When I leave a writers' conference, I usually feel deflated, depressed, and demoralized thinking that I just don’t measure up. There is usually an upper echelon clique that makes average attendees feel less than. That was not the case when I left the West Virginia Writers Annual Conference on Sunday afternoon. I left feeling empowered and energized, and this feeling has continued without any crash or let down. It was and is magical. The only other conference that even compares was the Appalachia Studies Association Conference that I attended in March. I think that the reason that attendance at these conferences left me feeling confident and competent was the lack of pretentiousness, and I was among my people.
The West Virginia Writers Conference was held at the Cedar Lakes Conference Center in Ripley. Marilyn and I went down the day before and stayed in Mineral Wells. We then had a very scenic drive to Cedar Lakes along route 21. We felt welcome from the moment that we checked into the conference.
I was the teaching artist for three generative poetry workshops at the conference: “Writing Your Life in Verse,” “Write the Poetry of Your Dreams,” and “Using the Words of Others to Create Something Original.” I had small groups at my workshops, but the attendees were extremely attentive, engaged, and appreciative. They also created some fabulous work. I have been told that it is extremely rare for someone like me who does not have an MFA or formal training in writing to be a teaching artist. I take that as a huge compliment. I already have ideas for future workshops.
I deliberately decided not to identify myself as a transgender woman in my bio that was in the conference program and my workshop handouts. However, it did not take long for it to come out. At the kick-off luncheon, we were sitting beside a very nice lady who, of course, asked about us. When I said that we have been married for almost 42 years, she commented, “That was not legal, was it?” That is when I responded that I have not always been a woman. She looked surprised, but she was also curious. She wanted to ask questions, and I encouraged her to do so. The other incident that has led me to do a lot of thinking occurred at the annual banquet. We were sitting across from a very nice young man who we had met earlier. We enjoyed a nice conversation. The next morning, he was informed that I was trans. He was surprised, and he said that he thought that we were just two women who were married. He referred to us as “the two blonds.”
I also shared some of my story during my workshops and everyone seemed receptive. Several people thanked me for sharing my story and for being so open and honest. I also read my new poem “Queer in the Holler” at the open mic on Friday night. I am sure that there were some people there who were not accepting, but they kept their thoughts to themselves.
Marilyn and I both made a lot of new friends during the weekend and reconnected with some old ones, who told us that they loved us. I was also honored to receive Second Place in The Pearl S. Buck Award – Writing Social Change for my poem “Persons Unknown.”
I just cannot say enough good things about West Virginia Writers, Inc. and the Annual Conference. Although I have lived most of my life in Ohio, I still consider West Virginia to be home. I am proud to have been born there and spent the formative years of my youth living there. And West Virginia Writers is most definitely a group that I hope to become more involved in. They truly are my people.
Barbara Marie Minney is a transgender woman, award-winning poet, writer, speaker, and quiet activist. She is a retired attorney and a seventh generation Appalachian. Now based in Tallmadge, Ohio, her first collection of poetry entitled “If There’s No Heaven” was the winner of the 2020 Poetry Is Life Book Award and the Akron Beacon Journal Best Northeast Ohio Books 2020. It is available through this website at www.poetryislifepublishing.com. Barbara is also the author of the "Poetic Memoir Chapbook Challenge." Follow her at www.barbaramarieminneypoetry.com.