Hollars and harbingers

UWEC professor releases new book

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Photo by Melanie Walleser

BJ Hollars holding “Writers Express” — the book that he said inspired him to become a writer.

Hollars and “Harbingers”

Eau Claire is home to many artists — musicians, painters, jewelers, comedians, writers, you name it. However, few of these artists are professors at UW-Eau Claire. BJ Hollars, an associate professor of English at UW-Eau Claire, is one of those rarities.

Hollars recently published the newest addition to his long list of already-published books“Harbingers.”

“‘Harbingers’ consists of three long-form essays all of which try to tackle the idea of what a harbinger is, which is something that simply enters the scene that gives you some clue as to what is coming next down the road,” Hollars said.

In his new book, Hollars delves into the harbingers in the lives of famous inventors, activists and public figures, but he also contemplates “his own overlooked portents in a static-filled universe,” and these stories “converge toward the humbling truth that life’s only certainty is uncertainty, and our harbingers — no matter how strong — only offer insight in the aftermath,” according to the Bull City Press.

L.E. Phillips Memorial Library hosted a book launch for “Harbingers” on Feb. 21.

Isla Small, the head of the library’s art exhibits, said Hollars has made quite an impact on the local writing community.

“It’s incredible that he has also been able to develop a quantity of printed work that is refreshingly reflective, pointedly immersive, unwaveringly well-researched,” Small said. “The library was thrilled to have the opportunity to host his book launch.”

Beyond the books

Hollars’ contributions to the local writing scene in Eau Claire extend beyond his own writing. As founder of the Chippewa Valley Writers Guild, an organization that is dedicated to supporting local writers, Hollars said his goal is to connect students with the community.

Our community has so many amazing working writers and artists,” Hollars said. “I realized if we could find a way to create some kind of guild, then students and community members would have the shared benefit of learning from each other. The Guild was really a way to learn and connect and network in an effort to build the literary community and continue to further our own writing ambitions.”

John Paluta, third-year creative writing and public relations student, worked as an intern for the Chippewa Valley Writers Guild in 2017. He said his experience working with Hollars was “a lot of fun.”

“I really enjoyed going around and learning about the writing community in Eau Claire,” Paluta said. “Before I worked at the Guild, I didn’t really know much about the local writing scene, and then, after the fact, I feel much more in touch with all the cool writers that we have here in Eau Claire.”

Paluta also works with Hollars at the student literary publication NOTA. Paluta is the prose editor and Hollars is the faculty advisor. Paluta said Hollars’ guidance and support encourages students to create their own creative work, and Hollars is an inspirational mentor for students.  

“I think his guidance absolutely helps us make it (NOTA) into as incredible of a bi-annual magazine that it is,” Paluta said. “He’s a phenomenal person. I really respect him. If I can become half the writer he is someday, I think I’ll be pretty happy.”

Cassie Pearson, a fourth-year student and the poetry editor for NOTA, agreed that Hollars is a great mentor for students.

“He’s just super encouraging and probably one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met,” Pearson said. “He is just so supportive and really encourages us into being as creative and open as we can be. He’s always like, the bigger the better do what you want to do. He really doesn’t stifle our creativity.”

Hollars said the respect is mutual; UW-Eau Claire students inspire him as well.

“‘Harbingers,’ in fact, is dedicated to my students,” Hollars said. “Working with students at UW-Eau Claire is certainly what motivates me to do my own work.”

A long-time love

Writing has been a passion of Hollars’ for many years, Hollars said. The first time he realized this love was in first grade.

“I remember looking at my teacher’s desk, and she had a book called ‘The Writers Express,’” Hollars said. “I remember leafing through it one day and, on the back page, there was a fake keyboard. My family didn’t have a computer or anything, so I just remember practice typing on this imaginary keyboard, and it occurred to me that maybe if I was going to do that, I should try to write words in real life.”

He said that was the first time he felt like writing was something he wanted to pursue.

Hollars said that writing is a discipline, and he prefers to do his creative work every day at dawn.

“What I do is I get up at dawn, and I try to do most of my creative work even before I teach,” Hollars said. “That way I feel good and I feel charged up for the whole day. If you can create early in the morning, I found that that can be the fuel that lets you kind of really try to excel in all parts of your life.”

Recent rewards

In addition to the publication of Hollars’ book, “Harbingers,” Hollars was recently recognized as the Alabama Writers Symposium 2019 Truman Capote Award recipient. 

In September, Hollars’ forthcoming book, “Midwestern Strange: Hunting Monsters, Martians and the Weird in Flyover Country,” will be released.

Hollars said he doesn’t plan to stop writing anytime soon, and he will continue working to advance the writing community in Eau Claire.

“Wherever there’s an opportunity to help a new writer find a place in the community, that’s where my passion is,” Hollars said.

Walleser can be reached at [email protected]