Wheeling Women Artists: Bonnie Thurston

Bonnie Thurston is a proud West Virginian woman who grew up in a remote southern part of the state. Her first introduction to the literary world was when her father would read bible stories to her before bed as a child.

“He had a different voice for every character and would never confuse them,” she laughed.

His early fostering of her love for the written word led to great success in the literary world. She has written over nineteen theological books and has published numerous poems during her career.

“I thought language was magical. Around my senior year in high school I knew I wanted to write,” Thurston states boldly.

Thurston started her college career as a Philosophy major, but then switched to English because of the strong program at Bethany College. She earned her B.A. from Bethany before completing her M.A. and Ph.D degrees from the University of Virginia.

Thurston enjoys writing her poetry as much as conducting her scholarly research on theology.

“I’ve always written poetry no matter what I was doing. Poetry is subjective. I’m not going to see a blue bird the way someone else does and I don’t need 15 footnotes about it,” Thurston laughs.

In 2002 she ran out of steam for the academic world and turned to short-term teaching and retreat work. “I mostly wanted more time to write,” she confesses regarding her exit from academia.

Bonnie has a powerful love for her home state of West Virginia. “You don’t have to scratch me too hard to find a hillbilly woman in here,” she says. Sense of place drives Thurston’s poetic endeavors and she believes West Virginia is a spiritual location. “I think West Virginia is beautiful. I think our people are salt-of-the-earth beautiful people,” Bonnie shares with a smile. Her books have been published overseas and she works hard to represent West Virginia well.

“I don’t really mind what they write about me biographically, but I always want them to put native of West Virginia.” she states proudly.

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Thurston finds her most rewarding moments come from within. “It’s highly rewarding when I am able to capture with words what I see or feel. That is not easy,” she shares. When she edits a poem, her goal is to say what she needs to say with as few words as possible. “It’s a huge rush when I had an insight or have seen an image and I can manage to get it into words and capture exactly what it is I experience but not have any extreme language.”

She also confesses that it is a gratifying experience to connect with someone through art. “Once in a while I will get a letter from someone I connect with through my poetry. That’s a really cool feeling. It’s amazing to feel like I’ve helped that person articulate something that was important to them,” she explains.

“Poets are always writing poems. For me I always feel like the last poem I write is going to be the last poem ever,” Thurston says. She currently has a publication through the Wild Goose Press from Scotland called From Darkness to Eastering. “It was turned down by another publication. I was pretty bummed but you have to get used to that,” she explains. “It only means one editor didn’t like it. It’s time to move onto the next,” she continues. The current work deals with personal darkness. “I want to show how to deal with our own darkness without taking it out on someone else.”

Beyond writing, Bonnie is an outdoorswoman. She appreciates the simple pleasures of life: walking on her land, traveling, gardening and cooking. In her spare time she also plays music, a pastime she has enjoyed since she was a child.

Bonnie encourages young writers to not focus on being published. “The temptation is to write for publication and not to write what you see. If you are meant to be published then it will happen in time.” She also stresses that young writers practice the craft of reading, as strong readers will in turn be strong writers.