"If Mama Ain't Happy, Ain't Nobody Happy": An Interview with Writer/Director/Performer Katie Venit

If Mama Ain't Happy, Ain't Nobody Happy.png

by Lauren Becker

Mother’s Day weekend is almost upon us and we know just how you can spend it.

Join us at the Pablo Center May 13th at 7pm as we round out this season's Sound & Stories series with one final installment. 

Celebrate alongside local writers and storytellers Allyson Loomis, Yia Lor, Brooke Newmaster, Patti See, the Eau Claire Women in Theater (ecWIT), and musician Jerrika Mighelle for an evening of songs and stories on the vast and varying experiences of motherhood.

In preparation for this event, we had a chance to chat with the event’s director and storyteller, the tremendously talented Katie Venit.

Lauren Becker : For those of us who aren’t as familiar, could you tell us a little bit about the nature of the Sound & Stories Series?


Katie Venit : Sound and Stories is a series that combines the talents of local musicians with local writers and other spoken word performers. It's a great little event in an intimate space at the Pablo.

LB : Could you give us a teaser on what we can expect from the evening?

KV : Sure! All of our performers are women, and many of them chose to explore mother-daughter relationships, either through the perspective of the mother or daughter (or in the case of ecWIT's dramatic reading, both). Most pieces will be personal essays (with one fictional piece). We'll also have performances about mothering sons. So it's not just pieces about being a mother, but also having a mother. I'm really excited about the diversity of the ages represented in this show. Often when people think of motherhood, they think of new mothers and that astonishing time. But as this evening will illustrate, motherhood just begins when the baby is born. It just gets more interesting.

LB : Could you share with us some insights you’ve made about the brilliant artists you’ve had the pleasure of getting to know through your time spent planning this event?

KV : They're hilarious. Not every piece that we experience at the Sound and Stories event will be funny or have humor in it, but as people I think they're each delightfully funny. I also went into this process trusting the artists to do their best work. I figured all I had to do was tell them where to be and when, maybe with a little nudging to make sure we stay on theme. That faith has been completely justified. They're each so, so talented.

LB : Can you speak on how various manifestations of motherhood will be communicated with those who have never experienced it?

KV : That's a good question. I think the job of every good writer is to help the reader or audience understand an aspect of the human experience that they might not be familiar with. If we've done our job right, you won't have to have been a mother, or even had a significant relationship with your mother, to recognize some aspect of your own life in our stories. We've all known mothers, though, whether they were our own or someone else's, and we've all loved a woman who was a mother. I think this will appeal to everyone, mother or not.

Deb Brown, member of ecWIT and one of the artists who will be guiding us through this intimate evening of exploration, offered this thematically relevant quote courtesy of N.K. Jemison’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms : “In a child’s eye, a mother is a goddess. She can be glorious or terrible, benevolent or filled with wrath, but she commands love either way. I am convinced that this is the greatest power in the universe.” -

Can’t wait? Neither can we. Purchase your tickets here.


The Beautiful & Complex: A Conversation with Heid E. Erdrich

Lauren Becker

credit: Chris Felver

credit: Chris Felver

On April 25, the Chippewa Valley Book Festival, in partnership with the Chippewa Valley Writers Guild and the UW-Eau Claire Department of English, have the pleasure of hosting acclaimed author, poet, educator, and interdisciplinary artist Heid E. Erdrich.

Heid has authored six collections of poetry, is the editor of two anthologies of literature by Native writers, and has been the recipient of numerous writing awards highlighting her beautiful and complex work. Heid grew up in Wahpeton, North Dakota and is Ojibwe, enrolled at Turtle Mountain.

Throughout the evening, Heid will read from her own recent work and present brief poetry videos, “poemeos”. These poemeos are made through the collaboration of an all-Indigenous team of artists, animators, filmmakers, and composers. Join us at 7PM in the Woodland Theater in UWEC’s Davies Center.

Lauren Becker: Could you speak a little on what you’re looking forward to sharing with us on the 25th?

