Interesting things happen when writers congregate. They discuss craft and the logistics of the publishing business. They share their work with each other. They inspire and get inspired. And when they gather in Woodstock each spring for three nights and days, they pull readers into the fold as well, with talks and panels that make for provocative entertainment.
Now in its seventh year, the Woodstock Writers’ Festival (WWF) brings world-renowned authors of fiction, memoir and biography, poetry, spirituality, spoken word and music to town to celebrate all things writerly. Founded and directed by Martha Frankel (Boiceville’s own entertainment/literary diva and WDST radio talk show hostess), the Festival offers readers and writers alike the opportunity to meet real authors and get to know how they work.
Always kicking off the Festival and always a sold-out event (so buy your tickets early), the WWF Story Slam is a forum for rising talent. Readers get three minutes each to present their stories, written to a common prompt. In honor of the late David Bowie, it’s “We Can Be Heroes, Just for One Day” this year; and yes, there’s a gong for anyone going over the time limit. Ida Hakkila (Heavy Light Show on WDST) will emcee the proceedings and keep things under control, as readers present their pieces to the audience and a three-judge panel. The Story Slam is being held at the new Woodstock Music Lab at 1700 Sawkill Road.
Some writers make it look easy, but few of the scheduled speakers at this year’s Festival would say that writing is anything less than a lot of hard work. There will be a variety of daylong WWF workshops on Friday, each with a concentration in some aspect of the craft. “We’re doing eight intensives this year,” says Frankel. “Nan Gatewood Satter [Be Safe, Love Mom: A Military Mom’s Stories of Courage, Comfort and Surviving Life on the Home Front] is doing one about the first five pages of your book, which is really great. Gail Straub’s [Returning to My Mother’s House and Reveil and the Old One at the Edge of the World] intensive was so successful last year; people went crazy for it. Doesn’t matter if you’re writing fiction or non-fiction, memoir – she wants to get to the emotional truth. And we have Bev Donofrio [Riding in Cars with Boys and Looking for Mary] with ‘Writing Your Life,’ Ann Hood [The Knitting Circle, An Italian Wife and The Obituary Writer, as well as a memoir, Comfort] doing ‘Get Naked,’ a fiction workshop on taking risks and digging deeper, and my agent Lynn Johnston on getting your work published again.
“Bar Scott [The Present Giver] is teaching a class for new writers. What a great way to ease yourself into it! Bar is so safe, and wants the best for new writers. Brandon Tomassetti is teaching a social media workshop. He does all the social media for the Festival and for my radio show. Kitty Sheehan is doing an editing workshop: the first time we’ve addressed that. It’s the thing that writers are most afraid of.” The Friday intensives are held in private homes and include lunch and snacks.
Two special presentations take place on Friday and Saturday evenings, each featuring writers at the top of their game. Frankel has called on authors who have dealt with addiction in their lives to talk about getting straight and being happy about it in “Writing with Hope in Your Pen.” “We’ve got Kevin Sessums [I Left It on the Mountain], Jamie Brickhouse [Dangerous When Wet: A Memoir of Booze, Sex and My Mother] and Tracy Helton [The Big Fix] – she was one of the kids they followed in that movie Black Tar Heroin back in the ’80s,” says Frankel. “She’s been in recovery for 20 years. Her book is not about her descent into Hell; it’s about rising from the ashes. The whole panel is really about recovery and hope. Whether you’re the parent of an addict, an addict yourself, the child of an addict, the boyfriend/girlfriend – this panel is going to be so good.”
Saturday evening’s keynote event features Nancy Jo Sales to discuss her latest book, American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers. An award-winning journalist and author (The Bling Ring: How a Gang of Fame-Obsessed Teens Ripped off Hollywood and Shocked the World) who has written for Vanity Fair, New York, Harper’s Bazaar and other publications, Sales addresses “a disturbing portrait of the end of childhood as we know it and the…experience of a new kind of adolescence, one dominated by new social and sexual norms, where a girl’s first crushes and experiences of longing and romance occur in an accelerated electronic environment.” Carla Goldstein, the Omega Institute’s chief external affairs officer and co-founder of the Omega Women’s Leadership Center, will join Sales for this important conversation. Both Friday- and Saturday-evening events will take place at the Woodstock Music Lab, and catered cocktail parties – “Little Bites & Big Libations” #1 and #2 – held beforehand at the same venue will make for casual opportunities to rub elbows and chitchat with the visiting authors.
