Shepherd professors participate in Virginia Center for the Creative Arts residencies
Two Shepherd University English professors recently participated in residencies at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA) that allowed them to work on novels. Dr. James Pate, assistant professor of English, spent May 9-22 at the center and Dr. Carrie Messenger, associate professor of English, was there May 23-June 6.
During his two weeks at VCCA, Pate worked on a surrealist crime novel set in Memphis and New Orleans.
“I got more or less a full draft of the novel completed the two weeks I was there,” Pate said. “So it was a really great opportunity.”
This is the second novel Pate completed while in residency at VCCA. In 2015 he finished “Speed of Life,” which will be published by 280 Steps in spring 2017.
Messenger spent her time at VCCA working on a novel set in Chicago from 1967-1969, with characters including radical feminists, members of the Black Panther Party and Weather Underground, a militant organization started in 1969 with a goal of overthrowing the U.S. Government.
“Being at the Center for the Creative Arts was absolutely magical because I was in a position where all I had to do from morning until night was work on the novel,” Messenger said. “It’s really beautiful there. Taking walks and seeing the surrounding area was inspirational. When I came back to Shepherdstown I realized it looks a lot like that here. But there’s something about being away and away from the responsibilities of everyday life, that puts you in a position where you appreciate things more.”
Both Pate and Messenger find having the opportunity to work on their own writing helps them become better teachers and mentors to their students.
“I feel like it’s really important to be a practicing writer, to be in the process of creating characters, structures, plots and narratives,” Pate said. “It definitely brings something into the classroom.”
“Being in a position where I can devote myself to my craft over the summer helps me come back energized for the semester and I do a much better job in the classroom,” Messenger said.
Messenger said spending time at VCCA also gave her a chance to meet writers from all over the country, some of whom are teachers and others who are full-time writers.
“Being able to share ideas with other teachers was excellent. Talking to people who are making other choices in terms of how to pay for their art is really useful,” she said. “I can use those writers as models of a way to have a life that’s outside of the classroom.”