Writer De’Shawn Charles Winslow shares journey writing novel

Milenne Quinonez , Staff Reporter

Award Winning De’Shawn Charles Winslow read from his first novel “In West Mills” through a live virtual reading, where he was able to talk with CWU students about his process, held on April 13th. 

“In West Mills” takes place in North Carolina between 1941 to 1987, as it explores the life of Azalea “Knot” Centre, a woman who is determined to live a life she wants while living in a rural community that struggles to understand her. The novel was published in 2019 and earned Winslow the 2021 William Morris Award for Southern Fiction, the 2020 American Book Award and the 2019 Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize. 

In the live virtual reading, Winslow talked about his journey as he began writing and how he turned to fiction to imagine what his father was like at a young age. While in school Winslow originally majored in Business, but after registering for an introduction to creative writing class, he changed his major to English. After that, every piece he wrote was a “what if” piece about his father, which is how his career started. 

“We invited him because we thought he was an excellent example of a writer that’s representative of an identity that we haven’t had,” Maya Zeller, the coordinator of the Lion Rock Visiting Writing series said. 

Zeller also said inviting Charles Winslow, a Black queer man, also represented an identity that has not been a part of the Lion Rock lineup in the last couple years. She said the Lion Rock Visiting Writer Series emphasizes on bringing authors to campus who want to interact with the student population, and authors who care. 

“He is such a caring and compassionate presence, and his willingness to interact with students and those questions,” Zeller said. “He represents an early career writer, and that’s closer to what our students are right now, early career writers who are just beginning to publish.”

According to Zeller, the Lion Rock Visiting Writer Series is a year-long series, and it normally brings one to two authors to campus in the fall and winter, and three or more in the spring. 

“We have a goal of being very inclusive of a range of identities, aesthetic approaches and representing a variety of writers across genres for our students, our community at Central Washington and our broader community,” Zeller said.

This quarter, Lion Rock is having students introduce each of the authors that are being invited, the program puts out calls to students and asks who would like to introduce. This gives students the opportunity to also read a little bit of their own work. 

“We have so many students with just such strong voices, and who are such good writers,” Zeller said. 

Paula Williamson, a professional and creative writing major, had the opportunity to introduce Wilson while also presenting two poems of her own. Williamson’s first poem titled “Summer of the Plague” highlights dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic over the past year. 

The second poem was titled “Nana,” which was about her great grandmother who is 101 years-old and is in a nursing home. She chose to share this poem because her grandmother was from the South and it connected well with “In West Mills,” since both take place in the South. 

“In West Mills is a really great piece of fiction, and it was an honor to be able to introduce [Winslow],” Williamson said.