You could call Ed McCann a multimedia artist, though he doesn’t use the phrase to describe himself. But look at what he does, and what he provides to men and women who wrestle daily with the craft, and, yes, the art of writing. McCann, who lives in Gardiner, is the founder, editor and producer of 650: a unique public forum for writers who want or need literally to give voice to their work in a professional, public and yet personal setting.
It works like this: McCann announces an open-ended “theme” meant to prompt writers of every background, professional and amateur, young and old, to address that theme in as many as 650 words – maybe four, five minutes of reading time. The submissions are juried and the 12 men and women whose works are selected present their stories before an audience. McCann builds a homepage on the 650 website and rehearses the writers, whose readings are then professionally recorded before an audience for visual and audio rebroadcast. The latest edition of 650, “What We Wore,” is scheduled for Sunday afternoon at SUNY-Ulster and features four Ulster County writers.
McCann launched 650, which was originally known as Writers Read, in 2014 – first with nine sold-out shows in Manhattan, and most recently at the prestigious Sarah Lawrence Writers’ Institute. While McCann says he never envisioned the series as being a “star vehicle,” 650’s success has attracted submissions from Pulitzer and Pushcart Prizewinners and New York Times best-selling authors.
No writer, be they star or wannabe, needs to be told the importance of and difficulty of finding an audience. The fine arts of distribution and marketing are, except in rare cases, foreign to a majority of writers. Here’s how McCann describes the writer’s dilemma: “To find an audience for their work, writers must understand not only how to distribute and market their writing, but also must be prepared to publicly present it – and themselves – in a way that engages and entertains.” It’s the new/old story that writers hear all the time: the need to build a platform, to put their best selves forward.
McCann is a SUNY-New Paltz Business Administration graduate who has won national awards as a television writer and producer for Kingston’s WTZA-TV, where he created a weekly magazine and collaborated on a series of documentaries during what he calls “the Nancy Cozean years.” He created educational video at the Culinary Institute of America before joining his partner, nationally recognized designer and craftsman Richard Kollath, in Kollath McCann Creative Services. Their client list over the past 20 years ranges from Hearst to National Geographic to Microsoft and back again.
His passion for writing has allowed him to draw on his multiple talents and interests and create 650, a showcase for writers that “elevates the proceedings above the typical ‘open mic’ format.” Thematic prompts over the years have included “The Sound of Music” and “My First Time,” which triggered stories about a divorcée’s first Match.com meet-up, a child’s first haircut and the indelible impression that a Marine drill sergeant made on a young recruit.
Whatever else you can say about the project, it does more than encourage good writing: It puts it on display for all to see (whether live or on video) and hear (via podcasts that are still in the making). Among the dozen writers who answered McCann’s call for stories about “What We Wore,” four hail from Ulster County: Tracy Doolittle McNally and Gretchen Reed of High Falls, Steven Lewis of New Paltz and Kathleen Bennett Bastis of Saugerties.
“What We Wore” will be presented at SUNY-Ulster’s College Lounge, Vanderlyn Hall Room 203, at 2 p.m. on Sunday, February 12. Tickets can be purchased for $12 at www.read650.com through the website’s Events tab. SUNY-Ulster students get in free. It will also be livestreamed at www.facebook.com/read650. A reception will follow.