Tennessee Mountain Musings
The awards banquet that brings a celebratory end to every Tennessee Mountain Writers Conference may lack the glitz and glitter of Oscar night, but for many the night is just as tense. They are the ones who have been brave enough to enter TMW's contest. And it does take bravery, because there is always the possibility of coming away empty handed.
Unlike the Oscars, no announcement is made in advance of those under consideration, and we don't have huge screens to show faces as four of the five try to pretend they are happy when the winner is announced. Only the Competition Chair and the Secretary of TMW need know you entered. The secrecy at TMW surrounding the competition would delight the CIA.
It's in the contest rules that no names should be on the manuscripts. The manuscripts read by the various judges are coded. They see no names. The student entries are never judged by a teacher, who might recognize an author's work. The names of the winners are as much a surprise to the judges as they are to almost everyone else.
The first round judges are knowledgeable writers, who read the manuscripts, often several times, before choosing the finalists to be sent to a professional, such as a university professor or an editor. As with all writing, personal choice plays a part. A certain entry might strike one judge in the heart and leave another cold. It's the same with agents and editors. Different judges are employed from year to year, so there is less danger of one person's taste dominating any category. Polite discussions take place. One judge attempts to convince another that this poem or story merits a place in the second round. Compromises occur. Some pieces would do better with a little more editing, or just a little more insight. Judges feel regret and hope they are seeing a developing talent.
Current Contest Chair, Wanda Grooms, emphasizes that TMW's contest is "a very ACCESSIBLE contest. We have had emergent and unpublished writers win honors." She also notes, "Several of our conferees and contest participants have gone on to be published subsequent to their involvement with TMW as a stepping stone."
That's why there is so much tension in the room. For many participants, winning a prize, even an Honorable Mention, in such a contest is an affirmation that their writing speaks to others and is worth pursuing. Few Oscar winners can want as much; after all, most of them are already rich and famous and don't have to wonder whether to give up their day jobs.
I doubt even Martin Scorsese could have felt as thrilled, finally winning the Oscar for Best Director, this year, as I did, in 2001, when I won the Sue Ellen Hudson Award for Excellence in Writing.
Sue Ellen Hudson was one of the founders of TMW. She had one of the brightest smiles in the world that succumbed to cancer in 1997. The award was first given the following year. The committee to choose the award is made up of members from the writing group to which Sue Ellen belonged. The first place winners of the five adult categories are read and reread, then ranked by each member, and finally, one is chosen. One of the committee, Connie Green, says, "Naming an outstanding writer in her honor seemed a suitable way to keep her memory alive. The money for the award and trophy came from donations."
Wanda says, "The committee attempts to lay aside genre differences and compare the top 5 adult pieces for originality/fire/je ne sais crois that qualifies a piece as 'literature' rather than merely 'writing'."
"We've had short stories, nonfiction pieces, poems, parts of a novel, and children's writing receive the honor," says Connie. "As you might guess, making the selection is often difficult. We consider it an honor to be allowed to read the first place winners. They are always a pleasure."
The trophy itself is made of a clear material in the shape of a flame. Wanda says it "illustrates that spark that doesn't extinguish with the author but flares again each time another reader interacts with the literary manuscript."
On March 31, 2007, the trophy in Sue Ellen Hudson's memory will be awarded for the tenth time. Only one person will take it away, but there will be quite a few others, adults and students, who will leave clutching a plaque, a certificate, and even some checks, along with a few more ounces of belief in themselves.
For those who entered but don't hear their names read, don't be despondent. You may have come closer than you think. Winning the Oscar is wonderful for the winner, but no one thinks failure to win one somehow diminishes a director's, or an actor's, worth. Alfred Hitchcock never won an Oscar; nor did Richard Burton. Be proud you entered, continue to work hard, and enter again next year. It just might be your year.
It's that time of year again, when TMW's post office box begins to fill up with annual conference registrations, and the TMW Board is busy, busy, busy. With the conference a week earlier this year, the committees are scurrying to get all of the loose ends wrapped up in order to bring you all what we hope will be a first-rate experience.
The heart of the conference is the schedule of workshops and special sessions, of course. But the full conference experience can be so much more.
Plan to be with us at the opening reception, where in addition to some wonderful substantial hors d'oeuvres, we'll be treated to a sneak preview of our presenters' workshops. (If by then you're still agonizing over exactly which ones you want to attend, this may help you make your final decisions.)
On Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings, come up to the hospitality suite and relax, mix, and mingle. You can renew old friendships and acquaintances, and meet some new folks as well.
