As soon as Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt of Bristow learned to read, she discovered the power of words. At around age 5, she started weaving her own tales.

“I wrote these stories and poems about my pets, and then when I got a little older, I started writing this magazine called ‘Puppet Gossip,’” says Gotthardt. “It was a little like the National Enquirer, but covered the secret lives of my puppets. I gave it out to friends and family.”

Poetry, she says, was definitely her first love. 

“I think a lot of it stemmed from the reading I did as a child, especially Dr. Seuss books. I loved rhymes in my earlier life and still have a high interest in and passion for trying to make my poems sound lyrical when they’re read out loud. So, even if they don’t rhyme, there is a rhythm and cadence to them.”

This method and process has clearly worked well for her. Among the accolades she has attained, such as winning first place in the Virginia Writers Club statewide Golden Nib contest in the poetry category and first place in the free verse category of Loudoun County Library Foundation’s 2020 Rhyme On Poetry contest, Gotthardt received the Seefeldt Award for Arts Excellence for Outstanding Individual Artist from the Prince William County Arts Council in 2021. This award recognizes and celebrates artists, arts organizations, volunteers, educators and businesses that build upon and sustain Kathleen K. Seefeldt’s legacy of public service and support for the cultural arts.

“I thought I was being nominated for a volunteerism award for my work with Write by the Rails, since I’m the president of that group,” says Gotthardt. “When I showed up for the ceremony, I was so surprised!” She adds that she was also humbled to be chosen out of so many talented artists in the area.

In addition to poetry, she wrote feature articles for the News and Messenger, a local paper, in the early 2000s, and after it stopped publishing, she started writing for Prince William Living Magazine. She then wrote columns for Potomac Local and Bristow Beat.

“I didn’t realize I enjoyed writing columns until around 2020, and I then started writing about how to become happier.”

From there, Gotthardt went on to publish her book, Get Happy, Dammit in 2020, which won a Silver Award from the Nonfiction Author’s Association. 

“It’s a collection of short essays and poetry and mindfulness exercises for improving one’s quality of life,” she says.

Gotthardt has published nine books in total, including two children’s books.

“I love the fact that children are reading and can connect with something I’ve written,” she says. “There’s something almost spiritual about that. When you see their eyes light up and their smiles, there’s nothing like it.”

One day, when she was doing a book signing at Cookies & Cream in Haymarket for A Crane Named Steve, a woman and her teenage son came in. 

“She told me that I wrote her son’s story,” she says. “Here was this teenage boy and he wanted me to sign his book – I was almost in tears! You never know who you’re going to reach.”

Aside from writing, Gotthardt is also involved in many writing organizations, including the previously mentioned Write by the Rails. “Cindy Brookshire from Manassas was the one who came up with the idea,” she says. “She wanted to have a clearinghouse of resources for writers and somehow it turned into a group.”

Brookshire and Gotthardt, along with a few others, became founding members of Write by the Rails. The name is derived from where they first met – in the Manassas coffee shop Grounds Central Station, right near the railroad.

“Ultimately we connected with the Virginia Writers Club and then became one of its Chapters,” says Gotthardt. Today, Write by the Rails has about 50 members representing all genres, and hosts monthly events, publishes an anthology and holds workshops. Although members mostly meet online these days, they do try to have quarterly live events.

Gotthardt encourages other writers to join writing groups such as this, since it will give them a chance to connect with fellow writers and help improve their own writing. And, she says, don’t be afraid to dream. 

She says, “Go with your heart and don’t be afraid to try out different genres. When I first started writing columns, I thought, ‘I’m not trained to do this.’ When writing children’s books, I had the same feelings of ‘Oh, I can’t do this!’ Try it and see where it goes because, first, you may end up deciding that it’s the genre you want to focus on, and second, you might also discover that you have a certain way of approaching it and you’re going to bring your own style to that genre because of it.”

Today, Gotthardt lives in Bristow with her husband David, has two adult children, and what she calls two extremely demanding dogs. 

“My husband is one of my most wonderful supporters even though he always hated English classes in his youth,” she says chuckling.  

To find out more about Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt, M.Ed., visit katherinegotthardt.com and for information on Write by the Rails, go to visit wbtr.org.  

This feature appears in the March 2022 issue of Haymarket-Gainesville Lifestyle Magazine

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