BY SARA LOWERY ANDERSON | SEPTEMBER 19, 2011
Article by Sara Lowery Anderson | Photography by Christopher Anderson
One blue couch, two orange chairs, one black, and the “throne”. This makes the circle of surfaces on which we each sat every Thursday night during this sultry August. In theBlack Swan bookstore located on the corner of Main and Robinson — our class was surrounded by history and the sounds of Richmond’s fan district.
Each student in Valley Haggard’s Creative Nonfiction writing class was filled with inspiration and allowed to tap into a two hour escape from their reality each week. In a clever email intro to her students, Valley proclaimed, “You bring your notebooks and pens, and I’ll bring the chocolate.”
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Valley upon the completion of our writing class and learned a bit more about what led her to teaching and what fuels her passion for writing.
After beginning Richmond Young Writers at Chop Suey Bookstore (learn more below), Valley found herself being asked by parents of the children she taught if she would ever consider teaching a class for adults. After much deliberation, Valley held her first Adult Creative Nonfiction writing class at the Black Swan bookstore in September 2010. “Euphoria” was the word that she used to express the feeling that came over her upon leaving her first class. “It was as if I had found the best of all my writing worlds!”
Valley’s approach to teaching all walks of life about Creative Nonfiction is one that puts a writer, no matter how experienced or “inexperienced”, immediately at ease. The style of her classes typically follows a pattern of no more than six writers gathered intimately in a writing circle. Each class begins with a warm-up prompt – allowing everyone, including Valley who writes in the class as well, to clear their minds and let their words begin to flow. The remainder of the class is spent reading passages and poems from various poets, essayists, memoirists and authors, each discussed briefly to expand the students’ knowledge and open their minds to new ideas for the next prompt.
A delightful reality that Valley expressed after holding several classes was that everyone, regardless of their background, seems to have a spark in them when they write. “Some of my best writers have come from my local bank or gas station,” Valley explained. “There is truly no right or wrong way to write, you just have to quiet your editor, keep writing and see what comes!”
If you are interested in treating yourself to one of Valley’s Creative Nonfiction Classes or Workshops this fall, visit www.valleyhaggard.com.
About Richmond Young Writers
Richmond Young Writers was founded in the summer of 2009 at Chop Suey Bookstore with the intention of introducing young people to the joy of creative writing through workshops taught by professional writers in the community. The summer camp, held in the upstairs art gallery of Chop Suey, culminates each week in a student reading of works-in-progress at the Byrd Theatre. In the summers of 2009 and 2010, Richmond Young Writers was thrilled to work with over 60 young people from 25 public and private schools in Richmond, Henrico, Chesterfield and Midlothian.
After serving 86 new and returning students from Richmond, Henrico, Glen Allen, Chesterfield, Midlothian, Montpelier, Powhatan, Moseley, Mechanicsville, Afton, Rockville and Gloucester, Virginia during the summer of 2011, we have expanded our reach to include fall and spring after-school intensives. And, thanks to generous donations by many individuals as well as Chop Suey Books, we were able to award 6 full scholarships and 7 partial scholarships to aspiring poets, surrealists, novelists and playwrights. If you are interested in making a donation, visit Richmond Young Writersonline. No amount is too big or too small to make a HUGE difference in the life of a young writer.
Thanks to all writers — young and old — for helping us write our own adventure!