NC Native Wiley Cash Keynotes Successful Summer Writers Conference

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Wiley Cash started his writing career by stealing cigarettes from his father and listening to “The Doors” on his Walkman. He found inspiration from Jim Morrison, whom he thought was the “greatest poet of all time,” and began to write doomy, gothic, self-centered poetry. It wasn’t until Cash started his undergraduate study at UNC Asheville that he realized not only was he a terrible poet, so was Jim Morrison.

“But, I wanted to write. I grew up telling stories, I grew up reading stories,” Cash recalled. “So, I decided to try my hand at fiction and I found excitement, comfort, joy and a kind of innocence in sitting down and doing this very private what should be a very lonely thing, but it didn’t feel lonely at all.”

Cash shared his journey from aspiring teen poet to New York Times bestselling author with fellow writers during UNCW Department of Creative Writing’s third annual Summer Writers Conference held June 26-28. Creative writing faculty and acclaimed authors and poets offered workshops to help writers perfect their skills and offered tips on how to navigate the world of publishing. Participants also took part in readings and roundtable discussions.

“These writers, both from the area and from as far away as New Jersey and Texas, are talented, creative people who are interested in finding inspiration and motivation to pursue their dream of being a published writer,” said Michael White, UNCW professor and creative writing chair. “This conference is designed to offer a balance of inspiration and generative exercises along with practical advice for the budding writer.”

Cash was a presenter and the keynote speaker for the event. Other workshop leaders included poet Emily Smith, senior lecturer in the UNCW creative writing department and director of the Publishing Laboratory and founder and publisher of Lookout Books and its sister magazine, Ecotone; author Richard Krawiec; and Beth Staples, creative writing lecturer at UNCW and assistant director of the Publishing Laboratory.

Cash, a Wilmington resident, described himself as a “writer of place.” Writing about a place he loves gives his stories a direction and validity, he said. His bestselling first novel, A Land More Kind Than Home, takes place in Madison County, N.C. during the 1980s. The book tells the tale of an autistic boy who dies during a healing ceremony at a local church. The story looks at the repercussions the event has on his family and the community.  

His second novel, This Dark Road to Mercy, grew from a childhood memory of Cash’s wife about the time she practiced sliding into bases with her father. “It was such a beautiful image of a father and daughter on the ball field, but I didn’t want to write a novel about sweetness. That’s not the stuff of life,” he said. The story, which takes place in Gastonia, North Carolina, became a “tale of love and atonement, blood and vengeance, a story that involves two young sisters, a wayward father, and an enemy determined to see him pay for his sins,” stated Cash’s website.

In his closing remarks, Cash encouraged fellow writers to read more than they write and that even the most improbable things are possible. He commended the university’s creative writing department for hosting the conference.

“I am on the road a lot and when I say I am from Wilmington, people always mention the MFA program at UNC Wilmington. They know the writers here. They know the history of the writers here. So, to be a part of this writing community at UNCW is amazing,” Cash said. “To open this up to a community of students who are not full-time, degree-seeking students – what an incredible experience for these people to come and study with faculty. It’s just thrilling to be here.”