“Daniel Abrams gave a little concert on his electronic keyboard,” Perkins says of the program’s beginnings at the start of its 25th year anniversary. “I was on the library board at the time and wanted to something that would help bring people in here.”
What resulted, he adds, stayed on a monthly basis for years, but has now been running at a frequency of three forum events a month for some time. And along the way it’s brought to town everyone from such writers as Francine Prose, Lydia Davis and Malachy McCourt — who drew such a large crowd he had to be reprogrammed into nearby Town Hall — to hosts of smaller discussions, concerts and dialogues.
Attendance, he said, has ranged from the highs of the McCourt event, and a flying saucer discussion that drew over 125 to the library, down to an average 40 attendees each Saturday the forum meets.
“As far as I know, we’re the longest running such program in the Hudson Valley at this point,” Perkins said proudly of what he described as “my baby from beginning to end.” “Colleges have similar programs, but none that’s run quite this long…”
Sponsored by the Friends of the Library since the early 1990s, the Forum got its start under longstanding Library Director DJ Stern, now retired, and has to date included almost a thousand that Perkins added, “has included every subject under the sun, from Afghanistan and astronomy to zoology. In addition to its many literary readings the Forum has offered concerts and programs on haiku, Haile Selassie, puffins, agriculture, acupuncture, flying saucers, gardening, Egypt, Mexico, swords, Nepal, Iraq, Israel…the list is endless.”
For the upcoming anniversary year, Perkins highlighted a handful of programs to indicate the heightened profile of this year’s offerings, and the Forum’s seemingly increased profile these days.
On January 22, attorney Joe Nicholson will speak about the Freedom of Information Act (FOIL). In March, author Abigail Thomas will read, Ed Friedman and AJ Lederman will draw from their years overseas to discuss “Afghanistan — Old Myths & New Realities.” Music critic Leslie Gerber will address “Music in Woodstock: Then and Now.” April sees Eric Caren, an avid newspaper collection whose donation of vintage materials helped get Washington’s Newseum up and started, bring in some of his ink-stained artifacts for discussion and eyeballing. Benjamin Zucker, author of the novels Blue, Green and White, will make a first visit to town.
“We’ve only canceled a couple of times over the years, although I’m anxious every time over whether the speaker will show up, or an audience, for that matter,” Perkins recalled. “One time an elderly speaker wasn’t there so I called her and ended up waking her from a nap. She’d forgotten all about it, but made it here in five minutes nevertheless.”
Sharing insights and talent
Back when he started the series, the writer and quiet impresario added, there had been nothing like it around town since Marguerite Harris had run a regular poetry festival at the library during the late 1960s and early 1970s. And before that, Perkins added after putting his local historian hat on, you’d have to go back to a series of Sunday afternoon readings and talks up at Byrdcliffe in the 1930s and 1940s.
“I’ve always attended cultural and public affairs programs,” he said. “It’s always made sense to do this sort of thing.”
Going on, Perkins talked about how most of what’s swallowed his move to Woodstock in 1973 has been about the “encouragement” of community.
“The Forum allows members of the community to communicate with each other and to share their insights and talents,” he wrote in a press release for the current year’s anniversary status.
In person, he added how “this remains one place where people can come and talk to other people where it’s not digital.”
He acknowledged how some regulars have always come for the refreshments supplied by Friends of the Library, while others show up for occasional big draw events.
Regardless of the reasons for people coming, we asked whether they gave as much as they took away.
“Not so far,” Perkins answered, saying there had been no gifts to the Forum yet. But adding that it wasn’t too late to start.
“An appropriate birthday gift for the Forum would be the creation of a program room at the Library for the Forum with appropriate seating and equipment…For ten grand we’ll build a monument!” he added. “It’s a dream, but maybe it will be realized before our 35th birthday.”++
For further information on all Woodstock Library Forum events, and means of giving towards Perkins and the Friends of Library’s dream, call 679-2213 or visit www.woodstock.org.
This week’s forum…
At the Woodstock Library Forum this week, performer and poet Steve Clorfeine will read from his work at 5 p.m. Saturday, January 15. Clorfeine has been a member of the Merce Cunningham and Meredith Monk troupes and has taught at SUNY New Paltz, the Naropa Institute and many other colleges. He is the author, most recently, of While I was Dancing (Codbill Press).
Sponsored by Friends of the Library, the Forum is free and open to the public. Refreshments are served. ++