Mayapple Press holds its annual Writers’ Retreat

Judith Kerman

Summer reading comes in various forms. Beyond beach and porch books, often novels or scintillating memoirs, there’s also the tradition of going out on the town to hear visiting writers read their works.

This week, the sixth annual Mayapple Writers’ Retreat, which takes place at Byrdcliffe from July 27 to 31, will present four such public readings of poetry and prose by regional and national writers at a quartet of local venues including two restaurants, the Woodstock Library, and Byrdcliffe’s historic Villetta Inn.

“The format of the retreat hasn’t changed since we moved from Michigan. It’s still a retreat for mid-career literary writers who come to workshop new material in small peer groups, give public readings and have time to write,” said Mayapple Press founder and publisher Judith Kerman, of the retreats she started long before moving east. “We added a poetry manuscript group a few years ago, but we’ve always had workshops focused on individual poems, fiction or creative non-fiction, depending on who’s attending and what they want. The program is kept small so there’s time for everyone to participate in a public reading, with 3-5 readers per night, max.”


The program, and Mayapple Press, began in Saginaw, Michigan, where for nine years it was known as “Rustbelt Roethke” in honor of the major 20th century American poet Theodore Roethke, who grew up in the town where Kerman settled to teach, and eventually found her press dedicated to a “focus on literature not often celebrated by either the mainstream or the avant-garde.”

After Kerman’s move to the Hudson Valley, the workshop changed states and names, but not its basic format. This is its 15th year, its sixth at the renowned Byrdcliffe Artists’ Colony in Woodstock, a haven for artists and writers for over a century.

“The main change from Michigan is that we are here in the beautiful wooded surroundings of Byrdcliffe’s Villetta Inn instead of on a college campus in dead-flat farm country, staying in dorm townhouses and meeting in library conference rooms,” Kerman said of the shifts the Mayapple Retreat has undergone during its lifetime. “Everyone loves the common kitchen at the Villetta instead of cafeteria food, too, and convenient access to good restaurants, galleries, etc. We price it to cover expenses, primarily housing, so it is significantly less expensive than the usual writers’ conferences that pay teachers.”

In addition to Hudson Valley participants, this year’s writers come from Massachusetts, Southern Tier New York State, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Virginia and the US Virgin Islands. Readings will take place Thursday, July 27, at New World Home Cooking, 1411 NY Rt. 212, Saugerties, starting at 7 p.m. with Goat Hill Poets including Leslie Gerber and Judith Lechner; Friday,  July 30, at 7 p.m. at Creekside Grill, Woodstock Golf Course, with Mark Fitzgerald, Aine Greaney, and Rosalyn Rossignol; at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, July 29,  at the Woodstock Library featuring  Richard Hedderman, Robert McDonough, and Anne-Marie Yerks; and at 7 p.m. on Sunday, July 30, at Villetta Inn, 3 Upper Byrdcliffe Way, Woodstock (next to the Byrdcliffe Theater) with Vincent Cooper, Shannon Frystak, Jen Hirt and Kerman.

“One of our group who has been coming for several years enthusiastically refers to it as ‘Hippie Writing Camp;’ another has been here every year but one since we began. This is Year Fifteen! That speaks a lot for both the fun and the productivity,” Kerman added about her volunteer work putting the retreat together each summer. “We always have repeat participants, commuters and new people in varying proportions. Although there are a number of informal workshop groups around the region, spending a week together focuses everyone’s attention, so we get a lot of new writing done as well as a lot of useful critique. I started it because I wanted this kind of experience for myself. It’s a bit of organizing work, but worth it.”++

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