The write stuff: Kenai Writers' Group has its way with words

Posted: Sunday, February 06, 2005


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  Evelyn Clough explains details in a story she wrote about a car accident. Clough and her fellow writers meet to discuss their writing at the Kenai Library. Photo by Layton Ehmke

Evelyn Clough explains details in a story she wrote about a car accident. Clough and her fellow writers meet to discuss their writing at the Kenai Library.

Photo by Layton Ehmke

Metaphor and hyperbole filled the Kenai Community Library conference room on a recent Thursday night. About a dozen members of the Central Peninsula Writers' Group had gathered to share their latest work and exchange ideas. The authors took turns reading their poetry, short stories, and novel excerpts aloud, and then absorbed suggestions on how a phrase might be polished, a character further developed or a redundancy deleted.

The work of these and other local writers will be presented Friday at the Central Peninsula Writers' Night at the Kenai Senior Citizens Center. The program begins with a spaghetti dinner, followed by readings by local authors and poets. The writers' group and Kenai Peninsula College sponsor the event, with all proceeds benefiting Senior Connections.

Now in its eighth year, Writers' Night has always enjoyed a good turnout, with plenty of submissions to choose from.

"It's amazing how many people are closet writers," said Alan Poynor, a judge for the event and freelance humor columnist for the Peninsula Clarion. "This is the opportunity for those people to pitch their writing out and have somebody take a look at it."

The writers' group solicited entries from the community and recruited three judges to select about 15 pieces from the 70 submissions. Selections were made to provide something for everyone. Readings will vary from lighthearted to more serious, and from poetry to book excerpts. In addition to providing a diverse program, judges made their choices based on personal experience and taste.

"The number one thing I'm looking for is I like to be surprised," Poynor said. "I like to see something fresh and new — something that stands out and grabs my attention. Vivid imagery does that for me — good crisp writing and good descriptive phrases. The characters or the subject itself really has to be brought to life."

While Poynor knows what he likes, he prefers to say he is reviewing, rather than judging, the works. "Who am I to say what's good and bad?" he said. "I'm just picking out what affects me."

The Writers' Night contests are open to all creative writers from the central peninsula, not just members of the writers' group.

"We strive to get the general public," said Virginia Walters, a founding member of the group. Last year's event attracted several new people to the regular meetings, and she said she's hoping for more new faces this year. The group expressed interest in reaching out to young writers, especially.

Writers interested the Central Peninsula Writers' Group are invited to attend meetings on the first and third Thursdays of the month from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Kenai library. People come and go during the two hours, as their schedules allow.

At the Jan. 20 meeting, the atmosphere was relaxed and encouraging. Some voices shook a little and some sped through their pieces; others read with practiced inflection and timing. Each work was followed by constructive input.

Critiques were up for critique themselves — the group didn't hesitate to differ in their comments, leading to the overarching observation, "Don't take suggestions too seriously." Nonetheless the writers clearly appreciated the input, and many reworked their pieces on the spot.

Walters said it started about 1995, after a couple of similar clubs in the area fizzled. She attributes this group's longevity to its casual atmosphere.

"We don't demand that anybody be there and we don't demand that everyone produce every time. And," she added, "we give very good critiques."


Debbie Harley listens to a work of creative writing by a fellow member of the group in January. Some writers bring short stories and narratives. Harley read a poem about the colors of the Kenai Peninsula.

Photo by Layton Ehmke

The quality of the critiques keeps Bruce Schirmers coming back. "If you're going to write, you need the truth, so you gotta have a group like that," he said. "If you're in the middle of the throws of writing something, and you have to expose some emotion in yourself, you need some feedback, you need some encouragement, and you can't get that anywhere else."

The group draws members from Kasilof to Nikiski, and from varied backgrounds, including a welder, a retired minister, retired schoolteachers, and stay-at-home moms.

The motivations for writing are as varied as the members. Walters, who has written poetry and personal essays, said she is driven to write, "maybe to get things out that are bothering me or that I just want to get off my mind." She laughed, "It's a lot better to put it on paper than to yell at my husband."

Debbi Harley wrote a vibrant poem entitled "Autumn on the Kenai" to prove a point. "I wrote this because I had an argument with my friend every fall that 'There's no color on the Kenai,'" she said.

Walters didn't know of anyone in the group writing for a living, but many members have published. Dick Jurgensen, a retired minister, showed off copies of his newly published book "Thoughts for Life: Reaching for Wisdom-God-Life." His success was met with congratulations and a brief discussion of the business of publishing, a topic touched on from time to time. The group also shares announcements of contests and writers' conferences.

Occasionally people bring technical pieces for input on clarity, but the focus of the group is on creative writing, from poetry to creative nonfiction to children's stories.

Writers' Night provides creative writers a forum for sharing their work with the public. Laura Faeo has read at all seven of the previous events.

"I was kind of nervous about it the first time, but people enjoy hearing it," she said. "I'm not as nervous about it anymore. It's fun. It helps put our writing up in front of people."


Richard Jurgenson read from his recently published book, "Thoughts for Life: Reaching for Wisdom-God-Life," last month at the Central Peninsula Writers' Group which meets at the Kenai Community Library. Jurgenson related how printing his book was a difficult process.

Photo by Layton Ehmke

Schirmers, who also has read in the past, enjoys the challenge of the public presentation.

"You've got an audience now not of commiserating writers but of strangers and probably some of them are quite good at writing themselves and you're on a mic — it's a lesson in courage," he said.

Those selected to read may have an extra reward for their courage this year — their works will be considered for publication in Driftwood, Kenai Peninsula College's literary magazine.

This is the second year that the event has been held at the Kenai senior center. Previous events were a combined benefit for the Friends of the Library and the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center, where the program was held. The change in venue last year increased the capacity from about 60 to 150 people, and the money raised now goes to Senior Connections. Last year about 100 people attended.

Senior Connections is a nonprofit organization that supports senior center projects. Director Rachael Craig said two big efforts for the coming year are an assisted living facility and a kitchen renovation.

The center's dining room and kitchen were built in 1982. This year's kitchen expansion will be the first upgrade to the facility since the dining room was enlarged in 1990. Craig said the remodel will help the center meet the needs of the increased numbers of seniors on the peninsula. A new dish room will bring the center in line with health regulations and a new walk-in cooler will enable the center to save money by buying in bulk.

Senior Connections has pledged $10,000 to the kitchen remodel project, which Craig hopes to start by August and finish by October.

The center also is looking for 10 acres of land to build an assisted-living project. A market analysis has shown that the area could support a 16-unit facility now, and 20 units by 2010. Craig said she is hoping for a donation of suitable land. Senior Connections has expressed interest in sponsoring the project, which Craig expects to take off once land is acquired.

The collaboration between the writers' group and the senior center works well for both parties.

"I think it is just a wonderful partnership that we're doing," Craig said. "Everybody really enjoys it."

Friday's dinner begins at 6 p.m., with readings at 7:30 p.m. Louise Heite of Kenai will play Celtic and American traditional music on the hammer dulcimer during intermission. Tickets are on sale at Charlotte's and the senior center in Kenai, and at River City Books in Soldotna. The cost is $20, or $10 for those who would like to come after dinner for the readings only. Student tickets are available at a discount.

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