From left, poet and nonfiction writer Bob Watts, writer Tiffany Schmidt, novelist and short fiction writer Joyce Hinnefeld, novelist and screenwriter Ruth Knafo Setton, and novelist Kate Racculia, sit on the Notations Writers panel on Wednesday, March 27, 2019, in Zoellner Arts Center. The panel talked about existing work that inspired and fueled their writing processes as well as the technique and form that produces new work. (Madelyn Braman/B&W Staff).

Writers’ panel offers important advice to future authors

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Five well-established authors — Joyce Hinnefeld, Tiffany Schmidt, Ruth Knafo Setton, Bob Watts and Kate Racculia — gathered together in Zoellner Arts Center last week to discuss their writing experiences.

The diverse backgrounds of the panelists gave the listeners the chance to experience a multitude of different angles on the same topic, whether it was overcoming writer’s block or exploring their favorite genre of literature.

Racculia is a local writer from Bethlehem and a winner of the American Library Association’s Alex Award. Setton is a Moroccan-born author and a fellow of Pennsylvania Council of the Arts and Writer’s Digest. Hinnefeld is a professor of English at Moravian College, whose essay “Clean and Stupid” appeared in the 2016 issue of The Briar Cliff ReviewSchmidt, a Lehigh graduate, is an author of many young-adult novels and a former sixth-grade teacher. Watts is an associate professor in creative writing at Lehigh, a writer of poetry and creative nonfiction, and a winner of The Stanzas Prize from David Robert Books.

The discussion during the event varied greatly, from simple questions regarding how the process of writing should flow and how one creates an idea for their book. More debatable topics ensued, such as deciding what the current most popular genre in literature is, or whether or not it makes sense to plan out an entire plot in advance.

While the authors agreed on most points of discussion, questions surrounding how each writer began their career caused rather unexpected responses. 

“So many writers I know say, ‘I’ve known since I was very young. I identified myself as a writer very early,’ and I did not do that,” Hinnefeld said. “I wasn’t in a world where it seemed like a possibility.” 

Such words brought consolation to many listeners, who smiled and nodded in agreement.

After the event the audience had a chance to chat more with the panelists and debrief with each other. Gathered together, the crowd seemed to share one important similarity — they were interested in writing and did so on a regular occasion. The panel was deemed very helpful to them, as the authors answered questions with great diversity and touched upon important points when it came to writing.

The organizer of the event, English professor Stephanie Powell Watts said she was glad to hear such feedback.

“I wanted to bring some different perspectives to the panel,” Watts said. “One is a young adult writer, one is a poet and a nonfiction writer, one is doing screenwriting and two are novelists and short-story writers. So I just wanted there to be a diversity of thinking, and a diversity of genre, too.”

Her idea came true as the responses of the writers fueled new, smaller discussions throughout the audience.

Attendees find out about the event in different ways. 

“My Gryphon (resident assistant), I believe, is in Dr. Watts’ class, so she told me about it,” said Aiden Galbraith, ’22. “I wanted to go just because I am also a writer and it is something I think I would enjoy.”  

Many others were regular visitors of such events, and followed future occasions closely on their calendars. Additionally, visitors from outside of the university were able to join, as the Lehigh Valley newsletter kept them updated on the events happening at Lehigh.

“We actually plan our schedule about a year in advance so we get everybody set then,” Powell said.  

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