Anyone who wishes to explore, expand or improve their creative writing skill has an excellent opportunity to receive help and motivation this Saturday at the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace in Hillsboro. Award winning writer Sarah Elkins will present a free creative writing workshop in the Sydenstricker Cabin starting at 1 p.m.
Elkins’ workshop is titled “The Gateway Between the Human and Natural Worlds” and will focus on expression of a personal connection with the environment.
“Using the poetry of Mary Oliver and others who invoke the natural world in exploration of the human experience, we will spend the afternoon playing with writing prompts,” Elkins said in a press release. “The fun, exploratory prompts presented will encourage participants to make a connection between the elements of the natural world they are most drawn to and their own experience. As Oliver might prescribe, we will allow ourselves to be drawn to what we love in nature as a way of knowing our own place in the world.”
Elkins spoke with The Pocahontas Times on Sunday afternoon about her arts background.
“In the fifth grade, I had a teacher who published my little haiku in the school newspaper,” she said. “That was my first idea of what it would be to be a writer. I carried this secret fantasy all of my life that maybe I was good at it.”
Elkins majored in English and philosophy at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, and studied creative writing in graduate school at California State University, Northridge, in Los Angeles. She returned to North Carolina to teach – but was not writing.
“That was the end of my poetry life for a long time,” she said. “I became a teacher and I taught English at a lot of different levels – community college, high school, middle school. I’ve taught in the prisons. I just sort of turned off the poetry part of my brain and was just working and getting married and getting divorced and getting remarried. Somewhere in the middle of all that, it became absolutely imperative that I return to poetry or I was going to lose my mind.”
Elkins resumed writing after moving to White Sulphur Springs to work for a health information management company.
“Lewisburg, West Virginia is such an arts culture,” she said. “It’s a really safe place to be an artist and to be a public artist, and to be embraced, and for there to be opportunities to read your work and for people to read your work. That’s sort of the incubator I’ve been in for the past five years, re-awaking my poetry and I just keep doing it. I just keep writing and I have a blog and people continue to encourage me to do it.”
Since re-awakening her poetry, Elkins has received acclaim and recognition. She won First Place at the 2014 West Virginia Writers Conference for short poetry. She also receive honorable mention in the competitive Pearl S. Buck Award for Social Change. The latter recognition came for poetry she wrote while teaching inmates at a federal prison in Beckley.
“Arts education has been proven to reduce recidivism,” she said. “It drastically reduces the chance that you will return to prison once you’ve been in the arts program in the prison. So there’s a lot of energy being put into arts education.”
Elkins wants others to obtain the same benefits of poetry that she has received.
“For me, what it does, it helps me to connect to the truth of everything,” she said. “This workshop, in particular, is going to walk students through my very specific way of writing poetry. I write about birds constantly. I write about the natural world because I’m trying to pay very close attention to what nature’s trying to tell me, as a way of understanding why I’m here. What’s the point of being on this Earth? Is there an evolution of the soul? Is there something more than just going to work? I believe that there is and, through my poetry, I feel that I can tap into that greater thing.”
Elkins described her goals for the workshop.
“The purpose of the workshop is to have fun,” she said. “I don’t want to preach that everyone should go outside and stare at cardinals until they get some message from God. That’s maybe what I’m doing. But I want it to be fun and exploratory and to quiet the voice in the head of anyone who attends. Maybe for them to have an afternoon when the useless chatter in our brains shuts up and we can start to learn from shutting up and noticing what’s actually present around us. It’s just an exploration and it’s just fun.”
Writers or prospective writers of all ages and experience are invited to attend Saturday’s workshop, which is scheduled for 1 to 4:30 p.m. Attendees are asked to bring writing materials. Refreshments will be served. The event, part of the 2015 Calvin W. Price Appalachian Enrichment Series, is sponsored by the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace Foundation and the Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau
In her 1965 book, My Mother’s House, Pearl Buck expressed that her birthplace should be a “gateway to new thoughts and dreams and ways of life,” wherein art, music and education are valued and promoted.
For more information on the workshop, call 304-799-2496 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.