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Volume 26, Number 7 — July 2019

Rita Quillen brings poetry to Writers Fair

Rita Quillen’s first love is poetry.
Rita Quillen’s first love is poetry.

By Leslie Grace | A! Magazine for the Arts | March 27, 2019

Rita Quillen has enjoyed reading and writing since she was a child. In adulthood she became one of the most acclaimed poets in the region, and now in her retirement she has become a novelist. Some of her books have been self-published and some by publishers both large and small. She will be a participant at the Highlands Writers Fair on April 13 at the Washington County Public Library.

“I said from the time I was in elementary school I wanted to be a writer because I loved to read. I didn’t actually start writing until I was in college, writing some personal essays, really bad poems and some short character sketches. As the years went by, I found myself gravitating to poetry because that seemed to be my strength. I published a chapbook with a small literary press out west in my early 30s, and then I published two more full-length collections with two other small literary presses. I’ve been fortunate enough to get some critical attention and published widely in magazines and anthologies with my poetry.

“When I retired in 2013, I dusted off a novel manuscript, ’Hiding Ezra,’ based on a true family story from my husband’s family that I had worked on for years and published with a local press JanCarol Publishing. I returned to poetry then to write ‘The Mad Farmer’s Wife,’ which was published by a fine academic press, the Texas Review Press, which is a member of the Texas A&M Publishing Consortium. I have now gone back to fiction and finished the sequel to ‘Hiding Ezra,’ entitled ‘Wayland,’ which will be published by what many consider one of the finest literary presses in the South, Iris Press, and I’m honored to join their publishing family.

“When you are published by small presses and don’t have a publicist or other professionals to do your work for you, you market every way you can, particularly on social media. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and a website are absolutely essential for a writer today.

“And of course, events like the Highland Writers Fair are a great way to get the word out about your books and meet readers. I’m looking forward to being there and telling readers about my books. Writing is not something you make a lot of money at unless you’re a John Grisham or an Adriana Trigiani and sell hundreds of thousands of copies. But it is one of the most fun and satisfying of artistic pursuits.

“I find poetry and fiction both very frustrating and difficult and very rewarding. I guess I would have to say poetry is my first love, though it doesn’t reach as many readers as fiction.”

Quillen’s poetry book “Her Secret Dream” received the Book of the Year Award from the Appalachian Writers Association, and her poetry book “The Mad Farmer’s Wife” was a finalist for the Weatherford Award from Berea College and the Appalachian Studies Association. She received a Pushcart nomination in 2012 and 2015, and a Best of the Net nomination in 2012. In 2012, she was a semi-finalist for the Poet Laureate of Virginia. Quillen notes that “Those kinds of recognitions from your peers are always very welcomed and encouraging.”

Quillen is retired from a career in teaching English at Northeast State Community College and Mountain Empire Community College. She has served as Writer-in-Residence or presented workshops at Radford University, Roanoke College, Shephard College, Cumberland University, Bluefield College and others. She lives and farms on Early Autumn Farm in Scott County, Virginia. You can learn more about her at her website

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Topics: L, Literature, Poetry