Heid E. Erdrich: The poems and poem videos (tiny films and animations) I'll share are part of my most recent book and one coming out later this year. My most recent book of poems focuses on forms of communication and expressions, everything from cave art to music lyrics and cell phones. The more ways we find to communicate, the less we seem to understand one another.

I'll read some new poems and talk about the anthology I edited for Graywolf Press and that came out in summer last year, but is in its fourth printing already!

LB: What’s led you to this path of creation and advocacy?

HE: I am pretty much as creation made me - someone who has always been interested in art, words, justice and deep listening to the world. Poetry has always been a part of my life and I've loved collaborating, but did not find the time and company to really engage it until recently.

LB: Could you speak on your experience collaborating with all-Indigenous teams of creatives?

HE: My team of collaborators were, first of all, my friends and colleagues. We worked together in a lot of settings including with choreographers and in community development, so I knew they would understand my aims in making short films and other art projects based in poetry.

LB: Your work has been characterized as ecologically centered, deeply complex, critical, strikingly beautiful, and simultaneously ironic. What does your creative process look like?

HE: It often looks like daydreaming, walking around an urban lake, laughing at the absurdity of the world, texting pictures and ideas back and forth with visual artists and reading aloud to groups of people so I can hear where my voice works and what does not work.

LB: Before attending this event, is there anything you wish your audience would know more about?

HE: It would be great if audiences came to poetry readings without any worries that they might not "get" a poem. Not all poems need to be figured out. Sometimes it's just fun to let the words flow over you, to enjoy the humor or other tones. I usually give time for questions, too, so the audience can ask about anything the poems bring up. I like my audience to expect an enjoyable evening with some laughs, even.

LB: Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?

HE: I really appreciate being invited to these literary events and it's how I make my living, in fact. As my 94 year old Dad in North Dakota says, "People actually pay you to read poems, huh? Well, how about that!"

How about that indeed!

You can check out Heid’s latest collection of poetry, Curator of Ephemera at the New Museum for Archaic Media here.

For those who would like to form a better understanding of the traditional homelands of the Nations of Wisconsin, please visit https://wisconsinfirstnations.org/.

Poetry & Pi(e): An Intersection

Dasha Kelly Hamilton • Credit: Va’Na Barki

Dasha Kelly Hamilton • Credit: Va’Na Barki

Lauren Becker

Interdisciplinary. A term defined by Google’s dictionary as “Relating to more than one branch of knowledge.” A buzzword. A mindset.

 Perhaps you’re in the mindset that if you go to a coffee shop, you’re in a space limited to casual chats and creamer. If you go to a museum, you’re in a space limited to mummies and dinosaur bones. I think we can all say that we were once in the same boat, believing that everything had its “place”. Believing that history didn’t belong in my dream of someday becoming a rodeo cowgirl. Or that calculus didn’t belong in your dream of becoming a children’s author.

As it turns out, many things that we once thought of as polar opposites are actually quite intertwined. For example, the art of poetry and the art of mathematics. On March 14, we at the Guild, along with our collaborators at the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters, are hosting an event that will make math and spoken word’s cross-over crystal clear.

Join us at Pablo Center on National Pi Day for a reading and discussion led by acclaimed poet, writer, artist, and founder of Still Waters Collective - Dasha Kelly Hamilton. Throughout the evening, we’ll celebrate the beauty that is interdisciplinary thinking, with the help of coffee from Shift Cyclery and Coffee Bar and pies from Randy’s Family Restaurant. . Thanks, too, to the UWEC Student Office of Sustainability for sponsoring student tickets.

 Academy associate director, and editor of Wisconsin People & Ideas, Jason Smith shared a bit about the nature of Poetry and Pi(e) and his take on the term “interdisciplinary”.


Lauren Becker: Given the nature of this event, what has your experience at the Wisconsin Academy taught you about interdisciplinary studies?

Jason Smith: Sometimes the best conversations happen when different disciplines collide, whether by design or by accident. These “creative collisions” can complicate our understanding of a person, place, or thing by providing a different lens through which to see, say, the mathematical precision found in haiku or the beauty of carbon atoms arranged into a graphene nanotube.

