Woodstock Writer’s Festival presents varied, stimulating weekend

Panel on the Art of Resilience at a crowded Kleinert/James Arts Center. (Photo by Dion Ogust)

The third annual Woodstock Writer’s Festival slammed into gear last Thursday night with a TMI three-minute story contest, duly won by Fern Edison who recounted her entire romantic history, rapidly incorporating multiple rock n’ roll references and the line “by the time I got to Woodstock.” Even without the exuberant Julie Novak to MC — that job was filled in by John Cox — the event set the tone for a weekend full of authors, writers, readers, songsters, artists, agents and publishers and other hangers-on. Everyone involved loves words, loves making sentences, loves telling a good story. It was a book addict’s dream.

Full workshops on Friday dealt in depth with specific subjects — poetry, e-publishing, commentary — giving participants practice and critical feedback in their chosen areas. Workshop teachers included Marion Winik, Susan Brown, Gretchen Primack, Rick Tannenbaum, Sari Botton, and Eva Tenuto. Just afterwards, Gail Straub moderated an illustrious panel of writers and agents (Kris Carr, Priscilla Gilman and Jeff Golliher, with Nan Satter and Ned Leavitt), who talked about resiliency in the arts and how engaging in the arts actually generates resilience. Satter quoted Henry James, who wrote, “We work in the dark — we do what we can — we give what we have…” and emphasized that writing is an indirect journey, and the writer often needs to approach things obliquely.

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WAMC’s Joe Donahue was hard-pressed to keep up with William Kennedy that evening. The award-winning host of Roundtable opened the conversation, and the consummate novelist took off. Kennedy, known for his pitch-perfect dialogue, talked about how he developed the skill. “I grew up reading the great American writers — Hemingway; I loved J.D. Salinger’s dialogue. Faulkner had some really interesting dialogue and sometimes it was abominable. When I was a newspaper man, I paid attention to what people said and put it in quotes. You have to pay attention to how people speak.” He read from Chango’s Beads and Two-Tone Shoes, and shared anecdotes and revealed a fated work ethic. “I still do the same things I used to do. It still takes me forever to start. When I was beginning, the problem was I didn’t know what to do. Now I’m older, and I know what to do, and the problem is doing it. I’m 84 years old. What the hell — am I gonna write a novel? But I might live ‘til I’m 90. What am I gonna do for 6 years. I might live to 100.”

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