A note from Rita:
I started telling my teachers in the 4th grade that I was going to be a writer when I grew up. As someone who devoured books from the time I could read, I knew I wanted to be one of the people who wrote them for others to enjoy. But it look me a long time to figure out what I wanted to write about-I thought writers had to write about something exciting and exotic! I didn't know until I was in college that I should instead write about the "miraculous in the ordinary" and write about my life here in beautiful southwest Virginia. First in my poetry, and now in my novel Hiding Ezra, I've tried to convey the unique beauty of the place and its people, and to capture both the stories themselves and the rich language of their telling.
The 5th generation of my family born in this place, I have a great love for the mountains and their people. I grew up in a place that was embarrassed by itself, told by my supervising teacher as an undergradthat I’d “never be taken seriously as an English teacher and writer talking the way you do.” That’s why I’m so proud to be included in the new scholarly book out there called Talking Appalachian that continues the pushback against the ignorant prejudices and stereotyping of mountain people.
I retired in June after 33 years teaching in the community college system in first Tennessee and then Virginia. I began my career working primarily with what’s called developmental education focusing on improving the writing and research skills of students with a GED or those who struggled with language and literacy during their regular K-12 years. I eventually moved over into teaching mostly college-ready students, specializing in classes in American and Appalachian literature, using a textbook for the latter that I helped edit, A Southern Appalachian Reader, which was published by the Appalachian Consortium Press in 1989.
My master’s thesis was also published by that same press and its subject was the poetry of four of the region’s most respected poets: Fred Chappell, Robert Morgan, Jeff Daniel Marion, and the late Jim Wayne Miller. That book, Looking For Native Ground: Contemporary Appalachian Poetry, is still widely read and used in college study of the region’s poets. I have presented papers on these writers and also North Carolina poet Michael McFee at various academic conferences, including SAMLA (Southern Association of the Modern Language Association). I did that because the literature was never going to get the respect and historical affirmation it needed and deserved without scholarly attention. I wanted to write critical essays that my students-- sons and daughters of what Ron Eller has famously called “miners, millhands, and mountaineers” --could use to enhance their appreciation of the region’s wonderful poets.
I've enjoyed being both a participant and a teacher in many of the area's wonderful writing workshops over the years, such as the Hindman Settlement School's Appalachian Writer's Workshop, the Lincoln Memorial University and Radford University Summer Workshops, the Tennessee Mountain Writers and Alabama Writer's Conclave. I've particularly enjoyed opportunities to be a "poet in the schools" in several locations. Poetry is my first love, and I believe is important for writers to see what it's got to teach them, even if they only want to write prose!
Besides writing, I have a longtime interest in the region’s music, having played in various old-time string bands off and on over the years. I play guitar, bass, autoharp (sparked by my childhood "2nd mother" Janette Carter, daughter of AP and Sarah Carter), piano, dulcimer, and the bodhran (Irish drum).
My husband and I live and farm on over 300 acres in the far southwest corner of Virginia; it's mostly a wilderness area and hunting preserve (!), but we also raise Angus beef cattle. Our two children are grown and we just became grandparents for the first time in March 2013.
I'm so glad you've stopped by the website to say hello and learn more about my writing. Be sure and look at the pictures (under the HIDING EZRA link-see "Where Hiding Ezra Happens") of the beautiful place that I've been blessed to call home!
Rita Quillen’s novel Hiding Ezra was published in 2014 from Little Creek Books; it was a finalist in the 2005 DANA Awards competition, and a chapter of the novel is included in the new scholarly study of Appalachian dialect just published by the University of Kentucky Press entitled Talking Appalachian. Her new poetry chapbook, Something Solid To Anchor To, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press in 2014. Her new full-length poetry collection, THE MAD FARMER'S WIFE, is due out in the fall of 2016 from Texas Review Press.
One of six semi-finalists for the 2012-14 Poet Laureate of Virginia, her poetry received a Pushcart nomination as well as a Best of the Net nomination in 2012. Her most recent collection Her Secret Dream, new and selected poems, is from Wind Press in Kentucky and was named the Outstanding Poetry Book of the Year by the Appalachian Writers Association in 2008. Previous works are poetry collections October Dusk and Counting The Sums, as well as a book of essays Looking for Native Ground: Contemporary Appalachian Poetry.
Rita is also a musician, playing guitar, mandolin,piano, dulcimer, autoharp, bass, and bodhran, and she has recently began writing songs. She won first place in the 2015 Gathering in the Gap Songwriting Contest and was also a finalist in the Richard Leigh Songwriting Competition that same year. She has performed at many venues in the region as part of various groups or as a singer/songwriter.
She lives and farms on Early Autumn Farm in Scott County, Virginia. Contact her through her author Facebook page linked on this page: www.facebook.com/ritaquillenhidingezra.