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Aug 9, 201202:24 PMCulture

Fun and Culture in the Mid-State

Celebrating the Work of Local Writers

Aug 9, 2012 - 02:24 PM
Celebrating the Work of Local Writers

Though they often go begging for the recognition lavished on their colleagues in the visual arts, music or theater, Central Pennsylvania boasts a large and talented contingent of creative writers. Most toil away in anonymity, sending their work hopefully to agents, literary magazines and writing contests.

But thanks to a popular writing workshop at the Cleve J. Fredricksen Library in Camp Hill, 22 of them now have seen their short stories in print in a new collection, A Community of Writers, published in April by Sunbury Press. 

The driving force behind the workshop is Ann Elia Stewart, a New Cumberland resident and founder of the now defunct literary magazine PHASE (whose contributors included Stephen King, Marion Winik and Susan Perabo alongside some 50 stories by local writers, including this columnist), who has led them for the past 10 years.

In 2003, Camp Hill’s Robert Craumer was looking for a way to honor the memory of his wife, herself a writer, and through his generosity, the program was renamed the Natalie D. Craumer Writer’s Workshop.  The more than 300 participants who have studied with Stewart range in age from the early 20s to 80s. Some have a history of publication, while others are published for the first time in the anthology. All are united by a passion for telling stories.

“I tell my classes that if you are here because you want to make a million dollars, that’s the wrong reason,” Stewart said in an email interview. “You should be here because you have stories to tell, and you want to learn how to tell them in the most eloquent, concise and clear language possible,” she added. 

Seasoned Harrisburg freelance writer Lori Myers, whose story “Smoke” appears in the collection, boasts an MA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University and teaches writing at York College and Penn State York. Despite her long list of publication credits, she was “honored” when she learned her story had been selected.

Observing “an expression that shows me they’ve ‘got it,’” she knows a student’s writing will be “forever changed.” 

When asked what advice she would give to aspiring writers, she urges them to “be persistent. Learn how to take rejection and move forward; keep writing, keep revising, keep reading. Never, ever give up.” 

As rewarding as it can be to work with an accomplished writer like Myers, Stewart relishes the challenge of teaching novices the rudiments of creative writing. One of the most satisfying aspects of the workshop, she says, is when “I see that light bulb go off.” Observing “an expression that shows me they’ve ‘got it,’” she knows a student’s writing will be “forever changed.” 

With one published novel, a thriller entitled Thy Kingdom Come, to his credit and another, Devil’s Den, slated for publication, Perry County’s Don Helin, a retired veteran who’s one of three writers to have more than one story in the collection, already has tasted real publishing success. He credits the workshop with starting him “on the path to publication of my first novel in 2009.” From it, he “learned the elements of plot, character and setting, and met many writer friends.” Helin is active in the local chapter of Pennwriters, which meets on the last Wednesday of every month at 6 p.m. in Foundation Hall at the New Cumberland Public Library.

Although not as rigorous as the Craumer workshops, those meetings allow writers to share their work and receive critical feedback, something that’s essential for anyone intent on braving the often cruel world of publishing. 

Margaret DeAngelis, of Harrisburg, author of the story “Take Care,” who’s attended several prominent writing programs including the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, participated in her first Craumer workshop in 2004. She wrote recently on her blog, Markings: Days of Her Life, of her gratitude for Stewart’s instruction: “Some of my best work began under the direction of Ann Stewart. All of it has benefited from what I learned from her.” 

And Stewart, whose story “Swan Song” is included in A Community of Writers, hasn’t confined her efforts to shepherding the work of other writers into print. Her first novel, Twice a Child, recently was published by Sunbury Press. The novel is based on her experience as a caregiver for her father, who died in 2010 after suffering from a form of dementia that’s a hybrid of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.  

Stewart, whose enthusiasm for the craft of writing is infectious, has no plans to abandon the Craumer Workshop now that this anthology has been published.

She’s always on the lookout for new talent and encourages those who are curious about the workshop or any aspect of the local writing scene to contact her at annstewart2@verizon.net.   Email me at mwn52@aol.com or follow me on Twitter, @HarvF.

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