Photo of Rod Belcher

R.S. (Rod) Belcher (2019 Keynote Speaker)  (Building the Ladder)

Belcher is an award-winning newspaper and magazine editor and reporter. He has been a private investigator, a DJ, a comic book store owner, and has degrees in criminal law, psychology and justice, and risk administration, from Virginia Commonwealth University. He’s done master’s work in forensic science at The George Washington University, and worked with the Occult Crime Taskforce for the Virginia General Assembly. The Grand Prize winner of the Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Anthology contest, Belcher’s short story “Orphans” was published in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds 9 by Simon and Schuster in 2006. It was his first professional fiction sale. His first novel, The Six-Gun Tarot, was published by Tor Books in 2013. The sequel, The Shotgun Arcana, was published in 2014 and the third book in the Golgotha series, The Queen of Swords, was published in 2017. He is currently at work on the fourth book in the series, The Ghostdance Suite. His novel, Nightwise, was released in August, 2015, and was reissued with additional material in January, 2018. The sequel to Nightwise, The Night Dahlia, was published in April, 2018. Belcher’s novel, The Brotherhood of the Wheel, was published by Tor in March, 2016. It was a Locus Awards finalist for Horror in 2017, and is currently in development as a television series. The sequel to Brotherhood, The King of the Road, is scheduled for publication by Tor in December 2018. He lives in Roanoke, with his children, Jonathan and Emily.

Photo of Mary Carter Bishop

Mary Carter Bishop M.A. ’89 (Telling Secrets: The Memoir that Made Me Feel Guilty)

Bishop grew up a servant’s child on an estate in historically rich Keswick, east of Charlottesville. She graduated from Mary Washington College, the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and Hollins University’s creative writing program. She worked at The Richmond News Leader and later at The Charlotte Observer and The Philadelphia Inquirer. As religion writer in Charlotte, she wrote a biographical series on Billy Graham that became a book and did some of the country’s first reporting on TV evangelists Jim and Tammy Bakker. Bishop’s favorite work in Charlotte, however, was about cotton mill laborers, textile union organizers, and migrant farmworkers. At the Inquirer, she was among the reporters, editors, and photojournalists who won a 1980 Pulitzer Prize for reporting on the near-meltdown of the Three Mile Island nuclear plant. Her 1981 series on Philadelphia’s struggling public schools, written with two other reporters, won the grand prize of the National Education Writers Association. Bishop hit her stride when she came to the much smaller Roanoke Times & World-News in 1983. In 18 years there, she chronicled the destruction of Roanoke’s two most historic African American neighborhoods, the history of Virginia’s eugenics movement (admired by Nazi Germany), and death, poisonings, and fraud by the exterminating industry. That 1988 pesticide series was a Pulitzer finalist, won a George Polk Award, and led Virginia to reform its regulation of pesticides. When she was 72, her memoir, Don’t You Ever: My Mother and Her Secret Son, was published by HarperCollins in 2018.

Photo of Neva Bryan

Neva Bryan (Publishing Success is Like a Mullet)

Fifty of Bryan’s short stories, poems, and essays are published or soon-to-be published, in literary journals, online magazines, and anthologies, including Flyway: Journal of Writing and Environment, Still: The Journal, Weirdbook Magazine, and The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature. She is a contributor to the 2018 Anthology of Appalachian Writers and the anthology We All Live Downstream: Writings about mountaintop removal. Bryan lives in the mountain coalfields of Virginia with her husband and their two dogs.

Photo of Jim Crawford

Jim Crawford (Writing a Documentary for Film)

Crawford is a filmmaker, cultural geographer, writer, and musician. He and his wife, Cathy, live in Roanoke. His documentaries include Down in the Old Belt: Voices from the Tobacco South, funded by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. It was picked up by PBS and broadcast on 150 stations across the US and is now licensed by Films for the Humanities and Sciences in New York. It was awarded Best Documentary Film at the Appalachian Film Festival, commended in a Joint Resolution by the Senate of Virginia, and screened at the Library of Congress. His class will focus on the storytelling process of script development, research, proposal writing, preproduction, and filming.

Photo of Shari Dragovich

Shari Dragovich  (Writing Descriptively Through the Senses)

Dragovich is a freelance writer living in Roanoke. Her work has appeared in regional magazines throughout the Southeast. She is the current dining writer for The Roanoker magazine. In 2017, Dragovich was selected as Roanoke’s Writer by Bus, where she explored the intersection of community and transportation through creative essay. She is currently partnered with Mercer University Press to write a book on Roanoke’s iconic restaurant, Texas Tavern, as part of their Food and the American South series. She is pursuing a degree in the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program, at Hollins University. When not writing on assignment, Dragovich enjoys exploring the art of fiction and creative essay, and writing about the everyday stuff she finds neat at: She, along with her husband and five teenaged kids, think it a beautiful gift to call Roanoke home.