LB: As a Madison-based writer, what's your perception of the literary scene here in our Valley?

JS: I think that what is going on in the Valley is exceptional and a model for other areas in Wisconsin that want to help grow what I see as one of our state's greatest potential exports: excellent writing. Of course it doesn’t hurt that you have committed community partners—the CVWG, the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library, UWEC, Pablo, Volume One etc.—and people like BJ Hollars and Nick Butler working together to cultivate the scene, and I’m not even counting Shift!, the Oxbow, and the other local hangouts that host and promote Valley writers.

LB: What do you hope folks will take away from this event as a whole?

JS: Well, first I hope they enjoy the poetry. Dasha is an incredible poet, and her performances resonate with people from all different background, poets and non-poets alike, and this is a rare opportunity to just kind of submerge oneself in the world of her words. I also think that this is a great opportunity for people to get together and talk about the great poets we have in Wisconsin. I am continually amazed at the depth of talent we have in our statewide poetry community, and the ways in which Wisconsin poets support each other—showing up for readings, teaching classes, reviewing chapbooks. Right now, Wisconsin is a great state for poets and writers.

LB: What sparked your interest in partnering with us?

JS: Well, at the Academy we believe that Wisconsin ideas move the world forward. So, we like to work with organizations that help writers and artists to achieve their goals—to get their writing seen and heard—while bringing people of all stripes together to take part in our state’s literary heritage. I admire the work the CVWG is doing, so it just seems like a good fit.

A good fit indeed!

Excited to come to a better understanding of how our world is connected?

Purchase your tickets for an interdisciplinary evening here.



"Stringing Out Your Dirty Laundry for the World To See": 5 Questions with Priory Writer-in-Residence David McGlynn


Lawrence University professor David McGlynn is the author of several books, including One Day You’ll Thank Me, A Door in the Ocean, and The End of the Straight and Narrow. His writing has also appeared in Men’s HealthReal Simple, Parents, The New York TimesSwimmerBest American Sports Writing, and numerous literary journals. This summer at The Priory Writers’ Retreat he’ll host a writing workshop titled “Flirting with Disaster: Turning Personal Obsession into Memoir.” Read on to learn more about David, his writing process, and how to string out “your dirty laundry for the world to see.”

B.J. Hollars: Your memoir and nonfiction writing transcends a range of topics, from collegiate swimming, to personal tragedies, to parenthood.  Do you find that subject matter changes your writing style or process?  Does subject dictate form for you?

David McGlynn: That’s a shrewd observation, and absolutely true. Yes, subject dictates for me. My stories and essays (and especially the nonfiction) come from individual images or moments that, for whatever reason, cauterize in my mind. The narratives grow around those small, shining moments. When those moments are funny – for example, when they have to do with parenting energetic boys – the piece will be funny. When the moment is sad or tragic – as when writing about the murder of my friend – the story will be sad, too. I try to follow the momentum of that initial image as far and as fully as I can.  

BH: In A Door in the Ocean you recount your swimming career amid the backdrop of your own coming-of-age, as well as the death of your friend and swimming teammate.  The book is riveting, and highly personal.  How do you decide which parts of yourself to share, and which parts of yourself to leave out?

DM: Deciding “how much of yourself” to put into a project is the classic memoirist’s dilemma. We want to reveal enough to make the story interesting and compelling, but not so much that we’re exposed to the point of humiliation. I try to ignore the second part of the dilemma as much as I can. Over time, I have come to believe that there isn’t much a writer can say that hasn’t been said or experienced by other people before. Maybe it’s a product of having come of age in the 1990s, when everyone, it seemed, was writing a tell-all salacious memoir about an array of once-taboo subjects. But it’s often the case that revealing what feels like our worst secrets doesn’t amount to the lightning strike we think it will. And, in my experience, readers tend to appreciate a writer willing to be real. So I say, be real! Let it all hang out! String your dirty laundry on the line for the world to see! You can always take it out later if you feel you’ve gone too far. Chances are, you’ll quickly see that every other window has dirty laundry hanging in it, too.


