Library, Writers’ Group Craft New Contest

Photo Provided From left, Fred Connors, Elizabeth James and Laura Roberts check out the Ohio Valley Writers Contest entry guidelines on the Ohio Valley Writers website from James’ computer at the Martins Ferry Public Library reference desk.

Although writing is a solitary pursuit, Fred Connors of Bridgeport believes it takes a village to grow a writer. So, about nine years ago, he created a village called the Ohio Valley Writers.

The authors in the group have flourished, Connors said, nourished by the encouragement and advice they receive from each other during their monthly meetings and public readings.

In an effort to tap writers who continue to feel isolated, as well as to inspire young authors, the group has teamed with the Martins Ferry Public Library to organize the first Ohio Valley Writers Contest for adults and elementary-school children.

“Writing contests can be catalysts for aspiring writers,” said group member Christina Fisanick, an author and associate professor of English at California University of Pennsylvania, who grew up in Moundsville and lives in Wheeling.

“In fact, when asked about when I knew I wanted to be a writer, I always point to the writing contest I won at age 9,” she said. “It encouraged me to keep practicing the craft. We hope the Ohio Valley Writers Contest will do the same.”

The contest is open to residents of Ohio County and Belmont County. The children’s contest is for first- through fifth-graders. The adult contest includes all ages. Ohio Valley Writers members are not eligible. The deadline to enter is April 5, and an awards ceremony with readings of the winning pieces will take place at 6 p.m. April 26 at Martins Ferry Public Library.

Elizabeth James, the library’s new adult and reference librarian, reached out to the Ohio Valley Writers after discovering the group on Facebook. Keen to bolster the relationship between the library and the surrounding community, James contacted Connors and co-leader Laura Roberts of Wheeling, who pitched the writing contest to her.

“She was excited to help us get it going, and we really needed her because the library has so many resources that we lack,” Roberts said. “She’s done the legwork of contacting local schools and has offered us a place to hold the awards ceremony in April, right around the time of the James Wright Festival.”

For many years, the library held a poetry festival honoring Martins Ferry native Wright, a noted 20th-century poet. James is reviving the festival this year; it is set for April 21 and will include presentations by local authors and Wright’s biographer.

“I really want the library to be a place for the community,” James said. Her goals fall in line with the writers’ mission.

“Essentially I feel as though a lot of local writers are kind of ignored. We really just want to take this opportunity to give them the recognition they deserve,” James said of the contest.

Like Fisanick’s childhood success, several Ohio Valley Writers members are familiar with the positive effects of public accolades. Roberts, for example, won first place and an honorable mention for two non-fiction essays in the 2017 West Virginia Writers Contest as well as second place in the Pearl S. Buck Award for Social Change.

Roberts said the inaugural Ohio Valley Writers Contest is starting small, but organizers hope to expand in the next round, including a wider geographical area and middle- and high-school categories.

“We’d very much like to hold a contest for older kids in the fall,” Roberts said. “Additionally, writers of any age are welcome to enter the adult contest. We have no age limit, but they will be in the same category as the (actual) adults. I’ve seen some amazing young writers, so I suspect they could hold their own,” Roberts said.

Cash prizes will be awarded to the adults, sponsored by Oglebay Institute: $100 for first place, $50 for second and $35 for third. The children will receive prizes donated by local businesses.

Adult categories are fiction, non-fiction and poetry. Writing prompts are provided for the children’s contest but do not have to be used.

Entry guidelines are available on the website, For more information, visit the Ohio Valley Writers Facebook page, email Roberts at or contact the Martins Ferry Public Library at 740-633-0314.