Photo of Margaret Edds

Margaret Edds (Navigating History: How to Write a Biography  — or Autobiography)

Edds is a member of the Virginia Communications and Virginia Capital Correspondents Halls of Fame and is a Virginia Foundation for the Humanities Resident Fellow. Her most recent book is We Face the Dawn: Oliver Hill, Spottswood Robinson, and the Legal Team That Dismantled Jim Crow. It is a biography of Roanoke’s Oliver W. Hill and Spottswood W. Robinson III, 20th Century legal giants. She has been an editorial writer and weekly columnist for the Virginian-Pilot newspaper in Norfolk and a political and state government reporter for the Pilot. Included are Finding Sara: A Daughter’s Journey; An Expendable Man: The Near-Execution of Earl Washington Jr.; co-author of the Virginia chapter in Southern Politics in the 1990s; Claiming the Dream: The Victorious Campaign of Douglas Wilder of Virginia; Free at Last: What Really Happened When Civil Rights Came to Southern Politics. She holds a liberal arts master’s degree from the University of Richmond, is married, and has three adult children.

Photo of Ed Falco

Ed Falco  (Relying on the Senses: the Use of Detail in Fiction)

Falco’s most recent books are the poetry collection Wolf Moon, Blood Moon (LSU, 2017), and the novels Toughs (Unbridled Books, 2014) and The Family Corleone (Grand Central Books, 2012). The Family Corleone, developed from unproduced scenes from screenplays by Mario Puzo, was a New York Times Best Seller, and has been translated in 21 foreign editions. The audio edition, narrated by Bobby Cannavale, was included in The Washington Post’s list of “The Five Best Audio Books of 2012.” His awards include an NEA Fellowship in fiction, a Pushcart Prize, and the Emily Clark Balch Prize in fiction from The Virginia Quarterly Review, and the Robert Penn Warren Prize in Poetry from The Southern Review. An avid chess player, Falco lives in Blacksburg, Virginia, where he teaches in the M.F.A. program in creative writing at Virginia Tech.

Photo of Ran Henry

Ran Henry (How to Write a Memoir That Sells)

Henry is the author of Spurrier: How the Ball Coach Taught the South to Play Football, the definitive biography of an All-American quarterback and coach, and the forthcoming true crime book The Palmetto Club: How Clementa Pinckney Transformed the Confederacy. Henry was a Ralph McGill Scholar at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia, earned an M.F.A. in creative writing from Florida International University and wrote for the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville, the St. Petersburg Times, and Tropic, the Sunday magazine of the Miami Herald. He teaches writing courses in narrative nonfiction and memoir at the University of Virginia. He and his wife, Linda, own Blue Mountain Weddings in Charlottesville, and their daughters Sarah and Kristen are designing a new world in Brooklyn, New York; and Austin, Texas.

Photo of Mary Crockett Hill

Mary Crockett Hill (Building Character in Young Adult  — and beyond) 

Crockett Hill is the author of How She Died, How I Lived, a new young adult novel from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, and co-author of Dream Boy, from Sourcebooks Fire. A native of Virginia, she has worked as a toilet seat hand model, factory grunt, staggeringly bad waitress, history museum director, and, currently, assistant professor of creative writing at Roanoke College. She writes poetry as Mary Crockett Hill and has authored several award-winning books, including If You Return Home with Food, winner of the Bluestem Award, and A Theory of Everything, selected by Naomi Shihab Nye for the Autumn House Prize.

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Bill Kovarik (Communities Online: How to Structure, Finance, and Develop Independent Local News and Media Services)

Kovarik is a professor of communication at Radford University. He served as the publisher of a small community newspaper in Chesterfield County; a reporter for the Associated Press, the Charleston, S.C., News & Courier, and the Baltimore Sun; and the editor of trade and specialized publications like AT Times and Appalachian Voice. He has a B.S. from VCU, masters from the University of South Carolina, and a Ph.D. from the University of Maryland. He is the author of several books on the history of media, including Mass Media and Environmental Conflict: America’s Green Crusades, Revolutions in Communications, and Web Design for the Mass Media (among others), and is working on a book about the economics of community news organizations..

Roland Lazenby

Roland Lazenby (Finding Your Writing Project)

Lazenby is author/co-author of more than 60 titles. He recently completed a documentary screenplay about college basketball. His biography Michael Jordan: The Life, published by Little, Brown, was an Editor’s Pick by The New York Times Book Review in 2014. It has since been translated into 14 languages and was named as one of the best biographies of the year by both Publisher’s Weekly and Amazon. His book Showboat, the Life of Kobe Bryant, also published by Little, Brown, has been translated into nine foreign language editions. He taught journalism for 21 years at Virginia Tech and Radford University.

