Schemes for scribblers

Woodstock Writers’ Workshops kick off Writers’ Festival next Monday

by Ann Hutton
March 30, 2011 11:00 AM | 0 0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
“I like to give offbeat assignments designed to dispose of the self-consciousness that plagues so many writers,” says author Abigail Thomas. “I think we do our best work when not trying too hard, when we are not bound up by the grim determination to write. I want to help people find the side door into a structure too imposing to enter by the front.” Thomas’ little gem of a book Thinking about Memoir prompts a writer with side-door suggestions like: Write two pages about a time when you were inappropriately dressed for the occasion.

Susan Richards, another local and beloved author, says that she likes to provoke breakthroughs for writers in their own work, whether it’s work-in-progress or still in the dreaming stages. “I’ve taken a lot of workshops in my writing life, getting feedback from other writers – they help each other a lot,” she says. “They are inspired and supported by others in the group. A key function is to support and encourage with lots of nurturing.”

Both Thomas and Richards are slated to teach five-day workshops for the upcoming Woodstock Writers’ Festival in April. The intensive workshops are a new addition to the Festival, now in its second year: fact indicating that Festival executive director Martha Frankel and cohorts are quick responders. Last year, participants said that they wanted more face-time with the pros. This year, Woodstock Writers’ Workshops are being held during the week before the Festival – Monday through Friday, April 3 through 8 – in small-group configurations that will give participants the opportunity to “plumb the depths of experiences through guided exercises” and get constructive feedback from group members and the workshop leaders.

When asked what they each get out of teaching in such an intimate workshop, social worker and college teacher Richards says, “I get the satisfaction of helping people. That’s when I get the most meaning out of life. I’m also inspired by people who read their work in class. Creativity breeds creativity.”

Thomas concurs: “I love it when students discover their own voices and a way to tell the stories that haunt them. Getting beginning writers off the ground is almost as good as writing something myself, and I get to be part of the cross-pollination in a good workshop.”

Daily breakfasts and lunches are included in the registration fees, and participants are welcome to congregate for dinners in one of the excellent eateries in Woodstock each evening.

The three-day Festival ensues on Friday evening at 4 p.m. with a tribute to the great African-American poet Lucille Clifton, who died last spring. Considered to be one of the most influential poets of the 20th century, Clifton was able to write clearly and deftly about the personal and political alike, while deeply inspiring generations of writers and receiving numerous prestigious awards. For the tribute, four esteemed poets will share poems by and stories of Clifton, along with some poems of their own that were influenced by her. They include Cornelius Eady, co-founder of Cave Canem, a writers’ center with a focus on African American poets; Sarah Browning, co-founder of the Split This Rock activist poetry festival and DC Poets against the War; Aracelis Girmay, winner of the coveted Isabella Gardner Poetry Award; and Patricia Smith, four-time National Slam champion.

Organized and hosted by Gretchen Primack, the poetry element in this year’s Festival honors National Poetry Month with appearances by some of America’s most distinguished poets. On Saturday at 2:30 p.m. “The Evolution of a Writer” will feature Paul Muldoon, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry; Tim Seibles, National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Fellowship winner; Vijay Seshadri, awarded Guggenheim and NEA fellowships; and Jean Valentine, poet laureate of New York. In this segment they will read poems from various stages of their careers and share their observations about the ways in which a poet’s work changes throughout life.

Frankel outlines all the new discussion panels and presentations for the weekend, saying, “Last year it was all about memoir. We decided to open it up to other genres and to have the panels organized by people who are experts in their fields” – like Primack to line up the poets, Holly George-Warren to organize a music panel, Alison Gaylin hosting the mystery panel, Ric Orlando from New World Home Cooking to host food writers and others. Plus, agents, publishers and editors will be on hand to talk about new developments in the publishing business.

On Saturday, after a Meet & Greet breakfast at Joshua’s Café, Frankel, author of Hats and Eyeglasses, Brazilian Sexy and hundreds of celebrity interviews, will team up with Kitty Sheehan, social media strategist for Frontier Natural Products Co-op and, to show writers and others how to navigate the sometimes-murky waters of social media. From 10:15 to 11:30 a.m., they’ll share their tactics for turning witty conversation into effective self-promotion using Facebook, Twitter and blogging.

Later on Saturday, Elizabeth Lesser, co-founder of the Omega Institute and author of the best-selling Broken Open; Stephen Cope, director of the Kripalu Institute for Extraordinary Living and author of the best-selling Yoga and the Quest for the True Self; Ned Leavitt, renowned agent of the leading thinkers in the field of consciousness, like best-selling authors Clarissa Pinkola Estes and Andrew Harvey; and activist and critically acclaimed author Gail Straub will present a discussion titled “In the Beginning Was the Word: Books, Spirituality and Consciousness.” In a look at how the seminal ideas put forth in books about spirituality and consciousness have entered the mainstream and changed the way we live, the panel will read both from their own works as well as passages from favorite writers in this field.