When you have spare time during the day, hang out in the Writers Block, where you'll find coffee, tea, and soft drinks; tables and chairs for meeting, writing, or chatting; an autographing table, for use by our presenters; and books, books, books. Our presenters' books will be for sale, and you'll find some books of general interest to writers as well. And please stop by our used book table. There's no asking price for these books-but if you take some, we ask that you leave a contribution to help with our Don Scalf Memorial Scholarship Fund, which provides financial assistance for those who would otherwise be unable to attend the conference.
By the end of the afternoon on Friday, you'll probably be ready to relax. A great place to do it would again be in the Writers Block, where at 5 p.m. our 2006 contest winners will be reading their award-winning entries. (Weren't you intrigued by some of those titles at last year's awards presentation?)
From 7:30 to 8:30 on Friday evening, our workshop presenters will read from their works. This casual-format panel is an opportunity for everyone to see and hear from all our faculty, whether or not you had a chance to attend their sessions. Following the panel, any conference attendees who would like to read from their work will have their chance back in the Writers Block, from 8:45 until 10. Come and read, or drop by to hear those who do!
On Saturday morning, we would love to see you at the annual business meeting. We need you to vote on our 2007-08 Board of Directors, and to help us recognize those who are leaving the board. (And you just might win a door prize if you show up.)
Of course you'll want to join us at the Saturday evening banquet for the contest awards presentations and our keynote speaker, world-renowned poet, writer, commentator, activist, and educator Nikki Giovanni. It should be the perfect conclusion to a memorable conference.
As you can see (and as you know, if you've attended in the past), the annual conference offers a huge amount in a small package. If you haven't yet sent in your registration, now is the time; it must be postmarked by March 19 to qualify for the reduced rate. (If you've misplaced your copy, you can find it on our web site, www.tmwi.org.)
We can't wait to see you at the conference!
-- Carol Grametbauer
Many members of TMW are having an excellent year. Below are just a few reports of competition wins and publications.
Sylvia Woods published poems in Appalachian Heritage, Tennessee English Journal and the Knoxville Writers Guild's Low Explosions. She also won first place in the Women Who Write contest, with the reward of publication in Kalliope, third place in Mountain Heritage Festival's poetry contest, and two honorable mentions in Tennessee Writers Alliance 2006 poetry contest. Sylvia's credits the start of three of these poems to TMW workshops.
Wes Sims has also enjoyed seeing his poetry published in multiple locations, including the Connecticut Review, Westview (at Southwestern Oklahoma State University), and in Crucible (at Barton College in NC).
Last year's multiple prize-winner in TMW's Contest, Jane Sasser, has had several poems published too, including one each in Appalachian Heritage, Timber Creek Review, and Words of Wisdom.
Brenda Kay Ledford's new poetry book, Shew Bird Mountain, was published in November, 2006 by Finishing Line Press.
Connie Green's poetry book, Slow Children Playing, will also be published by Finishing Line Press, in May 2007. More details of both books can be found under New Releases at www.finishinglinepress.com.
The title poem from Connie's book was published in last summer's New Millenium Writings. Another poem appeared in The Sow's Ear Poetry Review. She also won a prize at the Alabama Writers Conclave, with a short story for children, and a prize from the Appalachian Writers Association for yet another poem.
Aileen R. Bennett published her novel, The Annie Chase Story, with Behler Publications. She says more information can be found at www.behlerpublications.com.
Dead Past by TMW's very own mystery writer, Beverly Connor, was published in February. The German version of her book Dead Guilty is coming out from Droemer/Knau in May. Dead Past, Dead Guilty, and One Grave Too Many are coming out in March from Piatkus Press in England. She's about to sign a contract with for the audio rights for her Fallon Series in England.
Judy DiGregorio has been very busy. She has been a regular contributor to Eva Mag and Senior Living, and her work was included in Muscadine Lines, A Southern Anthology, in a second anthology, Bless His Heart, as well as Birmingham Arts Journal, New Millenium Writings, and Southern Hospitality Magazine. She also has a story coming out in Chicken Soup for the Beach Lovers'. Roane State Community College featured her as a speaker for their September Cultural Events Series, and the University of Tennessee invited her to do a humor writing workshop for them in February, 2007.
Congratulations to all of the above for having the discipline to produce good work AND for sending it out into the publishing world. They are an inspiration to us all.
For information on a wide variety of writers' competition, visit our website tmwi.org.
Spare a thought
for a number in our membership undergoing trying times.
K'Cindra Cavin's mother is fighting serious illness. K'Cindra is the designer and webmaster of our excellent website.
Board Member Steve Dekanich and his wife, Linda, have both seen too much of hospital rooms in the past few weeks.
Mona Raridon is very annoyed that she has to endure treatment to fend off further illness. The TMW Board is grateful that despite unpleasant side effects, Mona continues to perform her duties for the organization.
To all our members-Good Health. We hope to see many of you at the conference.