Ligonier Valley Writers began in 1986 as the Friends of Ligonier, who were searching for a way to enhance residents’ lives and generate income for local businesses. One of their first projects was a writers’ conference. It was so successful that the Friends became the Ligonier Valley Writers. A look through the clippings of LVW’s events and activities is a reminder of how many people have given of their time and energy to promote the literary arts in southwestern Pennsylvania. Among early board members and officers were Tina Thoburn, Connie Pilz, Bill Stablein, Doris O’Donnell, E. Kay and Gertrude Myers, George Jernstedt, Jim Simons, Lou Steiner, Jim Stroup, Nancy Tondura, Kirk Weixel, Bob Woodall, Richard McNatt, Karen Jurkovic, Linda Keegan, Nancy Tondura, Eve Shelnutt, and Mark Shelton.
Those clippings also reveal the many writers in many genres who have shared their knowledge with our group in workshops, programs, and conferences. Among the well-known authors who have spoken at LVW events are historian David McCullough, Oprah Book Club author Tawni O’Dell, science writer Michael Sims, and Newbery Medal-winning novelist E. L. Konigsburg. In 1991, LVW started its literary journal, The Loyalhanna Review, which continues to this day. It showcases short stories, essays, and poems and receives submissions from all over the country. About ten years ago the Review began inviting artists to submit their work and devoting four pages of every issue to full-color artwork. We also added a publication party at which the artists’ work is displayed and the authors read from their work. The Review is distributed free throughout southwestern Pennsylvania.
For many years the hot-dog fest was a fundraiser for The Loyalhanna Review. The fest always had an entertaining speaker. One year Ralph Kinney Bennett of Reader’s Digest talked about growing up in Ligonier with a mother who was editor of the Echo. Other speakers included Rick Sebak (discussing his PBS program on hot dogs); Bill Brown, news anchor at WJAC-TV; and Myron Cope talking football. Each year a Hot Dogger of the Year, a person or group who promoted hot dog cuisine, received the coveted Golden Fork Award. Over the years winners included Idlewild Park, the Westmoreland County Airshow Committee, Father Tom Devereau from St. Vincent Summer Theatre, and football programs from area school districts.
Starting in 2008, an interactive murder mystery play replaced the hot-dog fest fundraiser. For several years an original play was written by Mary Ann Mogus and directed by Rebecca Dunn each year. Many members of the cast and crew were also LVW members. Enthusiastic audiences cross-examined the characters to identify the murderer.
The Flash Fiction Contest began in 2005. Winning stories are performed at Halloween events, so the subjects are always scary. The first year called for ghost stories, the next year vampire stories, and later stories about everything from witches to dragons to haunted objects. Dozens of entries come in from all over the United States and Europe.
Encouraging young people to write has always been part of LVW’s mission. The poetry contest for students in grades 4 through 12 has grown every year. Since 2006, an awards ceremony has been held at the Greensburg Barnes & Noble. Proud family members can watch the winners read their poems aloud before they receive cash prizes, certificates, and keepsake booklets of all the winning poems
LVW holds a picnic each September and a Christmas party in early December at St. Michael's of the Valley Church in Rector. They feature good food, good conversation, and a chance for attendees to read aloud from their writing to a supportive audience.
LVW helps beginning and experienced writers find critique groups, including Greensburg Writers' Group, that provide safe places for writers to share their work and solid advice on how to improve it. LVW has partnered with other local cultural institutions, including Ligonier Valley Library, Greensburg-Hempfield Area Library, Fort Ligonier, and the Westmoreland Museum of American Arts.
All LVW events are open to the public; many are free. For several years, LVW hosted a book fair at Ligonier Valley Library each August. Every summer from 1986 through 2014 the Ligonier Valley Writers’ Conference featured award-winning writers who were also skilled teachers. Among our many wonderful faculty members were Lori Jakiela, Chris Rodell, Kathleen George, Jim Daniels, Jennifer Haigh, Chuck Kinder, Lee Gutkind, Jan Beatty, and Greg Joseph of The Clarks teaching songwriting.