Staff and Board

James River Writers employs three part-time staff members and benefits from the support of an active Board of Directors, an Advisory Board, and a Youth Advisory Board.


Katharine Herndon, James River Writers Executive Director

Executive Director

Katharine Herndon was a fan of James River Writers even before they hired her. She has attended all fourteen conferences and over seventy Writing Shows, and she plans to improve on that number in 2017. She was on the board for several years in a variety of roles, including executive secretary, co-chair of the 2011 conference committee (with the wonderful Valley Haggard), and membership chair. Prior to becoming employed at JRW, Katharine taught middle school language arts for thirteen years. Her favorite bits were Shakespeare and poetry, and she was in a minority in this. Katharine’s work has been published by RVA indie press Sink/Swim in The Great Richmond Zombie Book and appears in the anthology River Town, edited by Eric L. Douglas, and the Richmond-based anthology River City Secrets. She is a graduate of the University of Central Florida, Davidson College, and St. Catherine’s School. (@kaherndon)

Annette Marquis, James River Writers Program Director

Program Director

Annette Marquis dreamed of being a creative writer and knew she would be, as soon as she could find the right notebook, perfect pen, or light enough laptop to write anywhere. After co-authoring 29 software books (or were they doorstops?), she finally said, “Enough with the technical writing!” Blogging her experiences working in a Red Cross shelter in Hattiesburg, MS, after Hurricane Katrina started her on a path that led to an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Solstice MFA at Pine Manor College. She is the author of one book from her new, intentionally creative life, Resistance: A Memoir of Civil Disobedience in Maricopa County. In addition, excerpts from her Katrina blog were published in The Women of Katrina: How Gender, Race, and Class Matter in an American Disaster. In yet another life, Annette has an MSW from Boston University and has worked in addictions treatment, mental health crisis intervention, and faith-based social justice organizing. She lives in Lakeside with her poet-wife Wendy. (@annettemarquis)

Phillip Hilliker, James River Writers Membership Coordinator

Membership Coordinator

Phillip Hilliker tinkered with writing for several years in private, huddled over his computer, not admitting to anyone beyond his wife that he wanted to be a writer. Before becoming JRW’s membership coordinator, James River Writers was the supportive community he needed to fully embrace the authorial side of his personality. Beyond writing, he has spent many years as a freelance illustrator and work-at-home dad while also teaching illustration courses at Visual Arts Center of Richmond. This combination of occupations means he spends a majority of his time thinking about monsters and robots. He lives in a demanding fixer-upper house with his wife and kid. (@PhilHilliker)

Board of Directors

Joanna Suzanne Lee, Poet and James River Writers Board Member

Board Chair Joanna Suzanne Lee earned her MD from the Medical College of Virginia in 2007 and a Master’s in Applied Science from William & Mary in 2010. Her poetry has been published in a number of online and print journals, including Rattle, Caduceus, and The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature. She has performed at such diverse venues as CultureWorks’ Arts & Culture Xpo, WTVR/CBS6’s Virginia This Morning, and the 2015 Bridgewater International Poetry Festival, as well as many more intimate events. As a leading force behind River City Poets, Joanna makes possible a wide range of poetry happenings throughout Richmond. She gives semi-regular workshops on various aspects of poetry but particularly enjoys focusing on the intersection between creativity and healing. (@la_poetessa)

Rishonda Anthony, Author and James River Writers Board Member

Rishonda Anthony is an author and emerging leader in the field of Richmond nonprofits. Her first novel, Seraphim, was a 2015 finalist for the New Visions, New Ventures Fiction Award as well as the 2014 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest. In addition to serving on the James River Writers board, she’s also a weekly facilitator for Agile Writers and a contributor to Richmond Children’s Writers. (@rishonda_writes)

Joshua Paul Cane, James River Writers Board Member

Joshua Paul Cane has been a member, volunteer and cheering section of JRW since 2007. Already a published short story author, he now works on getting his first novel into readers’ hands. As a web developer, he helps authors build their platforms. (@jpcane)

Mike Christos, James River Writers Board Member

Mike Christos has been involved with JRW since 2003 in various supporting roles.  Due to his years of experience as a computer engineer and chief technical officer, he has helped JRW with various computer technical issues and is currently serving on the Board of Directors chairing the JRW Technical Committee.  Although not originally considering himself a writer, he is published in a scientific journal and is at work on a science fiction novel he considers an Indiana Jones/Dr. Who/Dan Brown mashup.

