B.J. Hollars forms Chippewa Valley Writers Guild

Newly formed organization to provide new opportunities for local writers

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Photo by Sami West

The Chippewa Valley Writers Guild will offer many opportunities for community writers, including six three-day Cirenaica immersions at this property.

In a community with so many writers and such a “vibrant” art scene, B.J. Hollars, assistant professor of English, said he’s received many emails from members of the community in search of someone or some sort of group to talk to about their writing.

This, Hollars said, is one of the many reasons he decided to create the newly formed Chippewa Valley Writers Guild, an organization not just for professional writers within the community but also student writers as a joint partnership with the Eau Claire Regional Arts Center and the UW-Eau Claire Foundation.

“[I wanted to] give our students and community members opportunities to create and work together and share together,” Hollars, director, said.

Amid budget cuts and the subsequent cuts to students’ opportunities, Hollars said he felt it was especially important he creates the organization.

“It’s no secret that with budget cuts … We lost quite a few faculty members,” Hollars said. “So it was important to me to try to find new ways to continue to give high impact educational opportunities to all of our students, so why not rely upon the community?”

As interest grew and Hollars’ brainchild became a reality between October and two weeks ago when the organization was officially launched, the project quickly became a “whole different beast,” Hollars said.

The first step was creating a directory of different writers groups in the community, which then led to three main goals for the organization: to educate, coordinate and celebrate.

The organization’s efforts to educate will come by way of “craft talks,” which will be offered about eight times each year, Hollars said.

From this, he hopes community members will be given the opportunity to listen to an expert in the field of writing.

“We’re just kind of letting experts share so we can learn from that,” Hollars said. “From Nickolas Butler of ‘Shotgun Lovesongs,’ to Patti See right here on campus, to all kinds of folks who teach and write all different types of genres, from book reviews, to memoir, to lyrics for songs, to anything.”

Hollars hopes to allow coordination by way of facilitating the creation of writing groups across the Chippewa Valley, as well as getting the word out about the groups and other organizations that already exist.

Within the past two weeks, Hollars said two new groups have been formed.

Although writing is a “solitary art” in which writers are usually confined to their basements, Hollars said he’s learned from personal experience that it helps to get out of that mindset, and to lend a hand to other writers in the community.

“I never thought I’d be a writing group kind of a guy, but I joined one about a year ago, and it’s dramatically changed my life,” Hollars said. “It’s so great to meet people who care as much about your work as you do, and you care just as much about their work as you do your own.”

Being a literary citizen by being part of these groups is important, Hollars said, not just for the writer but for all the other writers in the community.

And, the guild will celebrate the literary arts community of the Chippewa Valley by hosting open reads in many different locations, including on campus March 10 at The Cabin.

The event will include readings by somewhere between five and 10 alums, Hollars said.

“It’s really cool to get alums and community members on campus and directly engaging and interacting with students,” Hollars said. “I think that’s good for students too to meet folks in the community who may be great connections for the future.”

Although a bulk of their events will be held off campus, Hollars hopes this doesn’t discourage students from participating in the organization.

“We’re all working together to make sure that we can all benefit through art and build community through art,” Hollars said.

A hybrid between “celebration” and “coordination,” the guild is also partnering with a new artists residency, “Cirenaica,” offering six three-day residencies and day programs that will feature one major writer.

“We want to lure people away from their daily lives to really invest a little bit in their art,” Hollars said.

Writers include the likes of Wisconsin poet laureate Kimberly Blaser, former poet laureate Max Garland, Nickolas Butler and Hollars himself. Editors from major presses will also serve as guests, Hollars said.

“It’s going to be a great time for writers to work closely and intimately with very established writers and to kind of meet with editors, and also have time to write on a beautiful locale on 43 acres.”

The immersion, Hollars said, is for any writer of any age level.

“I don’t want people to think this is just for ‘Capital-W’ writers,” Hollars said. “It’s for the novice to the professional, young or old, really, it’s for everyone.”

Erin Stevens, UW-Eau Claire creative writing and organizational communications alum and Chippewa Valley Writers Guild social media coordinator, said she thinks writing is often overlooked in this community, and this is why the guild is a great opportunity for them, no matter their level.

“I think a lot of people enjoy writing but they don’t exactly know where to find a community to pursue that passion, and the guild is a great way to get involved,” Stevens said.

And, it’s time the word gets out, Stevens said.

“There are so many talented writers in the Chippewa Valley,” Stevens said. “Eau Claire is really known for music and art and the writing community deserves the spotlight too.”