“Give back to your community and your industry. Become a mentor or an intern sponsor … Never forget to credit those who helped you become the artist and the person you are today. Give back and you too will receive.”
Creative consultant Mary Virginia Swanson used these sentences to end a piece called “A Brief List of Self-Assignments for Artists.” While this may seem like easy advice to follow, sometimes it is equally instructive to learn from another’s example. James River Writers nurtures a similar creative spirit by hosting Writers Wednesdays, organizing yearly conferences, and finding myriad opportunities to bring writers together in central Virginia. But an honor like the Emyl Jenkins Award allows an organization like JRW to recognize the individuals and organizations that also strengthen the local writing community.
Created by JRW to commemorate the determined spirit of author and former board member Emyl Jenkins, the award honors those who inspire a love of writing and writing education in Virginia. After Jenkins died unexpectedly in 2010, JRW decided to continue her legacy of mentoring and service by giving back to others. “Helping writers and fostering the writing community can take many diverse forms,” said Lee Gimpel, the award committee chair. With Emyl’s memory still strong among the board members, Gimpel acknowledged that ideal candidates possess “enthusiasm, selflessness, and a spirit of mentorship and community-building.”
Selected from nominations submitted by members of JRW members and other writers’ groups, this year’s honorees stood out from the strong competition:
Local poet Ed Lull received the individual award. Lull’s achievements include his work with the Poetry Society of Virginia, where he spent four terms as the president and another six as executive director. He also created Poetry-In-the-Schools, which is listed on the Poetry Society’s website as a program that encourages “students’ understanding, appreciation, and enjoyment of poetry” by involving them in different poetry-related events and workshops. The program’s site also offers resources for teachers to use in the classroom.
The Virginia Screenwriters Forum won the organizational prize this year. Now in its 22nd year, VSF was created by Helene Wagner, a screenwriter and film instructor at the University of Richmond. The group counts the movie Sunshine Cleaning among its many success stories. It also raised funds for a screenplay library and donated a collection of 300 screenplays to the University of Richmond, a gift that aided the college’s newly created film studies major.
Both Lull and the Virginia Screenwriters Forum will be recognized at June on the James, James River Writers annual literary fundraiser, on June 7.
Recognizing the honorees’ efforts to help their own writing communities is not just an opportunity to highlight their achievements. The award is a moment to celebrate a spirit who, as Lee Gimpel remembered, was exuberant and happy to connect with others through writing and sharing stories.
“Emyl was always giving others a little push,” Gimpel recalls. “If JRW is able to give a little push to others by shining a spotlight on what they’re doing, it’s definitely in Emyl’s spirit.”
— Elizabeth Rabin, JRW website contributor