Gail Wilson Kenna
Crosshill Creek Publications
Soul-Making Keats Creative Nonfiction Judge
Writer of Books and Letters
Letters? How old school. The word suggests someone who might read serious literature, collect hardcover books, and write essays in her leisure. I proudly claim to do all three. And since 1979 I’ve found writing both creative and curative. On el dia del muerto, I will be grateful for family and friends, strangers and artists, Mother Nature’s trees and creeks, and for the Spanish and English languages.
For 54 years I’ve taught literature and writing. I’m still doing it, teaching two courses a year and working with private students. Since 2017 I’ve served as Creative Nonfiction judge for the Soul-Making Keats, a literary competition in San Francisco. In 2012, Bread Loaf, the oldest writing conference in the country, awarded me the Donald Axinn fiction scholarship. Recently, of five submissions to the National League of American Pen Women’s 50th biennial, I won a first or second in all five categories, plus second place in the NLAPW’s Vinnie Ream competition. (What a gutsy artist Vinnie was in the mid-1800s). In 2022 at the NLAPW's Biennial, I won three awards, including first place in both the essay and the journalism categories.
What do I value besides teaching and writing? Being the mother of two fine daughters, two grandchildren, wife to a good man for 54 years, four years of volunteer work in Venezuela’s infamous prisons, living in five foreign countries, travel throughout the world, and trash collection. Odd to end with trash? Let me explain. After years abroad, husband Mike and I retired on a creek off the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia’s Northern Neck. This rural landscape with its farms, trees, and creeks is beautiful. Not its ubiquitous litter.
In 2005, in memory of my father who loved nature, I adopted a roadway. Call me Ms. Sisyphus. I don’t roll a boulder uphill; I bend to pick up beer bottles and soda cans. Now I have added two more roadways, and the three cover a swath of Northumberland County. Sisyphean work, not unlike eliminating clutter in writing. Long ago, Chaucer wrote: “The life so short; the craft so long to learn.” When I write, when I fill another orange V-DOT bag with trash, I am grateful for moving feet, moving pen, youthful mind, and searching heart.
When a friend first saw my website in spring 2020, she said: "I can't believe you didn't mention tennis." She was right. How could I have forgotten the sport woven throughout my life since the age of ten. I would not have met Mike in a camp for girls in Kings Canyon during summer 1967 unless I'd been hired (serendipity) to teach tennis there. Mike, killing time before USAF pilot training, was the rifle instructor and very popular with the campers!
For 69 years I've played competitive & social tennis. With two knee replacements since December 2019, now my joy is running and hitting with four different men (all younger) four times a week on an indoor court.
I must say this tall man did not look pleased when he saw a short, aging woman and realized she was his partner for the club tournament. This was a few months after my second knee replacement. The club's pro had asked me to fill in for someone who cancelled. Yet in a long day of tennis, this player and I won the mixed championship. What I lack in height, I gain from experience!
It touched and surprised me to see daughter Bonnie had adopted a block for me in Anacostia, D.C., where she lives. Here she stands behind her house. She cleared what was a hill of dirt, countless layers of trash beneath it, and uncovered ancient rock. What a marvel of beauty it is now. And the garden Bonnie has created must be seen to be believed.
Her older sister, Michelle, is also remarkable. She was one of four females on a list of 32 Army colonels promoted to BG. In June 2021 at Fort Lee in Virginia she received her first star in an impressive ceremony at the Quartermaster Museum with General Martin Dempsey presiding.
The other photo is with her Sergeant Major, when Michelle left the Sustainment Brigade, which she had commanded for two years in Germany & NATO. A wife and mother, I marvel at how she does it all.
At the University of Richmond, I donated four historical items to the library in April 2021. The papers date to the time of my great-great grandfather, Eugene B. Chase, in Derby Line, Vermont. His 1849 Gold Rush journey is the story related in, Here to There and Back Again.