BH: In One Day You'll Thank Me: Lessons From an Unexpected Fatherhood, you reflect both on being a father and a son.  What did you learn about these dual roles in the writing process?  Any surprises along the way?

DM: Meditating on fatherhood and son-hood was integral to One Day You’ll Thank Me. I don’t think any parent can think about his or her role as a father or mother without also considering their own experiences being parented. Writing about my relationship with my dad, while at the same time writing about my relationship with my sons, taught me to be gentler and more compassionate toward my father, and to take myself less seriously. My dad was trying the best he could; as a dad, I’m only doing the same thing. As far as surprises go, I was certainly struck by how fiercely I still love spending time with my father. I hope – and since my oldest is now a teenager, this is no guarantee – that my own sons will one day want to spend time with me.

BH: At this summer's Priory Writers' Retreat, you'll be teaching a workshop that explores navigating the "treacherous waters" of turning life into stories.  How do you know when a real-life occurrence is story worthy?

DM: A story is worthy when it produces an image that sticks in your mind. When it’s the kind of moment (and it doesn’t have to be big) that you’d tell at a dinner party or around a campfire – when it’s one of the moments or experiences that makes you you. The experience may be cataclysmic or it may be totally pedestrian, nothing more than a quiet moment that struck you. The art of the story is in the telling, not in the moment itself. Learning to pay attention to the details and to make the experience come alive is the thing.

BH: Finally, what are you working on now?

DM: I’ve been neck-deep in a novel project for the past several years. Like One Day You’ll Thank Me, it’s about parenting – only instead of a funny send-up about parenting boys, the novel is about caring for children who are sick and the strains and sacrifices their parents must make. I’m hoping to see it come to fruition in the next several months.

Want to work with David this summer? Click the button below to apply!

Love Hurts (But Less So with Stories and Music!)


The Sound and Stories Series was born of a single premise: everything’s better with music.  Even stories—as powerful as they are—can be amplified by the perfect musical note.

 (If you need proof of the magic of sound, we dare you to watch the shark attack scene from Jaws.  Without the famous orchestral accompaniment, the scene’s a bit of a yawner.  But we digress…)

On Thursday, February 13 at 7PM, the Chippewa Valley Writers Guild is excited to host the second in our Sound and Stories Series: “Love Hurts.”  Just in time for Valentine’s Day, this event will feature stories of heartbreak and hilarity by local writers Laura Buchholz, Garrett Denney, Jodie Arnold, Tom Giffey, and Jay Gilbertson.  Their stories will be accompanied by famed musicians Peter Phippen, Victoria Shoemaker and Tiit Raid.

We can’t say too much about the stories without giving them away, but if you like breakups (wait—who likes breakups?), ski jumps, online relationships gone awry, and the mysteries of love, life, and death, then you’ll need to be sure to snag your ticket today. 

As for the music, if you’ve never heard Grammy Award nominated flutist Peter Phippen, singer/songwriter guitarist/flutist Victoria Shoemaker and percussionist/visual artist Tiit Raid, you simply must.  Click here for a sample of their work.

Left to right: Peter Phippen, Victoria Shoemaker, Tiit Raid. Credit: Peter Phippen / Facebook

Left to right: Peter Phippen, Victoria Shoemaker, Tiit Raid. Credit: Peter Phippen / Facebook

What are you waiting for?  Be a part of a magical evening, and come celebrate love in all its variations!

Write & Publish Captivating Narratives: A New Workshop Hosted by Elizabeth de Cleyre


As our writing community grows, so too do our opportunities! Elizabeth de Cleyre, in partnership with Odd Humyns—a new store and workspace from Odd Brand Strategy founders Serena Wagner and Elle McGhee—has just released information on a new workshop opportunity right here in the Chippewa Valley. Read on to learn more, and how you can be a part of it.

1.) Tell us a bit about your new 5-week writing workshop.  What are some of the subjects you're most excited to share with writers?

