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  • Writer's pictureBy Alex J. Rhowuniong

Pulitzer Prize finalist conducts free writing workshops

Prize-winning writer Inara Marie Verzemnieks of Latvian descent and also an instructor of creative writing at the University of Iowa --- is on Guam to conduct a series of free creative writing and journalism workshops.

The 2007 Pulitzer Prize finalist encourages everyone to come out attend the free public events … and just have fun … especially if you’ve ever dreamed of writing anything to share with the world.

“Even if you are hesitant, come to the workshops … with paper and pen!,” Verzemnieks said in an interview; adding that’s all that’s required. Truth is, she also said, it’s actually easier working with potential writers with fresher eyes.

Verzemnieks’ visit and the free public events are part of a project called, I Come From Here: Portraying Place, Community and History -- made possible by a “grant awarded to Humanities Guahan by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in partnership with the Pulitzer Prizes and the Federation of State Humanities Councils.”

Executive director of Humanities Guahan, Kimberlee Kihleng, said such a project highlights “the critical role journalism and storytelling play in the civic life of our nation and island.”

Verzemnieks added she’s here on the island to share tools she’s learned and used in her own work to help local writers find their own voices and stories.

In fact, the award-winning Verzemnieks, who arrived on Guam five days ago, has already kicked her teaching gear into high speed with a full schedule of workshops.

Her first master writers’ class had a roomful of local journalists seated elbow-to-elbow around what looks to be an 8x4 table at the Humanities Guahan office at the Reflection Center in Hagatna.

Later she appeared at the University of Guam’s Presidential Lecture hall, cranking up the literary heat with: The Many Words From Home: Writing to Capture the Complexities of Place, Identity & Family.

The rest of the week will look as such for Verzemnieks, whose multiple awards include -- among others -- a Rona Jaffe Award, a Pushcart Prize, and one of the largest literary awards in her grandparents’ home country of Latvia, the Veronika Janelsina Literary Prize!:

[if !supportLists]● [endif]Friday: An Evening with the Author---Mapping Our Histories: Writing a Memoir of Place---which will take place at the Hyatt Regency Ballroom A at 6 p.m. Admission is $65 per person, and this is the only event with cost for the public.

[if !supportLists]● [endif]Saturday: Verzemnieks will put on the final event, a college level (Part 2) field experience entitled: One Morning in Guam: A Site-Based, Hands-On Immersive Reporting and Writing Workshop. This last workshop will start at 10 a.m., at the Humanities Guahan office.

Kihleng said about Verzemnieks: “It’s been inspiring to see how committed Inara has been in preparing for her workshops and readings in Guam. And it’s thrilling to have a writer of Inara’s stature participate in the project and offer such a rigorous program. The aim … is to inspire members of Guam’s community to think deeply and creatively about their own complex connections to Guam, Micronesia and the larger Asia-Pacific region.”

Before going full throttle, Verzemnieks made sure she familiarized herself with her tropical surroundings first … just as she used to do years ago as a newspaper reporter ... “driving around the block about 5 times.”

The former writer for the Portland Oregonian-- also author of the acclaimed memoir, Among the Living and the Dead: A Tale of Exile and Homecoming on the War Roads of Europe--took a tour of our "beautiful island" last Sunday, and loved it, she said.

She even did a little bit of Guahan sunbathing at a secret beach where her hosts took her for a quick Guahan beach experience… something impossible to do right now back home in Iowa in bonechilling cold.

“I love (Guam), it’s beautiful,” Verzemnieks said, adding that when she left home, the freezing weather was so bad she almost couldn’t fly out.

Verzemnieks now looks like she’s enjoying Guam’s warmth tremendously before going back to the cold weather, where thick clothing, a toasty heater and the nearness of her husband, 46-year old Nicholas Allen Jones, could be the only warmth reminding her of our beautiful, warm Guahan.

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