All day Saturday, festivalgoers can drop in at the Kleinert/James Art Center to catch shorter panel talks designed around specific subjects. There are question-and-answer sessions after each talk. Gail Straub will moderate a panel titled “Spirituality, Writing and Creativity” with Barbara Bash (True Nature: An Illustrated Journal of Four Seasons in Solitude), Stephen Cope (upcoming Soul Friends: The Transforming Power of Deep Human Connection), Grammy-winning musician Steve Gorn and Gunilla Norris (author of 11 children’s books, one book of poetry and many books on spirituality, including Being Home).
A poetry panel is next, with poets Tamas Panitz (Blue Sun, Incense Games, Contrapuncti), Robert Kelly (Red Actions: Selected Poems 1960-1993, and a collection of short fictions, A Transparent Tree), and Billie Chernicoff (The Pleasures and The Red Dress) exploring the question, “How does your local environment influence your writing?” This session will be moderated by Sophie Strand, winner of the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards’ Silver and Gold Medal for poetry, and a Written Arts major in her third year at Bard.
The fiction panel, moderated by author Ann Hood, is titled “What If?” addressing some of the imaginative twists and turns that fiction writers Maggie Mitchell (Pretty Is), Helen Klein Ross (Making It: A Novel of Madison Avenue), Robert Burke Warren (Perfectly Broken) and Sunil Yapa (Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist) have employed in their works.
“Rock Stories and Pictures Live Forever” will be moderated by Jimmy Buff, 30-plus-year veteran of rock radio and program director at Radio Woodstock 100.1 for 11 years, and will include Holly George-Warren (A Man Called Destruction: The Life and Music of Alex Chilton, From Box Tops to Big Star to Backdoor Man), Barney Hoskyns (Small Town Talk), Elliot Landy (Elliott Landy’s Photographs of The Band: The Book) and Warren Zanes (Petty: The Biography).
On Sunday, “Breakfast with Abigail Thomas and Bar Scott” continues a WWF tradition (Thomas’ latest memoir is What Comes Next and How to Like It). Joshua’s Café fills quickly for this event, so again, make your reservations early.
Back in the Kleinert, two panels will round out the Festival: Author James Grissom (Follies of God: Tennessee Williams and the Women of the Fog) will moderate the biography panel titled “Science, Fiction, Music and Murder,” with guests Alan Light (What Happened, Miss Simone? The Nina Simone Diaries), Ed Sanders (multiple collections of poetry and Sharon Tate: A Life) and Ginger Strand (The Brothers Vonnegut: Science and Fiction in the House of Magic). And “Memoir A Go-Go,” the signature event of the weekend, will be moderated by Frankel (Hats and Eyeglasses and Brazilian Sexy) with guests Mary Norris (Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen), Amye Archer (Fat Girl, Skinny), Owen Gleiberman (Movie Freak: My Life Watching Movies) and John Elder Robison (Look Me in the Eye, Raising Cubby, Be Different).
“I’m very organized this year, I say now…” Frankel takes a deep breath. “I hired an assistant to do everything I can’t do. It doesn’t seem so scary anymore. I keep great lists going all year, and then it all happens the last four weeks. You’ve gotta have nerves of steel” – and a bit of stamina to take it all in, but it’s well worth it.
Woodstock Writers’ Festival, Thursday-Sunday, April 7-10, Kleinert/James Art Center & Joshua’s Café, Tinker Street, Woodstock, Woodstock Music Lab, 1700 Sawkill Road, Kingston; ulsterpub.staging.wpenginewriters.com/woodstock-writers-festival-2016-schedule.