We can easily count “relentless enthusiasm” as one of B.J. Hollars’ many skills. And one could argue that a fierce degree of enthusiasm is what separates otherwise talented individuals from the leaders who use their talent to shape a community. At any rate, it seems to be working wonders for Hollars – a local writer and professor who focuses his energy on the Chippewa Valley’s writing community.
“It’s really easy to sit in your room and start scrawling with your pen, and that’s awesome, but that’s just one part of it,” Hollars said. “I think building the community and trying to find ways to be a writer beyond just the work itself is really important to anyone’s growth. That’s something we really take to heart.”
Hollars moved his family to the Chippewa Valley seven years ago to teach English at UW-Eau Claire. An award-winning writer, his books’ topics range from his obsession with extinct birds to his efforts in documenting the personal stories of 1961’s Freedom Riders and their battle for civil rights. But teaching and writing here wasn’t enough.
In February 2016, he and a few others launched the Chippewa Valley Writers Guild, a joint program between the Eau Claire Regional Arts Council and UW-Eau Claire. What began as an online directory for writer’s groups exploded into an active organization that hosts monthly workshops, readings, and writing retreats – a regular weekend retreat in the winter, and a robust set of retreats in the summer at the Cirenaica country lodge outside of Fall Creek.
The Guild exposed a massive but unconnected pool of writers hungry for learning opportunities and platforms for their work. So, driven by Hollars’ energy and enthusiasm, the Guild responded, emerging as a force to help reenergize the Chippewa Valley’s literary scene.
The Guild’s core concept is to draw together every kind of writer from the area and use that talent for the good of all, inspiring artists to do great things in and for our community.
“It’s really easy to sit in your room and start scrawling with your pen, and that’s awesome, but that’s just one part of it. I think building the community and trying to find ways to be a writer beyond just the work itself is really important to anyone’s growth. That’s something we really take to heart.”
“The writing community is really integral to all of the other cool things that are happening right here,” Hollars said. “It’s so neat to see how you can take a group of people who maybe don’t have much in common – maybe this person produces radio, this person does music, this person makes a logo – and you put all these people together with some writers, and something really cool comes out of it. I think, moving forward, the writing community can continue to support all these other artistic communities.”
Many people cite Hollars’ relentless enthusiasm as the engine behind to the Guild’s success. But hiding behind that energy, woven into every part of the Writers Guild, is a brilliant sense of wonder. And this wide-eyed curiosity isn’t just a tool for the artists among us. It’s an essential guide in our path forward.