Lindsay A. Chudzik, Writer and James River Writers Board Member

Lindsay A. Chudzik received her MFA in Creative Writing from Virginia Commonwealth University. Her short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Dogwood, Haunted Waters Press, Map Literary, and Pembroke Magazine among others. Her creative nonfiction has been anthologized and her short story, ‘Check Yes If You Like Us,’ was a finalist for the 2015 Dogwood Prize. She is an Assistant Professor of Writing at VCU, the recipient of the Gulf South Summit’s 2017 Outstanding Faculty Contributions to Service-Learning in Higher Education Award, and facilities creative writing workshops for returning citizens post-incarceration at OAR in Richmond, Virginia. (@zeldafitzy)

Robin Farmer, Journalist, Author, JRW Board Member

Robin Farmer is an award-winning and versatile journalist with a focus on business, education, and health. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, The Root, AARP Bulletin and Virginia Business. In 2016, she was selected from among 900 applicants for the Djerassi Resident Artists Program to work on her debut YA novel. Her short story, The History Lesson, was included in River City Secrets: Stories from Richmond, which was published in 2016. Robin also writes screenplays. As a board member, Robin’s focus is to make the organization a more inclusive literary arts community. (@Sonewsy)

Leila Gaskin, Fiction Writer and James River Writers Board Member

Leila Gaskin is the author of several short stories including horror, speculative fiction, science fiction, and urban fantasy. Hot Flashes is her debut novel. She does something really important for WestRock, but we don’t know what it is. (@leilagaskin)

Melissa Powell Gay, Author and James River Writers Board Member

A Virginian by birth, Melissa Powell Gay has never gotten around to adopting a dog or cats. She writes fictional accounts of stories she believes never actually happened. She is the author of When Are You Leaving and Parkland Tales. (@melissapgay)

Sadeqa Johnson, Author, Speaker, JRW Board Member

Sadeqa Johnson is a former public relations manager who spent years working with well-known authors such as JK Rowling, Bebe Moore Campbell, Amy Tan, and Bishop TD Jakes before becoming an author herself. Her debut novel, Love in a Carry-on Bag was the recipient of the 2013 Phillis Wheatley award for Best Fiction and the 2012 USA Best Book award for African-American fiction. Her second novel, Second House from the Corner will be released in paperback in February 2017. And Then There Was Me, her third, will be released April 2017. Johnson is a motivation speaker, inspirational blogger, wife, and mother. Originally from Philadelphia, Johnson has lived in Richmond for almost two years. (@sadeqasays)

Suzan McKenzie, Writer and James River Writers Board Member

Suzan McKenzie spent 30 years as a military wife before her husband retired as a Navy pilot in 2000. Living in several parts of the country has given her a lot of raw material for her writing. She is the author of the historical novel Minuet and Serenade, is working on yet another draft of a comic mystery called The Fall Guy, and is mentally plotting a sequel to her second book. She and her husband Jim (call sign Spuds) have three grown children and five grandchildren. They live in Midlothian with a sweet Labradoodle named Maggie.

Erica Orloff, Author, Editor, Speaker

Erica Orloff is the author of twenty-five books for adults and young adults and, as Erica Kirov, the award-winning Magickeepers series for middle-grade readers. She is one of the founders of Editing for Authors and its sister company Dragon Tree Books. She has worked as a ghostwriter and book doctor for over two decades. An in-demand speaker, she gives workshops on writing, editing, and finding your voice, and is a Pushcart-nominated essayist. A native New Yorker, she roots for the Yankees and her beloved minor league team. She lives in Virginia with her family, where she chases dust bunnies, plays her Ibanez guitar (very badly), and tries not to drop any of the myriad plates ever-spinning in her multitasking life. Follow her on Twitter (@ericaorloff).

