Creative writing capstone reading held virtually

Senior creative writing minors presented their work over the course of two nights


Andrew Claybrook

In an event humorously described by Professor Chris Gavaler as “two acts with a twenty three hour intermission,” the creative writing minors of Washington and Lee came together April 6 and 7 to present and show off their writing bona fides, the capstone event of their careers in the minor.

This was the eleventh annual capstone reading for the creative writing program. When the program first started, there were only two people pursuing the minor. Now, the program has grown into one of the most popular on campus, with 19 minors in the senior class alone. 

All of the senior minors presented their work over Zoom, and because there were so many presenters, the capstones had to be presented over two nights. 

“Normally, we would all be together standing in the gallery, but two hours over zoom is inhuman. It can’t be done,” Gavaler said. 

Usually, the event takes place in the Lenfest Center’s Steinar Gallery, where the writers and the audience can share space as sections of thoughtfully written poems and prose are read. 

Even in its virtual incarnation, the event created an intimate experience between the reader and the writer.

Both nights were well attended, and the chat feature offered a new way for the audience to show appreciation for the works as they were being shared.

Each reader introduced the next, offering details about each creative writing minor’s academic interests and personal passions. 

The writers represent a variety of majors and interests, from English to neuroscience, and the works read were equally diverse. 

Some genres and styles represented were historical fiction, like Julia Wickman’s, ‘21, excerpts from her most recent work about Jamestown. Other genres read included horror, eco-poetry, narrative realism, personal accounts, haibun, transrealism and “lost folios” by other poets. 

One work by Isabel Ryan, ‘21, included a visual element, a comic that she had drawn to accompany her writing. 

“The next one is a comic journal of sorts, and I wrote this during the middle of last summer when everything was happening with the pandemic,” Ryan said as she introduced her poem. In her poem she writes about how octopuses have three hearts, and if we as humans have something to learn from them. 

“How can we give breath, blood and nourishment to these three states of awareness? Our hearts do heavy work. Octopi need rest, too,” Ryan read.  

Each piece is as unique as their author, with pieces frequently blending genres and techniques together to develop personal, moving works.

The writers’ influences were evident, with some authors directly crediting classes like poetry of food, eco-poetry or creative writing workshops as the sources and inspirations of their work. Many professors were there to support their students, acknowledging their hard work over the years.

The creative writing minors are listed here in the same order that they read their pieces. For the April 6 Act One: Julia Wickman, Avery Younis, Ryan Brands, David Shook, Gregory Purdy, Savannah Emge, Riley Haralson, Ashley Hancox, Madison Baetz and Laura Adams. For the April 7 Act Two: Kelly Fennessy, Elle Prillaman, Midha Ahmad, Elspeth Suber, Hyer Thomas, Isabel Ryan, KT Hensler, Coletta Fuller, and William Orrell.