Writing in a Time of Pandemic: Richard Stokes and Juneau’s Burn Thompson Writers

As the pandemic worsened in early 2020, Juneau’s Burn Thompson Writing Group, like so many others, shifted from in-person to ZOOM meetings. Our routine had been that each of the 6-10 attendees at twice-monthly gatherings passed out copies of their work, then read it aloud. The others then offered suggestions and asked questions, often marking up the supplied hard copy. Most of us considered the critiques helpful and fairly gentle. After shifting to ZOOM we learned to supply drafts a day or so prior to the reading. This proved a real advantage as everyone had more opportunity to read, ponder and develop comments.

Most of the group think the critiques have become more helpful. Most of the regulars have continued to participate and a couple of infrequent participants have become more regular. We tend to have 9-10 at most sessions. Not that many of our regulars have traveled during the pandemic, but when they have, they have been able to join the group from afar.

Before the pandemic the group had developed an anthology of poems mainly focused on the climate and landscape of southeastern Alaska. (Hali is one to ask.) The anthology is in the hands of a publisher at present. The group has two other projects on the drawing board. One is a submission of pandemic-themed poems to the City Museum (Ask Linda Buckley or Margo Waring.) The other is an anthology of pandemic-themed poems.

It’s difficult to pinpoint precisely the origin of today’s Burn Thompson Writing Group. The roots probably go to a writing group active in the early 1990’s and one that has evolved through a series of names over the years. But we know that Burn Thompson joined when it was called Focus Critique and from 2007 until her death in 2013 she was the leader of the group. Burn was an amazing woman. She grew up in Appalachia with the challenges of cerebral palsy but with a bright mind. She completed a bachelor’s degree in physics and a master’s degree in Creative Writing. Soon after arriving in Juneau in the 1980’s Burn was robbed of everything and she suffered homelessness for a while thereafter. Without her dogged determination in between 2007 and 2013 there is little doubt the group would have died a quiet death.

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