Rebekah L. Pierce, Playwright, Author, Teacher

Rebekah L. Pierce is an avid playwright and author with her works focusing on contemporary women and their search for purpose and identity. She received her MA in English with a concentration in Literature from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2002, which is where she wrote her first play, The Myth. An African-American military veteran and entrepreneur, she knows her purpose is to give a voice to women from all walks of life through her plays and publication. She is also Founder & CEO of The Pierce Agency, LLC as well as RLP Productions, a motivational speaker, English teacher, wife and mother. (@rebekahpierce)

Robert Toms, James River Writers Board Member

Robert Toms retired from an almost thirty-year career in law enforcement to pursue writing. While advancing to the rank of Lieutenant, he attended local, state, and federal government training and wrote articles, which were published in trade magazines. His law enforcement career involved working in specialized fields, including patrol, criminal investigations, background and security clearance investigations, interstate criminal extraditions, executive protection, and command-level supervision. He holds a BA in sociology from the University of Richmond.

Jon Sealy, Communications Consultant and Author

Jon Sealy is a communications consultant and author of The Whiskey Baron, which the Richmond Times-Dispatch said reads like “what you’d get if Cormac McCarthy and William Faulkner co-wrote the HBO series Boardwalk Empire while on an especially inspired, existentially tinged bender.” (@JonSealy)

Kris Spisak, Author, Editor, Web Content Specialist

With degrees from the College of William & Mary and the University of Richmond, Kris Spisak began her career as a college writing instructor; however, after six years in the classroom, she transitioned to professional writing and editing. Helping writers sharpen their craft was the driving force behind her book, Get a Grip on your Grammar: 250 Writing and Editing Reminders for the Curious or Confused (Career Press, 2017). Kris is the founder of Grammartopia and the co-founder of Midlothian Web Solutions. She is also pursuing the publication of her first novel. (@KrisSpisak)

Julie Valerie, Writer and James River Writers Board Member

Julie Valerie writes upmarket women’s fiction. Her Scrabble-inspired short story, “LLL,” was published in A Kind of Mad Courage: Short Stories About Mothers, (S)mothers & Others. A voracious reader, Julie has reviewed 200+ books in her genre, recently won the BookSparks 2015 Summer Reading Challenge Grand Prize, and founded the 85K Writing Challenge (, providing writers with a supportive, enriching forum to pen 85,000 words in 90 days. When she’s not writing, Julie is pursuing an editing certificate from the University of Chicago Graham School and testing her knowledge of the Chicago Manual of Style. (@Julie_Valerie)

Advisory Board

Phaedra Hise, Author and James River Writers Advisory Board Chair

Phaedra Hise (Advisory Board Chair and JRW co-founder) is an entrepreneurial writer, editor and author. She has written award-winning articles and cover stories for national publications including the Washington PostIncFortuneForbesCNN Money, the Wall Street JournalPopular Mechanics, and Salon. Phaedra has written five books for major publishers, including two co-author collaborations. She has also run print and digital magazines including Edible RichmondColloquy, and Colloquy India. Phaedra is currently Vice President, Content & Social Media for Richmond-based company, Legacy Navigator; and Contributing Food Editor for Virginia Living. She blogs about urban gardening and cooking at (@HiPhaedra)

Gigi Amateau, Children's and YA Author

Gigi Amateau is the author of A Certain Strain of Peculiar, a Bank Street College Best Children’s Book of the Year and Chancey of the Maury River, A William Allen White Masters list title. Come August, Come Freedom, her first work of historical fiction, won the Library of Virginia’s People Choice Award for fiction, and was chosen by Bank Street College as a Best Children’s Book of the Year and by the Virginia Library Association as a Jefferson Cup Honor book. Her fifth novel, Macadoo of the Maury River, was released by Candlewick Press in August 2013. In 2015, her middle-grade book Two for Joy was published by Candlewick. Gigi is the recipient of a Theresa Pollak Prize for Excellence in the Arts from Richmond Magazine. (@giamateau)

