Ask the most prolific writers on Earth for advice and they’ll probably have the same answer.

If you want to succeed as a scribe, go read. After you’re finished, read some more. Then, once you’ve accomplished those tasks, read, read, read, and then — read.

The world is perpetually searching for the next great story. Inside the minds of many exists unpublished poems, memoirs, novels, and every other form of literature yearning to break free. Aspiring writers can gain the knowledge and motivation they need by reading and engaging with their contemporaries.

The renowned Virginia Tech Department of English is determined to guide authors on their writing journey.

In the face of the pandemic, the department has shifted its robust Visiting Writers Series to an even more engaging virtual opportunity this semester. 

“The global pandemic complicated our usual in-person offerings,” said Matthew Vollmer, an associate professor of English and director of the Visiting Writers Series. “In light of this, we decided to do something more dynamic than simply hosting writers to read their work. We wanted something more immersive, more interactive. We wanted to give students the opportunity to learn and come away with new strategies and tools.”

Vollmer and professor of English Carmen Giménez Smith, director of the department’s Master of Fine Arts in creative writing program, collaborated to organize the revamped speaker series launched last fall.

As part of the speaker selection process, Vollmer asked creative writing faculty members in the English department to each pick a writer capable of providing an effective lesson.

The poet Khadijah Queen gave a talk that explored the structural similarities and differences between poetry and prose, as well as creative synergies between the two. Novelist writer Richard Chiem gave a presentation on suspense, suddenness, and the art of walking. Poet Evie Shockley gave a reading whose theme centered on poetry and justice.

Fiction writer Amy Hempel gave a brief reading of her work and discussed strategies for writing novellas. Poet Steve Gibson presented a talk about ekphrasis, or the use of detailed description of a work of visual art as a literary device. Fiction writer Julia Watts gave a talk about narrative distance. Fiction writer Matthew Salesses led a presentation on alternative approaches to creative writing workshops and explored a more inclusive idea of the craft of writing.

For ambitious writers, the opportunity to listen to a broad range of perspectives can yield fruitful results.

“This series demonstrates how approachable and friendly fellow writers tend to be,” said Vollmer. “Anyone who engages with this series will see the many different approaches to creative writing. They’ll also learn the idiosyncrasies of the methods and strategies various visitors use to produce creative work.”

The series continues March 18, when author giovanni singleton will present “What’s in a Word: A Poetry Workshop.” The link for this discussion is available here.

On March 25 at 7 p.m., writer Jenny Boully will present “Thinking in Fragments: How to Approach the Lyric Essay.” 

The 2020 Guggenheim Fellow in General Nonfiction is the author of “Betwixt-and-Between: Essays on the Writing Life.” Her work consists of essays ripe with romance, drawing connections among the digression, reflection, imagination, and experience that characterize falling in love. Those interested in participating in the discussion can join via Zoom through this link.

The speaker series will continue in April. Look for updates on the Featured Events section of the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences website.

Vollmer emphasized that the speaker series is open to anyone. Those interested in learning more about the series can email him at vollmer@vt.edu.

“These free sessions are not just educational; they’re so much fun,” said Vollmer. “I invite everyone who cares about words to attend.”

— Written by Andrew Adkins