Prose and Poetry

UNCW Writer's Week brings storytelling

Josina Guess By Sarah Baugh Of Early Girl PhotographyWriter’s Week at the University of North Carolina Wilmington is an opportunity for professional writers, students, and those who love the medium to come together for a week of readings, workshops, and craft talks.

JOSINA GUESS is a writer from Georgia who will be visiting Wilmington to participate in the event. Born in rural Alabama and having grown up in Washington D.C., Guess says she grew up surrounded by books, especially books by and about Black people and Quakers.

“I’ve been writing my whole life: poems, letters, journals. I started a blog when I lived in Philadelphia and my children were young just as a way to record some of those fleeting moments,” she says of her origins. “I wrote my first published piece in my mid-thirties. I was living in a Christian community at the time, and I saw writing as a kind of ministry. I still think of writing as a way to shine light on stories that need telling, to process grief, and to build understanding and community across differences.”


As part of the week, Guess will headline a reading and conversation along with keynote speaker and fellow writer IMANI PERRY. This conversation will be on November 10 at the UNCW Lumina Theater starting at 7 p.m.

In addition, Guess will host a Craft Talk on “Building a Writing Community” on November 10 at 2 p.m. as well as a reading and book launch for “Bigger Than Bravery,” an anthology book journeying Black resilience during the pandemic in which Guess contributed an essay.

Writer’s Week is November 7-11, held at several UNCW locations including some Zoom events. Click here for the full schedule.

Ahead of the event next week, WILMA talked to Guess about her writing, contributing to “Bigger Than Bravery,” and what to look forward to during the event.

WILMA: On your website, it states that you write about “faith, race, family, violence, ecology, activism, and home rooted in the rural and urban landscapes of life and memory.” What is it about these topics that inspire you?
Guess: “I never have a short answer to the question, ‘Where are you from?’ As a person who is both urban and rural, with parents of different ethnic backgrounds and a religious background that is rooted in peace and justice work, those themes are simply part of my life and therefore the themes of my writing as well. My hope is that by writing about these topics people will be encouraged to think more about their own stories and see what role they can play in dismantling racism, caring for our planet, and being the kind of person the world needs.”

WILMA: How did “Bigger Than Bravery” come about and what type of work was required to bring it to life?
Guess: “VALERIE BOYD came up with the idea of Bigger Than Bravery in 2020. She saw the historical significance of the pandemic and the uprisings in response to anti-Black violence and she had the forethought to ask Black writers living through it to document this important time capsule. She pitched the idea to KATOYA ELLIS FLEMING at Lookout Books and then had to narrow down her roster of writers to a manageable amount. At that time, I worked with Valerie at The Bitter Southerner. Even though I knew she was working on this anthology I did not expect to contribute; she already had plenty of great contributors. I came down with the Delta variant of COVID in early August 2021, even though I was vaccinated. It took me a long time to start feeling better. I still struggle a lot with fatigue. Valerie said she didn’t have any breakthrough infection essays in the book and she asked me if it would feel healing to write about my experience. I said yes. I sent in my draft, and I believe it was the very last essay to make it into the collection. The thing that brought this book to life was Valerie’s relationship with each writer and her asking them to bring their unique perspective and experiences. And then it took the editorial team at Lookout to complete the edits and carry the book forward even as everyone grieved Valerie’s passing in February.”

WILMA: Why did you decide to be part of the UNCW Writer’s Week?
Guess: “In May, the team at Lookout asked if I would come for the book launch and writer’s week. I am deeply humbled and honored to come to Wilmington to help celebrate this beautiful gift that Valerie and the other contributors brought into the world. I’m excited to meet other writers and share what I can from my journey as a writer and editor.”

WILMA: What can attendees expect from the “Building a Writing Community” Craft Talk?
Guess: “’Bigger than Bravery’ is more than a book. It is evidence of a writing community.  I haven’t met each contributor, but I feel like Valerie pulled us together, and now we belong to one another in an inextricable way. I will talk about the habits and practices that can foster mutual trust, admiration, encouragement, and respect among creative people. One of the biggest barriers to building community can be our own fears and negative thoughts. I hope participants will walk away with a better sense of the gifts we can be to ourselves and to one another.”

WILMA: Anything else you would like to mention about your upcoming work and/or the Writer’s Week?
Guess: “This will be my first time in Wilmington. I’m really excited to see the beach, even if it’s too chilly to swim the ocean is good for my soul. I’ll be leading an Empowered Storytelling Workshop at Sokoto House on November 9 from 5:30 – 7 p.m. The ‘Bigger Than Bravery’ book launch is on November 10, my birthday. When you get into your forties, birthdays start blurring together, but I know I will remember this one.”   

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Categories: Features