Folk School Writing Program

Folk School Writing Program

By Glenda Beall:

What is it about the John C. Campbell Folk School that seduces us into coming back again and again, either as student or teacher? Like so many others, I was hooked after the first class. In 1995, I moved to the mountains of western North Carolina and found the folk school through Nancy Simpson, Writer in Residence at John Campbell. My first class with her, a poet, changed my life. Although I’d been writing since I was old enough to hold a pencil, I would not ever have called myself a writer. I told Nancy I was not a poet, but after her class my poetry was published in slick and in literary magazines. I won a couple of awards from poetry contests.

Glenda Beall: Photo taken by Valorie Luhr

I’ll never forget my first class in the Orchard House, an old farmhouse turned dormitory for students. Our poetry class met in the living room which looks out through a window wall on a wide meadow bordered by dark trees. In the distance the Blue Ridge Mountains ride above the layered landscape. For that special week, my dream of writing and publishing began to come to fruition. Since then my poetry chapbook, Now Might As Well Be Then, has been published by Finishing Line press.

The greatest thrill of all was the day I turned the key in the lock to open the room where I would teach writing for the first time at the Folk School. I remembered all the writing classes, the outstanding teachers like Maureen Ryan Griffin, Darnell Arnoult, Ruth Zehfuss, and Elizabeth Hunter. I also thought about R.T. Smith, Gene Hirsch, Steven Harvey and so many others who educated me a week at the time in a comfortable atmosphere, the safety of a non-competitive group of adults who were eager, like me to write their stories and poems. My goal was to give my students that same experience. I hoped my students would leave the class room wishing the week would go on and on, just as I had done.

Writing Students: Chigger, Kay Lee, Teresa, Toni

Happily, I tell you, my students seem to have that same unique experience. I hear them say, “I don’t want to go home. I don’t want this week to end.”

I take great pleasure in the bonding and trust developed between my students as we talk and write about memories from childhood or from recent happenings. Women and men over sixty develop closeness with younger students. They form online writing groups with those in the same class.

One man told me at the end of the week, “You dragged me kicking and screaming into this class, but I am so glad I stayed.”

Others have said to me, “My week here in this class changed my life.”

Through participating in classes at the John C. Campbell Folk School, I learned what the students want and what the best teachers do to bring about the kind of experience that brings people from all over the United States to this tiny little place in western NC. I also learned that helping others to reach their writing goals, even if it is only to give a writer confidence to send out a manuscript, lifts my spirits, makes me proud, and fills my heart to overflowing with joy.

Take a moment to visit Glenda Beall’s blog at

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