This new workshop for School of Odd is a crash course in writing and publishing, and over the course of five weeks we'll read and discuss short pieces, workshop one another's drafts, and generate new writing. It's structured so the six participants cover all the bases of reading, writing, and critical reflection, and do so in an ongoing, consistent form. The goal is to get people to generate habits over these five weeks that they'll be able to continue after the class is done. 

I'm most excited to cover literary movements and voices that resist categorization or are hard to pin down--such as hybrid works, autofiction, and corporeal writing. There's so much potential and possibility in writing right now, whether you're generating new work or seeking innovative methods for revision. Ultimately, this workshop is a possibility space, and I'm eager to what each writer brings to the table. 


2.)  In your program's description, you note 21st century writers' struggle to maintain "attention" in a content-flooded market. Without giving too much away, what should writers do to bring attention to their work? Is it a matter of content, form, platform, or publication outlet?

Annie Dillard wrote, "the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you."

So let me answer this freely and abundantly: If you, as a writer, want people to pay attention to your work, then you must pay attention to your work. For me, that means building a consistent writing practice, and investing in my education by studying writers whose work I admire.

It may sound reductive, but when we consistently read and write we become better readers and writers, and when we become better, more consistent readers and writers, the leap from writing to publishing becomes that much easier. I'm not afraid of giving too much away because it doesn't feel like much of a secret to me, especially here in Eau Claire, where there are countless examples of writers who pay attention to their own work. (I've also noticed in Eau Claire that writers who focus on their own work are often also excellent supporters of the work of others.)

We can sweat over Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter algorithms to promote our work all day, but if we're not paying attention to our own writing, we're hard-pressed to make progress on it. Yes, the internet brings with it a flood of new content, and while some writers see that as a detriment (read: more competition), I see it as a huge opportunity. The final lesson in this course is about how to take your writing out into the world of publishing, so we'll discuss how to cut through the noise and get your voice heard.

3.) Your workshop will be held at Serena Wagner and Elle McGee's newly-opened Odd Humyns space--a shop and studio space in downtown Eau Claire.  Can you share about this exciting collaboration?  Are there opportunities for future offerings in this space?

I'm insanely honored to count Serena and Elle as collaborators and friends, and one of the main reasons I asked Odd Humyns to host is because of their commitment to building an inclusive space. Writing is sacred and personal to me, and in order for the writing workshop to be a possibility space, all participants need to feel safe, honored, and know their perspective is valid. 

As for future offerings, School of Odd and Odd Humyns are planning on a bunch of different workshops, courses, and events throughout the year, and they are open to pitches from folks about offerings. Their aim is to act as a well-rounded hub for all creative mediums, including writing in its many forms. (Definitely keep your eyes on their Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/oddhumyns/

I'm personally excited to see where this workshop takes us, and I'll use participant feedback to craft new courses that align with School of Odd. Since I recognize that not everyone is available to meet in person, I'm also exploring an online-only version of the course. On a somewhat related note, Serena, Elle and I are at work on a zine/journal tackling the topic of the 'creative economy.' 


4.) Finally, tell us a bit about you!  Favorite book?  Favorite writer?  Favorite piece of writing advice?

I'm a NH-native, a former Portland, OR transplant, and somewhat hard to keep up with. I started a book club at Red's Mercantile when I moved here in 2016, which then prompted me to co-found Dotters Books. As an editor and publishing consultant, I've guided over 70 authors to publication and worked behind the scenes of literary magazines. When not writing (or reading), you can find me behind a sewing machine, making made-to-measure clothing for clients. (I have a knack for analog endeavors.)

Nicole Krauss wins the title of "favorite writer" for me, as her novels are some of the few works I re-read in full, especially Great House and Forest Dark

As for writing advice, something Charles Baxter said in his 2017 lecture at the Chippewa Valley Book Festival has stayed with me: "sublime confidence." 

To register and learn more, click here!

Winter Is Coming...And So Is The Winter Writers Retreat!


