The Terroir Creative Writing Festival returns to Yamhill County this month after a 3-year pandemic hiatus, with a full slate of speakers, workshops, and a panel discussion on Saturday, April 29, at the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg.
Launched in 2010, the Terroir festival has provided a forum for writers and poets to hear from published authors on topics ranging from creativity and the craft of writing to the often elusive and frustrating path to getting their work published. Thanks in part to featuring A-listers from Oregon’s literary scene — Ursula K. Le Guin gave the keynote at the first event, and other speakers have included Jean M. Auel, Kim Stafford, Paulann Petersen, and Chelsea Cain — the Terroir festival has emerged as one of the area’s major cultural events.
“I’m really excited the festival is coming back,” said Barbara Drake, a Linfield University professor emeritus and poet from McMinnville who was one of the founding organizers. “I wasn’t sure that we would ever bring it back, but here we are, just a couple of weeks away.” Drake will lead a workshop this year on literary chapbooks.
The festival has booked two keynote speakers: Laura Stanfill, author of Singing Lessons for the Stylish Canary and the founder and publisher of Forest Avenue Press, will speak at 9 a.m. on “Rejections, Perseverance, and the Writing Life.” After lunch, investigative journalist and podcaster Leah Sottile, author of When the Moon Turns to Blood, will discuss “Writing the Weird West.”
Other workshop presenters include Cindy Williams Gutiérrez, Melissa Hart, Stephen Long, Liz Prato, Ellen Summerfield, Joe Wilkins, and zine creators Katie Kulla and Rebecca Minifie. Also, Sylla McClellan, owner of Third Street Books in downtown McMinnville, will talk about how writers can work with bookstores to get their writing into people’s hands. The day wraps with a panel discussion on “Publishing: Finding Your Audience,” led by Stanfill, Michelle Ruiz Keil, and Emily Grosvenor.
Grosvenor is a McMinnville writer whose new book, Find Yourself at Home: A Conscious Approach to Shaping Your Space and Your Life, will be published in June by Chronicle Books. A seasoned Terroir organizer and past presenter, she is joined in conversation with Oregon ArtsWatch below by fellow writer and festival volunteer Lisa Weidman, a retired associate professor of communications at Linfield University. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Lisa, take us back to 2010. What was the concept of the Terroir festival from the beginning? Why start an event like this in Yamhill County?
Weidman: Barbara Drake had a vision of an intimate writing conference that would serve Yamhill County writers. She believed that it could help create a sense of community among writers in our county, give exposure to published local authors, and bring established authors from elsewhere here to inspire local writers. She’d been to many writers’ conferences in Portland and other cities, so she was familiar with the format, but she felt that many of those larger events were somewhat impersonal. She envisioned something smaller and, as I said, in our county. She was the president of the board of directors of the Arts Alliance at the time, coming to the end of her term. She asked the board whether we would support a one-day writing festival. We were all enthusiastic; I was on the board then, too. So she stepped off the board and started recruiting people to help organize it.
And quickly, to save readers the time of Googling “Terroir,” what does that word mean?
Weidman: It’s a French word referring to the components of the natural environment that influence the qualities of a particular wine, such as the soil, the topography, and the climate. We felt that writers are like grape vines — influenced by the place they live and write — so we borrowed the term from our winemaking friends in the county.
What’s it been like breathing life back into this thing after such a long break, given the unusual nature of the break?
Weidman: For the most part, it’s been pretty smooth and easy, because most of the planning committee has been doing this for many years. It’s great to be working with these lovely people again. But we have had to wrack our brains a little to remember all the details of putting on the festival, especially since we’ve lost a few committee members since 2020. But we have some terrific new members who have been learning the ropes and contributing a lot.
Grosvenor: I think the biggest challenge this year was finding a new venue that would meet our needs after we learned that Chemeketa Community College could not accommodate us on a Saturday. They could have done it on a Friday, but we decided not to move the event. Saturday works for more people. Our attendees love the energy of our festival and we’re excited to see how that feels in the new space.
Could you speak about the challenge of organizing a festival for writers, given the diversity and variety one finds in something as broadly defined as a “writing community”?
Weidman: From the beginning, our goal has been to appeal to all kinds of creative writers. We typically have multiple sessions for fiction writers and poets, at least one for nonfiction writers, and several that will benefit all kinds of writers. Most years, we also have a session on writing children’s or young adult books, one or more genre-specific sessions, such as romance or fantasy, and a session or two on publishing. This year, for the first time, we have a session on producing literary chapbooks and another on producing zines. The festival features three time slots with concurrent sessions, so the fiction writers can go to the session on fiction, and the poets can go to the one on poetry, etc.
Grosvenor: We’re always looking to serve a variety of genres and to include people whose writing paths are inspirational and diverse. One thing you learn when you’re a writer is that there is no clear fast-track to being a successful writer. The path looks different for each of us, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t help to hear from others and what they’ve found helpful along the way.
Emily, give us a fast take on the panel you’ll be on in the afternoon. What changes have there been in publishing/writing platforms and trends over the past three years that the audience could look forward to learning more about?
Grosvenor: We hope that conversation gives writers some insight into how to connect with readers. It’s a necessary component of the writing life to consider audience-building if you want to sell your work, and most people want to have some kind of impact when they write. But finding ways to connect can be so much fun. I’m sure we’ll be talking about TikTok, Instagram Reels, newsletters, and other ways you can put your work in front of people. But I want to be clear that our festival isn’t a “get published” event. It’s all about building community and getting inspiration for our writers. They show up at every stage of the writing life. Some are at the point where they are just thinking about starting writing, and I love that.
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The Terroir Creative Writing Festival is a program of the Arts Alliance of Yamhill County and was given a boost this year by a $2,000 grant from the McMinnville-based First Federal Savings & Loan. The event runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, April 29, with registration beginning at 8 a.m. Cost is $70 for adults, $60 for students, veterans, and seniors 65+. The Chehalem Cultural Center is at 415 E. Sheridan St., just north of the Newberg Public Library. For more information or to register online, visit the Terroir Creative Writing Festival website.