Rockvale “Believe” Fellowship – January 2021


The Personal Story Behind the Fellowship – by RWC’s Director, Sandy Coomer:

On January 6, 2020, at 12:45 p.m., my mother died. During those last moments, I prayed harder than I’d ever prayed in my life. It was not for miraculous healing. I prayed my mother would let go of her hold on life, that her body would relax, her breath would still. I prayed for her to turn away from the world of flesh, to leave the realm of fear and pain. She did. The pain that remained was mine. 

My mother’s illness (Central Nervous System Lymphoma) was brief but it was vicious, and I was not prepared for how quickly her death came. I still haven’t processed the experience, for, on the day she died, my husband received his own cancer diagnosis. The alternate reality I live in today does not allow me to grieve. It only directs my mind to the immediate, to what is required. Doctor’s appointments. Chemotherapy. Scans. Repeat. In between, I drive to College Grove and greet writers. I read applications. I see to the maintenance of four buildings. I pay the bills. 

Illness is a huge wave that has, without warning, crashed upon my head. Maybe that’s the way it is for everyone – unexpected, unanswerable – but it has made me aware of things I might have missed otherwise. The parallel lines of beauty and suffering astound me. The kindness from friends, even acquaintances, blesses me. I’m learning in intimate ways how frail the body is but also how indomitable the spirit.

I’m learning that the act of writing heals. Intuitively, I knew this, but now I’m drawn to this truth in new ways. I want to understand it better. I want to see it in action. I’ve also been thinking about a way to honor my mother, who was herself a writer, a memoirist, although she never claimed that title (but I have pages and pages of her writing as proof!) All these thoughts have been spinning in my mind, evolving into a fellowship for creative non-fiction writers (memoirists, essayists, literary journalists) who have had a experience with serious illness and are writing about its impact on life, family, and relationships. Therefore, I’d like to announce the

Rockvale “Believe” Fellowship

for Creative Non-Fiction Writers who are Writing about Serious Illness

– In memory of Deloris Patricia Campbell Spencer

We are pleased to announce the winner of the first

RWC Believe Fellowship:

“The Movie Star, the Alzheimer’s Patient, and the Easter Ham Between Them” by Laura Grooms

Laura’s prize includes a 2-week residency at Rockvale Writers’ Colony and a small stipend for food and travel.

Laura Grooms holds a Master of Arts degree in Developmental Psychology from Columbia University.  While in New York, she worked as a Field Consultant for the Board of Education and as an actress and model in the theatre and fashion industries.  Laura is a native of South Carolina and has worked most recently as the project manager for a pilot study in the School of Social Work in conjunction with the University of South Carolina. Currently, as a wife and proud mom of a fourteen-year-old daughter, Laura divides her time between writing projects and care management for her two octogenarian parents.  The confluence of life and writing have birthed her most recent writing project which she is honored to bring to Rockvale Writers’ Colony. 

Read all about Laura’s RWC experience in her exclusive Porchside Chat!

RWC is grateful to Hal and Jenny Runkel, who served as judges for the contest. The pair had this to say about Laura’s work:

“While all of the candidates shared passionate stories, and showed terrific talent, Ms. Grooms’ emerged as the book we’d both most like to see in a printed, published form. Her memoir about her mother’s struggle with Alzheimer’s is both personal and purposeful, and her language in the telling is both muscular and minimalist. Most of all, Laura’s story and storytelling are insatiably inviting. We want to read more, even though we likely know a tragic end is coming.

Incurable diseases like Alzheimer’s always share a similar narrative arc, but as this one bends toward its natural end, we anticipate we’ll see the real character of the story was not the disease, nor its victim, but rather the narrator herself. Laura’s struggle is the real story, and how she survives the loss of her mother’s mind, and eventually, her body, is the real drama. We both cannot wait to read it.”

Hal Runkel  – A Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, registered conflict mediator, and internationally acclaimed speaker, Hal is the New York Times bestselling author of ScreamFree Parenting, ScreamFree Marriage and 2017’s Amazon Bestseller, Choose Your Own Adulthood. Those books have reached hundreds of thousands around the world, and have been translated into 11 languages. Hal and the ScreamFree message have been featured on over a thousand media outlets, including over 40 appearances on NBC’s Today Show, as well as countless local TV and radio stations around the country, and in numerous publications like Good Housekeeping, Business Insider, Redbook, and The Huffington Post.

After earning both a BA and MS in philosophy & theology, Hal pursued his Masters Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from Abilene Christian University. That was when he began to create and practice the ScreamFree philosophy. Hal considers Houston, Texas his hometown, but since 2000 he’s called Atlanta, Georgia home.

Jenny Runkel has been creating, editing, and publishing dynamic content for many years. She has worked as a director of content at the ScreamFree Institute, and as an AP English teacher in high schools. She writes often in a variety of publications on women’s relationship issues. Now, she helps folks in transition find and tell their stories using a process she calls StoryFinding.