Update: SOLD OUT!

by Emma O’Shea 

As the winter weather rolls in, freezing leaves off the trees and blowing fog out of our mouths, so comes the Winter Writer’s Retreat. With it, the creative minds of published authors and ambitious writers looking to hone their talents and discover new insight into the world of writing. As a way of exploring our own writing and writing in different genres, the retreat gives an opportunity to nestle into the winsome Oxbow Hotel and center our attention on our passion of pen to paper. The weekend allows writers of all genres to spend time away from the day-to-day tasks and tap into our creative reservoirs. 

The retreat embraces advanced writers and those who are just beginning to explore their own writing. Wherever you fall on the spectrum, all are welcome. With an agenda that is purely focused on writing and soaking up the atmosphere of The Oxbow (and delicious food of The Lakely), it is the perfect haven for anyone who has an inkling towards writing. 

Each year the Guild weekend retreat, hosted by BJ Hollars, invites different authors from around the region to be featured. They’ll discuss writing techniques during craft talks and work with fellow retreaters in workshop. This year, we’re excited to offer plenty of different perspectives and published authors from a variety of genres. A. Rafael Johnson, author of The Through, is one of our writers-in-residence. Johnson comes with a fresh perspective on our ideas of writers, challenging the stereotypes we sometimes intimidate ourselves with when contemplating who we are as writers, both beginners and seasoned alike. Johnson says, “In America, the arts - particularly writing - is too often thought of as a solitary pursuit. We've romanticized the lone wolf writer, alone in a garret with a typewriter who produces a work of singular genius. But I ask, when did isolation outweigh conversation? I'd like to reconsider the role of artists and writers in society, as people who put their gifts of imagination in service of their communities. We are the ones who can imagine something different, something better than what we have now. If we don't, no one will." Expect new ideas on how to approach writing and how to hone skills throughout the retreat nestled in The Oxbow. 

Whether this is your first retreat or it’s a tradition dedicated to the love of writing, please join us at the perfect retreat as we approach the winter season! 


EARLY BIRD RATE: $215.95 Flats / $240.95 Main House

Cost includes Saturday night lodging, breakfast, lunch, fruit, cookies, muffins, coffee, drink ticket, live jazz, and mini-group workshop (capped at 5), as well as all craft talks and instruction. Room upgrades available; ask, too, about special writers' rate for Friday night lodging as well.

EARLY BIRD DEADLINE: December 31, 2018

RATE STARTING JANUARY 1, 2019: $235.95 Flats / $260.95 Main House

RETREAT DATES: February 2-3, 2019

Space is limited!  Reserve your spot today!

Behind The Scenes at "True North"

by B.J. Hollars

What happens when you bring together some of the region’s best storytellers, musicians and multimedia creators?  That’s what Nick Meyer and members of the Volume One crew were determined to find out.  The result—True North—will be performed live in the JAMF Theater at the Pablo Center at the Confluence on November 16th and 17th.

What is True North?  For one, it’s not your run-of-the-mill storytelling series.  Rather, it’s a highly produced, carefully curated evening of, as its website notes, “authentic stories, dynamic multi-media, and curious collaborations from some of our favorite writers, filmmakers, performers, artists, and musicians — all live on stage.”

Jodie Arnold

Jodie Arnold

The show will feature a range of storytellers, including Nick Butler, Kobi Shaw, Ward Rubrecht, and Jodie Arnold, all of whom will share some of their most poignant and powerful stories alongside a live score produced by S. Carey.  Adding to the ambiance will be “signature pieces” of film, multimedia, animations, and other live artistic performances.  In short, the show’s a true collaboration of true stories performed live.  And at the direction of Jake Lindgren, surely audiences are in for a treat.

“This is truly a complete multi-media experience,” True North performer Jodie Arnold says.  “For lovers of a good story, this will bring it to life like never before.”

As writers, the question of how far we can stretch a story—and how we can enhance it by way of collaborating with other arts—is always at the forefront.  It’s one thing to write the words on the page, but how do we give them life beyond the page?  On November 16th and 17th, you can find out.  Click here to watch a teaser for the show, and here to order your tickets today.  And remember, the show’s only the beginning of your True North evening.  The afterparty at the Pablo is another opportunity to share your own stories, as well as reflect on what you’ve just seen, heard, and experienced.