Ellen F. Brown, Author and JRW Advisory Board Member

Ellen F. Brown is an award-winning freelance writer and co-author of the book Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind: A Bestseller’s Odyssey from Atlanta to Hollywood. She writes about a wide variety of topics relating to literary and publishing history. (@ellenfbrown)

Constance Costas, Writer, Editor, Content Strategist

Constance Costas is a writer, editor, and content strategist. She got her start at Vogue magazine and moved from there to editing a small national fitness magazine. She joined Self three years later, writing cover stories for New York editors. She has published articles in Parents, Redbook, Ladies’ Home Journal, Health, Fitness, and Harpers’ Bazaar, among others. Her clients include corporations, small businesses, nonprofits, interior designers, media groups, and indie authors.

Kirk Ellis, Screenwriter, Producer, JRW Advisory Board Member

Kirk Ellis won two Emmys, a WGA Award, a Peabody and the Humanitas Prize for his work as writer and co-executive producer on the HBO miniseries John Adams. Currently, Kirk is developing a dramatic series based on the Lisa See novel China Dolls in conjunction with actor/producer Daniel Dae Kim. For producer Bryan Cranston, Kirk is also writing Drill, a dramatic series set amidst US Army basic training in Ft. Jackson. He is also collaborating with producer Tim Kring (“Heroes”) and Imperative Entertainment for Explorers and working on a variety of upcoming motion picture projects. A former co-governor of the writers’ branch of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, Kirk served for four years as chairman of the Santa Fe, New Mexico, Arts Commission and is currently the president-elect of Western Writers of America.

dl Hopkins, Actor, Poet, Teacher

dl Hopkins is a fixture in the Richmond theatre community. Onstage he is an award winning actor, veteran poet, and former Artistic Director of the African American Repertory Theatre of Virginia. On film and the small screen he has appeared in numerous roles ranging from HBO’s “The Wire”, starring in the Fox series “Legends & Lies” as Bass Reeves, The Real Lone Ranger, and most recently “Loving”. Mr. Hopkins has been an Artist-In-Residence at the University of Richmond where he preformed and taught. As well as a founding member of Ernie McClintock’s Jazz Actors Theatre, where he toured as a fellow repertory artist, and taught Mr. McClintock’ s Jazz Actor’s technique. (@dlhop)

Dean King, award-winning nonfiction author

Dean King is the award-winning author of The Feud: The Hatfields & McCoys: The True Story, which the Wall Street Journal called, “popular history as it ought to be written,” and nine other works of non-fiction. His national bestseller Skeletons on the Zahara, a Award Winner translated into ten languages, is the subject of a two-hour History Channel special documentary and is currently being developed as a feature film. Dean is the chief story teller of two History Channel documentaries and a producer of its unscripted series The Hatfields and McCoys: White Lightning. Dean’s writing appears in Esquire, Garden & Gun, Granta, Men’s Journal, National Geographic Adventure, and the New York Times. Dean is a co-founder of JRW, a past board member of the Library of Virginia Foundation, and currently serves on the board of BIO, the world’s only organization dedicated to biography.

Jon Kukla, Author and Historian

A native of Wisconsin, Jon Kukla aspires to bring first-rate historical scholarship to a general readership – books, as one scholar put it, “that working historians have to read and the general public want to read.” His comprehensive new biography, Patrick Henry: Champion of Liberty, will be published by Simon & Schuster in August 2017. Both Mr. Jefferson’s Women (Knopf 2007) and A Wilderness So Immense: The Louisiana Purchase and the Destiny of America (Knopf 2003) were Book-of-the-Month and History Book Club selections.

