ESO Writers’ Workshop Approaches 25th Anniversary

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Workshop teachers Lenore Hart and David Poyer at a Book Bin book signing in 2019. Pictured from left are Mau VanDuren, Lenore Hart, David Poyer, Joan La Blanc, Phil Wilson, and Rashidah Abubakr. Submitted Photo.

By Adolphus Ames —

The ESO Writers’ Workshop marks its 25th anniversary this year. It serves as a training ground for talented local writers of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry to perfect their work and the craft of writing. It is taught at the Arts Center in Belle Haven by local authors Lenore Hart and David Poyer. 

The workshop follows a format that was inspired by their mentor, Frank Green, who ran a workshop in Jacksonville based on his experiences at Sewanee University. “In his workshop, the texts were read aloud by the workshop leader, and the writer sat silently at the table until all others had voiced their critiques,” said Poyer. “The format originated with the Fugitive poets, Allen Tate, John Crowe Ransom, and Robert Penn Warren, in the 1920s. Frank preserved the basics, objective group criticism based on anonymous submissions.”

Hart established the workshop in 1996. “When I moved here there wasn’t a community for writers,” she said. “I wanted to create a collaborative environment where writers can have their work read and skilled readers can provide them with intelligent critiques.”

Hart grew up in Florida and immersed herself in writing at a young age. “When I was young, I originally thought I was going to become an illustrator,” she said. “In fifth grade, I came up with an idea to start a newspaper that featured animals that talked and acted like humans, like that comic strip Pearls Before Swine. I began selling it around school. My friend and I were taking manila paper from our teacher’s supply closet to write the newspaper on and when the teacher found out she locked the door, forcing us to cease publication.  Afterwards, I began writing my own stories and reading a lot of adult and classic novels.”

In the early 1980s, Hart earned a master’s degree in library sciences from Florida State University. She worked as a public relations director for a three county library system in northern Florida and wrote poems and short stories in her free time. Her first two novels, “Black River” and “Devil’s Key,” were published in the early 1990s under the pseudonym Elisabeth Graves.

“I saved my real name for general and literary fiction since I had already published poems and stories as Lenore Hart,” she said. “My first two novels were speculative fiction set in contemporary and historical northern Florida, and in those days, it was too easy to get pigeonholed into one genre. I wanted to avoid that.” 

After moving to the Eastern Shore, Hart enrolled at Old Dominion University and earned an M.F.A. in creative writing. Her thesis was the short novel “Waterwoman,” which tells the story of a young woman growing up on the Eastern Shore in the 1920s. Hart has published 10 books total, including two fantastic fiction anthologies, and one children’s book. 

Her husband, Poyer, grew up in western Pennsylvania and graduated from the United States Naval Academy. He started writing in the 1970s. “I taught myself how to write in workshops,” he said. “First, I started out writing short stories and then progressed to novellas and novels. I also read the works, letters, and biographies of several famous authors in order to learn about the craft. For example, Herman Melville, Hemingway, Dostoevsky, Faulkner, and Thomas Wolfe.”

Thus far, Poyer has published over 40 books. Most of his work falls into the thriller and adventure genre. He often draws upon his experience in the military for his fiction. Among his most popular work is an action packed series that focuses on the career of U.S. Navy officer Dan Lenson.

The workshop has produced several success stories. Among them is David McCaleb, a national best selling author of red ops thrillers. “The workshop was the pivotal point in my writing career,” said McCaleb. “I came to it already with a finished manuscript, hoping to put some final touches on it before submitting it to publishers. It took four weeks for me to figure out I didn’t know how to write, then a couple years to learn while rewriting that first book. It was a difficult journey, but I am much better for it. Shortly afterwards, I landed a three-book deal.”

Mark Nuckols, a travel writer, joined the workshop in 2010. “At first, my material was a rather dry accounting of facts, but I learned to enrich my writing with vivid details appealing to all the senses,” Nuckols said. “This was the result of David and Lenore’s guidance. I’ve also acquired important self-editing skills.”

Nuckols’ first book, “Travels with Ferdinand and Friends,” was critiqued during the workshop and is due to be published by the end of the year. It is a travelogue about his 2014 trip around countries that were once part of the former Austria-Hungary empire, and details the aspects of European culture he encountered.

The workshop costs $250. It begins on Sept. 7 and meets on Tuesday nights for 10 weeks from 7-9 P.M. Classes are limited to six students. Register online at https://www.esoartscenter.org/classes/adult-classes/ or call 757-442-3226 for more information. 

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