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Giving Back and Looking Forward

Updated: Feb 23, 2022

During this Pride month, the Writing Academy wants to take time to recognize the generosity of our graduates. So many of our past students have come back to offer their time to the Writing Academy and to each other.

Giving back to emerging writers is important. Everyone at the academy spends time mentoring other writers or volunteering time to give workshops or sit on panels. We’re excited that the spirit of paying it forward thrives in so many of our graduates.

This month, the Writing Academy is excited to welcome back some of our esteemed alum to give a panel to current students on life after the academy.

We are pleased and honored to welcome this incredible group of people.


Virginia Black

Virginia Black writes women-loving-women tales of romance and speculative fiction while sipping fine whiskey and believes in gritty stories of lustful angst with happy endings. Her works include the novella Big City Blues and a host of fan fiction stories, and her latest short “Reclamation” is featured in the Bold Strokes Books anthology IN OUR WORDS – Queer Stories from Black, Indigenous, and People of Color Writers. Virginia Black lives in the Pacific Northwest with her family and is always hoping for rain.


Kimberly Cooper Griffin

Denver-based, award-winning author, Kimberly Cooper Griffin, is the writer of several contemporary romance novels and non-fiction books about writing. Her romance stories explore the complexities of building relationships and finding balance when life has a tendency of getting in the way. She’s not afraid to tackle important issues while marching toward those romantic, and often steamy, happy endings. She publishes her romance novels with Bold Strokes Books. Kimberly is also the CEO of Inkstacks and creator of Inkslinger, a software platform for writers that provides a guided path for writers, which includes Kimberly’s non-fiction Inkslinger – 99-Day Guided Writing Experience book, published through Night River Press. When Kimberly isn’t writing or finding ways to help writers realize their dreams, she’s probably with her family kayaking, hiking, or walking her dogs.


Maria Peña

Maria Peña joined the Golden Crown Literary Society as a member 2016 and attended and volunteered at her first GCLS annual conference held in Chicago in 2017. She discovered the GCLS Writing Academy through the ever-encouraging Finnian Burnett, Director of Education at the time and was inspired by author Kimberly Cooper Griffin to apply after which she became a proud 2018 graduate of the Academy. Maria served as the non-profit organization’s Director of Membership and is currently the Awards Liaison and Director of Diversity and Inclusion where she strives to ensure that the GCLS remains a safe-haven, voice, positive resource, and welcomer of all readers, authors, publishers, editors, narrators, creative talent, and allies of women-loving-women literature.

University nursing faculty by day and lover of all things cat-related any time, Maria lives in the state of Illinois with her lovely wife. She served in the U.S. Navy as a surgical technologist prior to obtaining her Master of Science Degree in Nursing from DePaul University in Chicago. Maria’s short story, “Or Forever Hold Her Peace,” was published by Brisk Press in the 2018 anthology, Written Dreams, under her pen name Maria Y. Maxwell.


Pamela Stewart

Pam has spent 20 years across the Coca-Cola System in various key senior leadership roles in the areas of global, national and regional sales; operations; finance; revenue growth management; general management; foodservice on premise and B2B retail business segments. She currently is President, West Operations for the North America Operating Unit at The Coca-Cola Company responsible for 81M consumers, 600+ customers, 20+ bottlers, franchise leadership, operations and all routes to market for the West geography. Prior to this, Pam led large global and U.S.-based club and grocery retail customers as Senior Vice President, National Retail Sales at The Coca-Cola Company. Prior to Coca-Cola, she spent several years in finance across the Telecommunications industry. She currently serves as Chair of the Board of Directors of GLAAD; Co-Chair of one of Mayor of Atlanta Keisha Lance Bottoms’ Advisory Councils; Board member of The Coca-Cola Scholarship Foundation; Board member of 3DE by Junior Achievement; Member of the Coca-Cola Retail Research Council, Executive Sponsor of The Bridge by The Coca-Cola Company and Board member the Global Advisory Board of OUT Leadership. Beyond her undergraduate and graduate business administration degrees from Georgia State University and Oglethorpe University and her Harvard Business School executive education certification, Pam also is a proud graduate of the GCLS Writing Academy and Leadership Atlanta.

Pam is the recipient of numerous honors, including 2021 Global Top 100 Visible Lesbians by DIVA Media Group; 2020 Visionary by Consumer Goods Technology; 2020 The Global Diversity List – Senior Executives; 2020 Woman of Influence in the Food Industry by Griffin Report; 2018 GO national magazine’s Top 100 Women We Love; 2016 AGLCC Business Woman of the Year; 2016 P.U.R.E. Humanitarian Award; 2016 Progressive Grocer’s Top Women in Grocery of the Year; and 2013 Atlanta Business Chronicle’s 40 Under 40. She also is featured in the 2019 #1 bestselling Amazon book release, “9 Steps to Build Your Brand, Establish Your Legacy, and Thrive” by Jo Miller.

Pam resides in Atlanta, Georgia with her wife. 


Cas Taylor

Cas Taylor (she/her, they/them) is an award-winning Pacific Northwest-based queer indigenous creator with familial ties to the Nisqually Valley and the Alaskan north slope.

They grew up in Olympia, WA, where long soggy weekends meant days spent inside watching old films on a small television that only received three channels. This meant they quickly acquired an appreciation and interest for books and movies, especially foreign films and obscure 70s films which were on near-constant rotation. As they came to understand their story through those they experienced on the page and onscreen, they developed a passion for LGBTQI+ stories. It became their goal to empower and amplify character-driven narratives and independent creators.

Writing as C.L. Taylor, their work appears in Typehouse Literary Magazine, Kaaterskill Basin Literary Journal, Versification, Roulette, Anti Heroin Chic, Antioch’s Lunch Ticket, and anthologies by Brisk Publications and Alyson Publications. Their short story “The Limb Garden” will appear in Three Crows Magazine, 2021.

Their short story, “The Hunger of Forgotten Memories,” which appeared in Roulette, is in development as a short film. Her short film, “Waypoints,” about escaping intimate partner violence, has garnered awards for Best LGBTQ Short, Best Thriller, and Best Female Filmmaker.

When they’re not creating, they chase mindfulness (and coffee). They enjoy giving back to their community, performing in drag as Victor d’Marmalade, running 5ks for charity, trawling vintage stores, and (more frequently than they care to admit) fall asleep in savasana pose.

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