The latter oversight on the part of casting directors seems to point to an unmined motherlode, considering that, early in his career, the actor studied clowning at the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Clown College and worked as a clown in a traveling circus for six months. That stint followed his original education in theater at Williams College, where Strathairn and legendary indie director John Sayles first became friends. Sayles cast him in the ensemble of talented unknowns in their mutual debut feature, The Return of the Secaucus Seven (1979), and they have since made half a dozen other films together.
Consequently, the actor is delighted to have a chance to read a piece by his old friend, whom he calls “an astute and observant writer,” in the “Stories on Stage: Hudson Valley Actors Read Hudson Valley Authors” program of the Red Hook Literary Festival. “John has an extraordinary gift of capturing these microcultures, any place he points his pen. He’s great at telling stories of the common man – although the common man is quite uncommon.”
Strathairn will be reading Sayles’s “Dillinger in Hollywood,” about the reminiscences of an old codger who may just be suffering from senile dementia, or might really be John Dillinger in hiding. “The story is delightful, because it comes from one of the odd jobs [Sayles] had along the way, working in an old folks’ home…. It’s a sweet, compassionate story about men and their dreams.”
These days both Sayles and Strathairn make their homes in the Hudson Valley – “We see each other now and again” – and there’s a rumor going around that the director may turn up at the Festival, having been the keynote speaker at last year’s event. Strathairn is full of praise for Ulster County resident Nina Shengold, one of the movers and shakers behind the Festival. “What she did in Olivebridge with Artists & Writers is just wonderful. I remember seeing parents in the audience with kids on their laps – it just shows the magic of hearing something at a gathering. That’s why I love theater so much.”
Fans of spoken-word performance will have plenty to lure them to Red Hook on the weekend of April 12 to 14. The “Stories on Stage” event in which David Strathairn will be reading, along with Nicole Quinn and Jason Downs, will begin at 7 p.m. on Saturday, April 13 at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church Parish Hall at 7412 South Broadway. Like all the events in the Read Local! Red Hook Literary Festival, admission to this performance is free, but arriving early is advisable to ensure that you find a seat.
The Festival kicks off on Friday evening, April 12 with an opening reception from 6 to 8 p.m. for “Word Works,” an exhibition of literary-themed artworks at the Red Hook Community Arts Network (RHCAN) Gallery, located at 7516 North Broadway. And on Sunday, April 14, a whole day’s worth of workshops and panel discussions will be offered, featuring an impressive array of Hudson Valley-based literary names.
Suzzy Roche – one of the three phenomenal singing Roche sisters, mother of up-and-coming singer Lucy Wainwright Roche and author of Wayward Saints, a novel about life inside the music industry – will kick off Sunday’s offerings with an 11 a.m. music-and-movement program for kids, joined by Ulster County illustrator Giselle Potter. That one takes place at the Red Hook Public Library, located at 7444 South Broadway. Other Sunday workshops at various venues will cover such topics as writing history, the influence of place on poetry writing, the Young Adult literature boom, writing fiction, the book publishing business and readings of original work by teens. For a complete schedule and locations, visit www.rhcan.com/red-hook-lit-fest.
Read Local! Red Hook Literary Festival, Friday-Sunday, April 12-14, free, various venues in Red Hook; www.rhcan.com/red-hook-lit-fest.