Woodstock Writer’s Fest dives into the drug problem

Martha Frankel (photo by Dion Ogust)

Martha Frankel (photo by Dion Ogust)

The seventh annual Woodstock Writer’s Festival joins the local dialogue on the drug epidemic, offering inspiration from writers who have trod the difficult path from addiction to recovery. Executive director Martha Frankel has been considering a panel on addiction for some time. “I’ve been around a lot of recovery,” she said, “around people who are sober and happy, joyful, free. When I started thinking of it as a recovery panel, it opened up my heart and head.”

The festival, held April 7 to 10, will also feature the usual story slam, intensive writing workshops, memoir and other panels, plus keynote speaker Nancy Jo Sales, who writes about the experience of teenage girls in the Internet age; Barney Hoskyns with his tell-all of Woodstock in the 1960s; activist Gail Straub moderating a discussion on spirituality and creativity. The daytime panels will be held at the Kleinert/James Center for the Arts on Tinker Street, but the evening events have been moved to the new Woodstock Music Lab, four miles east of the village at 1700 Sawkill Road, Kingston.

Michael Lang and Paul Green, who converted the former Zena Elementary School into the Music Lab, are among the sponsors of this year’s festival. The Lab will provide ample space for audience in a room that holds over 300. “It’s the most perfect place for us,” said Frankel. “We can have our cocktail parties across the hall, and I think Paul’s going to give me the principal’s office for the weekend. During the day, we’ll be at the Kleinert, so people can go out and eat and shop. We like being in town, but we want every seat to be filled for the recovery panel.”


Among the panelists on Friday night will be Tracey Helton Mitchell, a recovering heroin addict featured in the move Black Tar Heroin: The Dark End of the Street. After completing rehab in 1998, she dedicated her life to the care and treatment of heroin users. Her book The Big Fix: Hope After Heroin will be published in March. “A lot of what I hear about helping heroin addicts is ‘Don’t waste your time,’” said Frankel. “But I’m around people six months, six years, 30 years clean. I don’t want us to write off anybody. Tracy was a homeless junkie for three years. She didn’t get it the first time in rehab, the second or third time, then one day she did, and she went on to do unbelievable work. This panel is going to bring hope to so many people.” A $2500 grant from Hudson Valley Foundation for Youth Health will enable Frankel to give tickets to the event to anyone who can’t afford to pay.

Also on the panel is Kevin Sessums, who went from writing cover stories for Vanity Fair to shooting crystal meth and living on the street. I Left It on the Mountain describes his recovery by way of 12-step programs, working in a soup kitchen, and hiking the Spanish pilgrimage route Camino de Santiago. Jamie Brickhouse, author of Dangerous When Wet: A Memoir of Booze, Sex, and My Mother, talks about his journey from Texas to a high-profile career in book publishing to his near-fatal descent into alcoholism.

Frankel herself moderates the recovery panel, coming at it from her own experience as described in her memoir, Hats and Eyeglasses, about a secret gambling addiction. She also coped with substance addictions but made her way to recovery. “I’ve been an addict since the night my father di

Parents will be riveted by Saturday night’s keynote speaker Nancy Jo Sales, discussing her book American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers. Sales crisscrossed the country, speaking to more than 200 girls and documenting a massive change in the way girls are growing up, with sexualization, identity, and self-esteem issues magnified through social media. She will be interviewed by Carla Goldstein, head of Omega Institute women’s leadership program and the mother of two teenage girls.

Sophie Strand, a senior at Bard College, moderates a poetry panel addressing the question “How does your local environment influence your writing?” Former Bard students Tamas Panitz and Billie Chernicoff join the renowned Robert Kelly, currently poet laureate of Dutchess County, for a spirited conversation.

The music panel is moderated by Jimmy Buff, writer and program director at WDST. He’ll be joined by British music critic Barney Hoskyns, talking about his book Small Town Talk, which details the history of the music scene in and around Woodstock. Also on the panel are local music writer Holly George-Warren, who is working on a biography of Janis Joplin; photographer Elliott Landy, famous for his photos of Dylan and the Band; and rocker Warren Zanes, author of a biography of Tom Petty. Photographer Laura Levine has donated a seldom-seen portrait of David Bowie that will be raffled off.

The spirituality panel, led by Gail Straub, explores the relationship between spiritual practice, writing, and creativity. Panelists include illustrator and calligrapher Barbara Bash, classical Indian musician Steve Gorn, yoga scholar and pianist Stephen Cope, and writer and meditation teacher Gunilla Norris.

Other events feature Ed Sanders, Robert Burke-Warren, Abigail Thomas, Bar Scott, and other authors talking about fiction, memoir, biography, and the frustrating, wonderful, mysterious process of writing.


The Woodstock Writers Festival will be held April 7-10. Daytime events will be at the Kleinert/James Center for the Arts, 34 Tinker Street, Woodstock. Evening sessions will be held at the Woodstock Music Lab, 1700 Sawkill Road, Kingston, off Zena Road, in the former Zena Elementary School.  For tickets, schedules, and details, see https://ulsterpub.staging.wpenginewriters.com.