Thankful Thursdays #5: Jeffrey Webb, Karen Salyer McElmurray, Rebecca Elswick, and Katie Fallon

As November draws to a close, we wrap up our Thankful Thursdays with words of thanks from four writers in our West Virginia Wesleyan MFA family. Continue reading below to learn about two faculty members, an alum of the program, and a current student. While we purposefully paused in November to share our thanks, we remain grateful throughout the year for this community of writers and the many ways we help each other to learn and grow. 

Jeffrey Webb (Fiction '15)

I’m thankful for all the great teachers I had in school, from elementary and up. For the teachers I had who used song and dance to make their lessons stick, embarrassing themselves, sacrificing a little bit of their pride so their students could learn. For the teachers who managed to come to school each day with such great energy and compassion, no matter what. For the teachers who always set high expectations. For the teachers who brought passion to their subject and instilled that passion in me. For all the teachers who taught me more in one day than some teachers taught me in a semester or a year. I’m thankful for all these teachers who have made me the person, and teacher, I am today.

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Jeffrey Webb is a writer and teacher from southern West Virginia. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from West Virginia Wesleyan College. His work has appeared in such publications as The Pikeville Review, Red Mud Review, and Scarlet Leaf Review. He is also a blog contributor for Teaching Tolerance. His latest piece "Man Enough" recently appeared on The Fiction Pool

 

Karen Salyer McElmurray (Prose Faculty)

The first night I remember being truly thankful—a thankfulness I felt in my belly and in the veins in my hands and on my itchy tongue—I was in a hospital in Atlanta, Georgia. I had been through ten weeks of radiation and four months of chemo, and I was just waking up from surgery for colorectal cancer. Even now, when I say that phrase, colorectal cancer, people flinch. They’ve heard two “c” words, all in one mouthful, neither word pretty, one about a body part we hide, another about an illness no one wants. I remember waking up that morning just as my doctor stepped in and stood at the foot of my bed. No lymph node involvement, he said. I wasn’t thankful yet. I was stoned on morphine, and I was both heavy with sleep and sleepless, had been for months, it seemed. A week later, out of the hospital and back at home, I began to realize what thankful meant. I was going to be okay. More than that, I began to realize I was thankful for the illness itself. It made me wake up in a way I had never awakened before. I realized that life is a gift, not a bitterness. It is light and bright crimson leaves and ocean. It can be love, not loss. Even in these dark political times, I can choose that love, choose to hold it out in my open hands, offering it up as the only thing, some days, I know how to give.

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Karen Salyer McElmurray writes both fiction and creative nonfiction. Her memoir, Surrendered Child, won the AWP Award Series for Creative Nonfiction and was listed as a “notable book” by the National Book Critics Circle. She is also the author of Strange Birds in the Tree of Heaven (University of Georgia Press), a novel that won the Lillie Chaffin Award for Appalachian Writing and, most recently, Walk Till the Dogs Get Mean, co-edited with Adrian Blevins, from Ohio University Press. You can learn more about Karen and read her work on her website.

 

Rebecca Elswick (Fiction '18)

I am thankful I was born in, and still live in, the sickest town in America. Even though I learned we were a toe’s length from poverty, I grew up with hardworking people who taught me to love learning. I recently saw a panel of teachers who used the holocaust to teach students about their own cultures’ atrocities. A Native American from Montana taught the WWII Holocaust alongside the genocide of Native Americans. A Hispanic teacher taught the Holocaust together with America’s history of xenophobia. An African American teacher taught the Holocaust in conjunction with American slavery. That presentation transported me back to my mountains, and how outsiders came in and took the natural resources and destroyed the land in this place the Atlantic Journal called, “a nightmare of disability.” Not so. My town is a place where the mountains touch a bluebird sky with wedding cake clouds. Where even in winter, the mountains are rife with chipmunks and squirrels foraging for acorns and deer grazing the hillsides. A place I am thankful to call home.

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Rebecca D. Elswick will graduate with an MFA from West Virginia Wesleyan College in 2018. Her debut novel, Mama's Shoes, was published in 2011, the result of Writer's Digest Pitch2Win Contest. Her fiction and nonfiction has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. She currently directs the writing center at Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, Virginia. Learn more about Rebecca by visiting her website.

 

Katie Fallon (Nonfiction Faculty)

My grateful list is long: birds, dogs, frost on rhododendron, warm horses, houseplants, coffee, coarsely chopped garlic, Riesling, unnamed ephemeral streams, my children, meadow rue, our national and state park system, readers, campfires. And you, and you. This community, these writers, these thinkers, teachers. Friends. Thank you.

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Katie Fallon is the author of the nonfiction books Vulture: The Private Life of an Unloved Bird and Cerulean Blues: A Personal Search for a Vanishing Songbird, and the co-author of two books for children, Look, See the Bird! and Look, See the Farm! (forthcoming 2018). Her essays have appeared in a variety of literary journals and magazines. Katie is also one of the founders of the Avian Conservation Center of Appalachia, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving wild birds through scientific research; outreach and public education; and rescue and rehabilitation. Katie’s first word was “bird.” Learn more about Katie on her website and read some of her recent work at Shaver’s Creek.