Sheila Sheppard Lovelady
Sadly, our Program Director Sheila Sheppard Lovelady will be leaving us for greener pastures on the Eastern Shore at the end of the month. We wish her well as she takes some time to pursue her own writing goals and dreams, including seeking an MFA in Creative Writing, but at the same time we’re left a bit glum to think that our great-hearted go-to-lady and multitasker-extraordinaire will no longer be with us. Although only with the JRW for a little over a year, Sheila has had a major impact on the efficiency of our programming and administrative day-to-day-ness, and we will miss her hugely!
I sat down with Sheila a few weeks ago to catch up with her before she takes off. Over lunch, we talked writing, life and more, and she shared with me a little piece of her sojourn here as JRW Program Director.
J: What made you want to become involved with the JRW?
S: I felt it was an essential step in furthering my journey as a writer: to make contacts, find inspiration, have opportunities to practice my craft; to learn about the world of writing and writers. Plus, I knew I would enjoy being part of the team, helping guide the organization through transitions and sharing my nonprofit experience. So there was a beautiful give and take.
I never expected to find such a genuine community, though. There’s a real passion here for the cause of inspiring writers to fulfill their dreams. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working with such stellar people who are committed to bringing quality literary programs—and to supporting each other on an individual level as well.
J: What do you think has been your greatest accomplishment with us? Your most intense experience?
S: Greatest accomplishment? I don’t think it’s been one major contribution so much as contributing to incremental steps in JRW’s evolution… streamlining processes, helping put our best foot forward to the public, being creative about logistics, making sure our volunteers are engaged and appreicated. I’m also glad I was able to facilitate our office move to the sun-filled space at St. John’s Church.
Most intense… There was a moment at the last hour of the [James River Writers 2013 Annual] Conference… The crew of worker bees behind the JRW table kept growing. People kept pulling up chairs. We were the people in the trenches too tired to even enjoy the experience. Such an unbelievable amount of energy is poured into making an event like that happen… Yet at the same time we were elated that everything had gone so well, and suddenly we had this moment to watch the last moments of the Conference unfold… I can only describe it as an “exhausted joy.”
J: How have we helped your writing?
S: JRW has helped erase the mindset that I wasn’t good enough to be a writer. Becoming so immersed in this world has given me courage. I’ve witnessed so many success stories and been able to interact with authors on a human level rather than on the outside looking in. I’ve also learned more than I ever thought possible about the business side of writing.
J: What’s been the biggest challenge?
S: Transition! 2013 was a year full of changes for JRW, from staffing to internal procedures to venues. Katharine and I worked hard to build on an excellent track record while bringing JRW to the next level. We also had to shape the new role of Program Director, making sure to define tasks clearly while being as flexible as possible to meet the demands of the day. I took the task of coordinating with volunteers and board members quite seriously—as much fun as we had doing it. These are people donating their time and talent to the organization, on an incredibly deep and broad level here at JRW, and I wanted to be sure to not only utilize their skills well, but to appreciate them.
And of course, Get Your Word On! The e-newsletter takes a lot of time.
J: What will you miss?
S: The camaraderie. Katharine and Kristi and Lana and Joanna and Bill and Julie and Erica and Josh and Charles and Melissa… I can’t name names because it would take all day. It sometimes felt like we were taking on the world together. All the shared challenges and the pride in delivering such quality programming… the satisfaction in being part of such a high-caliber organization. The excitement in being at the forefront of this community and in contact with writers nationwide.
I’m not abandoning you all! I still definitely want to be an active part of the community.
I want to say that Katharine has been an absolute pleasure to work with—for the record my favorite boss of all time. She works intelligently and passionately and we’re lucky to have her at the helm.
On a professional level, being a part of JRW has sharpened my skill set, and on a personal level, it has forged wonderful connections. More than anything, I feel gratitude for the warmth of the people and for being able to do this important work with you all.
J: So what’s next?
S: I’m taking the time to re-fuel my own path as a writer on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. I’m finally going to sit down and work on my craft—no more excuses! I’ve been telling myself this for the past six years, and now I’m going to make it happen—I mean it! I’m saying this to all of you here and now: feel free to hold me accountable—hound me when you see me! I’ll also be doing some freelance writing.
J: We definitely will! We’ll miss you, and are so sincerely wishing you success in all your writing goals! Any last thoughts you’d like to leave us with?
S: To those of you not involved—involve yourself! Being a part of a community like this is so important in your journey as a writer.