Photo of Terri Leidich

Terri Leidich (The Business of Publishing)

Terri Leidich is the president and publisher of Boutique of Quality Books Publishing, an independent press that she started in 2010. Terri has grown the company from a small publishing entity to a company that currently has two imprints (BQB Publishing and WriteLife Publishing) and a catalog of close to 170 books. Terri’s goal and the mission behind Boutique of Quality Books Publishing is “Publishing with a Heart,” and that desire is the daily guiding focus for the company and the team behind it.

Photo of Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior (I Thought I Understood Virtue Because I Wrote a Book about It. Then I Got Hit by a Bus.)

Prior, Ph.D., is an award-winning professor of English at Liberty University. She is the author of Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me (T. S. Poetry Press, 2012), Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More—Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist (Thomas Nelson, 2014), and On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great Literature (Brazos, 2018). Prior’s writing has appeared in Christianity Today, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, First Things, Vox, Think Christian, The Gospel Coalition, Books and Culture, and other places. She is a research fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a senior fellow at the Trinity Forum, a senior fellow with Liberty University’s Center for Apologetics and Cultural Engagement, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States. She and her husband live in rural Virginia with sundry dogs, horses, and chickens.

Photo of Sarah Beth Rawz

Sarah Beth Rawz (Shoddy First Drafts: An Experiential Workshop)

Rawz is a weirdo—I mean, look at that last name! Is that even a real last name?! And yet this is one of the key traits that makes her the transformational coach for professionals looking to make big change. It’s also what defines her unique writing voice, which is a blend of idiomatic, conversational language and the big words she’s picked up by reading brilliant authors. And from her mom. Definitely her, too. She has been an op-ed and features writer, a ghost and white paper writer, and is an occasional poet in addition to her weekly blog which you can read (and subscribe to) at

Photo of Angie Smibert

Angie Smibert M.A.L.S. ’91 (Creating a Sense of Place in your Fiction)

Smibert is the author of the middle grade historical fantasy series, Ghosts of Ordinary Objects, which includes Bone’s Gift (2018), Lingering Echoes (2019), and The Truce (2020). She’s also written three young adult science fiction novels: Memento Nora, The Forgetting Curve, and The Meme Plague. In addition to numerous short stories, she’s published over two dozen science/technology books for kids. Smibert teaches young adult and speculative fiction for Southern New Hampshire University’s creative writing M.F.A. program as well as professional writing for Indiana University East. Before doing all this, she was a science writer and web developer at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. She lives in Roanoke with a goofy dog (named after a telescope) and two bickering cats (named after Tennessee Williams characters), and puts her vast store of useless knowledge to work at the weekly pub quiz. Visit her website at

Photo of Dan Smith

Dan Smith (Communities Online: How to Structure, Finance and Develop Independent Local News and Media Services  — with Bill Kovarik)

Smith founded the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference in 2008 and became director emeritus in 2017. He has been a journalist for more than 50 years, is a member of the Virginia Communications Hall of Fame, and was the 2005 Virginia Business Journalist of the Year. He was an award-winning public radio essayist and has won awards in nearly every news/feature discipline for newspapers and magazines. He has written seven books, including the memoir Burning the Furniture, and the Appalachian novel CLOG! He is the founding editor of FRONT magazine. He continues to write, edit, and photograph as a freelance writer and popular blogger.

Photo of Tom Tanner

Tom Tanner (Understanding Legal Structures and If You Need One)

Tanner graduated with a degree in economics and finance from the Virginia Military Institute in 1978. After a tour of duty in the U.S. Army, he returned to civilian life to work as a branch manager for a large corporation. In 1983, he and a few partners opened a photographic and computer graphics business, Photo USA. There he served as vice president of operations for the chain of 25 stores in five states, later buying the Virginia locations. In 2006, he sold Photo USA after 23 years in the photographic business. Tanner currently operates a part-time tax business during tax season. Over the last eight years, he has worked with more than 1,000 people who own, or want to start a small business.

Photo of Harry Wilson

Harry Wilson (The Perils of Writing in a Politically Charged Field )

Wilson is professor of political science and chair of the Department of Public Affairs, and director of the Institute for Policy and Opinion Research at Roanoke College. His books include Gun Politics in America: Historical and Modern Documents in Context, two volume set, 2016; The Triumph of the Gun-Rights Argument: Why the Gun Control Debate Is Over, 2015, and Guns, Gun Control, and Elections: The Politics and Policy of Firearms, 2007. Wilson is the political analyst for WDBJ7 television in Roanoke. He worked his way through Penn State and Rutgers—in part—as a bartender.