In a limited-seating venue, Barry Samuels will host author Gail Godwin for a fireside chat with tea and crumpets. Godwin will talk about her journey as a writer of multiple novels and short stories, three of which have been nominated for the National Book Award and five of which have made the New York Times Bestseller List. Also recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts grants for both fiction and libretto-writing and the Award in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, Godwin’s epitomizes the writing life for which we all yearn.

Saturday evening, “Behind the Scenes of Rock ‘n’ Roll” will focus on authors who have firsthand experience in the subject of their books about the music business. Moderated by Holly George-Warren, author of a dozen books including Public Cowboy No. 1: The Life and Times of Gene Autry, Grateful Dead 365 and The Cowgirl Way and co-editor of The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock ‘n’ Roll, the panel will feature authors Michael Lang, author of The Road to Woodstock and producer of the Woodstock festival in 1969, as well as Woodstock ‘94 and ’99; Parke Puterbaugh, the North Carolina-based author of Phish: The Biography; and Sean Yseult, author of I’m in the Band and former bassist of White Zombie. And at 8 p.m., Frankel will host a talk about memoir-writing with guests Nick Flynn (Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, The Ticking is the Bomb), Shalom Auslander (Foreskin’s Lament) and Marion Winik (Glen Rock Book of the Dead, First Comes Love).

On Sunday from 9 to 10 a.m., critically acclaimed translators Lydia Davis (Madame Bovary), Lowell Bair and others will explore another expression of the literary arts. Have a coffee and partake of this unique experience at no charge at Joshua’s Java Lounge. At 9:45, Susan Richards (Chosen by a Horse, Saddled) gives writing tips for improving your craft and tips for writing a good query letter. The session includes writing exercises. Next, Bar Scott, singer/songwriter and memoirist of The Present Giver, will regale participants with stories and songs, hosted by Abigail Thomas.

After a lunch break, join some of crime fiction’s most acclaimed authors as they discuss the craft and business of mystery-writing. Alison Gaylin (Trashed, Hide Your Eyes, You Kill Me, Heartless) will host Edgar-winners Steve Hamilton (The Lock Artist, A Cold Day in Paradise) and Megan Abbott (Bury Me Deep, Queenpin), best-selling author/literary agent Jason Pinter (The Fury, The Darkness) and Rivka Tadjer (Two Weeks Under). To whet the appetite, a food-writers’ panel will convene at 2:45 p.m., hosted by New World Home Cooking chef/owner Ric Orlando. Panelists include Laura Pensiero, managing director of Gigi Hudson Valley (Rhinebeck), Michael Weiss (Wine Wise and Exploring Wine) and Kingston’s Jessica and Josh Applestone (The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Made Meat). At 4:15 p.m. Barry Samuels will host a publishers’, editors’ and agents’ panel with Rick Tannebaum (Hen House Press) and legendary editor and publisher Betty Ballantine to provide a positive passage through the maze of book publishing.

This lineup of auspicious authors is literally bookended with two greats. As a Festival opener Friday night from 8 to 10 p.m., the prolific chronicler of all things Bedlam Farm, Jon Katz, will talk about the dogs we have come to know and love: Rose, Izzy, Lenore and Frieda. Katz has penned 19 – seven novels and 12 works of nonfiction – earning his rightful place in the hearts of millions of readers. The evening will be hosted by Susan Richards.

The Festival will close Sunday night with the appearance of best-selling Irish author Colm Toibin of Brooklyn, The Master and a searing new story collection The Empty Family. Toibin (who, rumor has it and with the luck of the Irish, may be introduced by Aidan Quinn) comes to Woodstock for the first time to share his work, his philosophy of writing and his infectious merriment. Often called the greatest living writer of fiction, the Irish Master is also known for his provocative, hilarious essays about people we’d love to meet. He will grace the stage from 8 p.m. until we just can’t take any more.

Celebrating the written word with three days of readings, lectures, panels, food and inspiring companionship is what the Festival is all about. Most of the panel discussions will be held at the Kleinert/James Arts Center, with others taking place at Joshua’s Café and at Upstate Films on Tinker Street. A full festival pass includes dinner and wine at Oriole9 (which otherwise costs $50) each weekend night from 5:45 to 7:45 p.m., when participants are invited to schmooze with the Muses at a lavish buffet. For full or individual registration pricing and a full schedule of events, visit

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