don’t know if it is a duck.”

A founding member of Allegheny Echoes, Wigal leads the creative writing program – where she focuses on poetry and short fiction – and has been featured as a performance poet and workshop leader throughout West Virginia and the Appalachian region.

In 2005, Wigal was one of the featured artists at the Caldwell County Arts Council in North Carolina, where she participated in a two-and three-dimensional art and poetry presentation.

Her interest in performance poetry began at an early age.

“My mother’s family loved poetry and would recite poems from their childhood,” Wigal said in an interview for the West Virginia Literary Soul blog. “Long poems, short poems, epic poems – even poems they had written themselves. I fell in love with the cadence, rhythm and words. Poetry is meant to be spoken – to be an audio and emotional experience.

“Performance poetry was not something that I consciously made a decision to take up, and I do not consider myself a “performance poet” – rather a poet who also performs her work. I believe you must put poetry in your own mouth in order to experience it completely. Poetry lives best beyond the page.”

When she is not leading workshops or performing her work, Wigal lives in Parkersburg, with her husband and dog.

The workshop was sponsored by the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace Foundation, through a grant from the Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau 2015 Calvin W. Price Appalachian Enrichment Series, and is in keeping with the vision statement of the Foundation: “To maintain the house and property of the birthplace of Pearl S. Buck and to foster her wish expressed in the book My Mother’s House that it should be a living ‘gateway to new thoughts and dreams and ways of life’ wherein art, music and education are valued and promoted.”

For more information on the series or the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace Foundation, contact Kirk Judd at

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