Featured Writing: Ironwood Writers Studio

Writers featured from the Ironwood Writers Studio, 2023:

Kelsey Helton
Mortal Girl

Brennan Hoskins
The Miner's Monologue

Fiona Jones

Tiffany Lin
His Manual

Samantha Mattox

Clover Mullins
The Crime of Being Small

Dixie Ritchie

Laurel Ruff
A Word of Advice

Shiloh Sizemore

Virgil Voyles
An oracle, a Fortune Teller, an Artist

Ironwood Writers Studio Students, Summer 2023
Ironwood Writers Studio Staff, Summer 2023 (l-r):
Melissa Helton, director; Lauren Crawford, Caroline Cooper,
Karen Salyer McElmurray, Shawna Kay Rodenberg,
Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle, Bernard Clay

Director’s Introduction

In June, 2023, Hindman Settlement School was delighted to welcome a dozen high school writers to our second Ironwood Writers Studio. Students came from our local schools in Knott County, across central and eastern Kentucky, and from as far afield as North Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia. Ironwood is a creative writing week for high schoolers, where students stay on our historic campus, learn from published and respected Appalachian writers, work on their craft, and build a community of their peers that spans across the region. 

This year, students studied poetry writing with Bernard Clay, nonfiction writing with Shawna Kay Rodenberg, playwriting with Loren Crawford, and fiction writing with Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle. Karen Sayler McElmurry and Caroline Cooper were on-site counselor mentors. Non-writing sessions included meditation and mindfulness with Kelli Hansel Haywood, kintsugi with Tiffany Thompson, and a publishing panel. Students also participated in a Narrative 4 story exchange, team trivia, and a cosplay supper. 

There is a lot of big picture magic to Ironwood. Young writers get to explore different genres and see what they connect to and enjoy. They get an enthusiastic welcome into the Appalachian and Kentucky writing families, seeing that we’re all excited for what they will add to our literature and cultural ecosystem. They step into community that accepts and validates them across identity factors.

Perhaps most importantly, they meet other young writers. The creative life can be an isolating one, since much of the work of creation is done individually, especially when it comes to writing. And if we don’t have other creatives in our circle (a plight very common to folks in rural places) we can struggle to find understanding. If you ask a group of writers for a dry-sounding word for wet, or if dirt would smell shiny, or say a character you are writing is misbehaving and won’t follow the story line, they can offer answers, sympathy, and encouragement. Non-writers might not be able to.

During the week I watched these young writers read each other’s work and offer insightful commentary, hold space for each other’s grief and joy, teach and learn from each other. They stayed up too late, ate too much junk food, found kindred spirits and new facets of themselves. 

~Melissa Helton, Director of Ironwood Writers Studio and Literary Arts Director at HSS

all photos supplied by Melissa Helton