Joseph Papa, Communications Director and James River Writers Advisory Board Member

Joseph Papa is the Communications Director for Equality Virginia, the state’s leading LGBT advocacy organization. A Richmond area native, he returns from New York where he was a publicity director at HarperCollins Publishers working on over 50 New York Times bestselling books. Before that he was special events and programs coordinator for the Library of Virginia Foundation. He is the author of the national bestseller Elizabeth Taylor: A Passion for Life (HarperDesign, 2011). (@JosephPapa)

Virginia Pye, Author and James River Writers Advisory Board Member

Virginia Pye is the author of two novels, DREAMS OF THE RED PHOENIX and RIVER OF DUST. Her award-winning short stories have been published in numerous literary magazines, and her essays are on line at The New York Times, Literary Hub, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. She was a three term chair of James River Writers in its early years and now lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (@VirginiaPye)

David L. Robbins, Author, Playwright, Teacher

David L. Robbins was born in Richmond and received his undergraduate and Juris Doctorate degrees from the College of William & Mary. He has been writer-in-residence and visiting professor of creative writing at W&M and taught advanced creative writing for the VCU Honors College. David has published twelve novels and had several of his plays produced, including The End of War, which had its world premiere in Richmond in 2017. He is a co-founder of JRW, co-founder of The Podium Foundation, and founder of The Mighty Pen Project. (@DavidLRobbins)

Tom Robbins, Novelist and James River Writers Advisory Board Member

Tom Robbins has been called “a vital natural resource” by The Portland Oregonian, “one of the wildest and most entertaining novelists in the world” by the Financial Times of London, and “the most dangerous writer in the world today” by Fernanda Pivano of Italy’s Corriere della Sera. A Southerner by birth, Robbins has lived in and around Seattle since 1962. His work includes the novels Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (1976), Jitterbug Perfume (1984), Skinny Legs and All (1990), Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates (2000), Villa Incognito (2003), Wild Ducks Flying Backward (2005, collection), and the children’s book for grown-ups B is for Beer (2009)(@DailyRobbins)

David B. Robinson, James River Writers Advisory Board Member

David B. Robinson, CPA, is the only person authorized to refer to themselves as a GreatCPA® — He is the Brand!  In 2016, after 30+ years as a CPA, David was awarded the exclusive right to use the registered service mark “GreatCPA®” by the US Patent & Trademark Office.  He is a well-rounded CPA who has actually done what most other CPAs only consult and advise about.  He works to provide custom-created solutions to solve unusual problems.  He comes from a family of Virginia and Scottish entrepreneurs, including ones that opened an architectural office on Richmond’s Main Street in 1905. (@YourGreatCPA)

Kirk T. Schroder, Entertainment and Arts Lawyer

Kirk T. Schroder is an experienced entertainment and arts law attorney. He has been recognized in The Best Lawyers in America® for the field of entertainment law and is currently rated an “AV Preeminent” lawyer by Martindale-Hubbell, its highest rating for lawyers. Kirk’s national peers in the entertainment and sports law profession elected him the current chair of the American Bar Association’s Entertainment and Sports Law Section. His law practice draws entertainment and arts-related clients from around the world.

Ron Smith, Poet and James River Writers Advisory Board Member

Ron Smith is an American poet and the first writer-in-residence at St. Christopher’s School. He is the author of Running Again in Hollywood Cemetery, Moon Road, and Its Ghostly Workshop. In 2005, he was selected, along with Elizabeth Seydel Morgan, as an inaugural winner of the Carole Weinstein Poetry Prize. Ron’s poems and essay-reviews have appeared in numerous periodicals and reference works. He is a former president of the Poetry Society of Virginia and was Poet Laureate of Virginia from 2014 to 2016.

Sandra Treadway, director of the Library of Virginia

Sandra Treadway is director of the Library of Virginia. She previously served as deputy director of the library and headed its publications program. Sandra is a graduate of Manhattanville College and holds a doctoral degree in American history from the University of Virginia and a master’s degree in library and information science from the University of Tennessee. Sandra is the author of Women of Mark: A History of the Woman’s Club of Richmond, 1894-1994 and has edited several other volumes on southern and Virginia history. She is a frequent speaker on Virginia and women’s history topics.