Three-and-a-Quarter Days of Peace and Books: That’s the promise of the third annual Woodstock Writers’ Festival, occupying the village of Woodstock April 19 through the 22nd. The event gathers an impressive lineup of authors, who will hold forth with their advice and anecdotes to one and all. And you don’t have to be writers, or even wannabe writers, to enjoy the show. Readers can come face-to-face with their favorite book people. Poetry types can listen to the rhyme and rhythm of a handful of working poets. And music-lovers can hear, firsthand, what it takes to invent those lyrics that wrap us in melodic rhapsody and deposit us on the shores of delight.
Okay, enough metaphoric muttering. Here are a few of the sessions on the agenda:
Gail Straub, author of Returning to My Mother’s House: Taking Back the Wisdom of the Feminine and co-author of Empowerment: The Art of Creating Your Life as You Want It, will moderate a panel titled “Writing and the Art of Resilience” at the Kleinert/James from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Three luminous writers, Kris Carr (Crazy, Sexy Diet: Eat Your Veggies, Ignite Your Spark and Live Like You Mean It! Crazy, Sexy Cancer Tips), Priscilla Gilman (The Anti-Romantic Child: A Memoir of Unexpected Joy) and Jeff Golliher (Moving through Fear: Cultivating the Seven Spiritual Instincts for a Fearless Life, A Deeper Faith: A Journey into Spirituality), join editor Nan Satter and legendary agent Ned Leavitt to discuss how writing can help move us through fear, critical illness, crisis and disenchantment to a place of fearlessness, resilience and unabashed vibrant living.
“Each of these writers has written about their own journey of resilience; they’re quite different, though each has been through a tough, challenging process in their own lives. We’ll talk about resilience on many levels,” says Straub, noting that in these times, the art of resilience is a political act. She comments that both Satter and Leavitt will add their own observations about what it takes to stay with a project. Straub co-founded Empowerment Training Programs in 1981 and co-directs the Empowerment Institute, a school for transformative leadership in education, business, health, hip-hop and social change.
Gretchen Primack (The Slow Creaking of Planets) is a poet and teacher with publication credits that include The Paris Review, Prairie Schooner and Ploughshares, among many others. She is a professor and administrator through Bard College’s Bard Prison Initiative at maximum-security men’s prisons. Primack will moderate a panel of poets on Saturday from 2 to 3:45 p.m. in the Kleinert/James, featuring four acclaimed poets: Philadelphia’s new poet laureate Sonia Sanchez (Morning Haiku, Homegirls and Handgrenades), Joan Larkin (Cold River, Women like That: Lesbian and Bisexual Writers Tell Their Coming-Out Stories, editor), John Murillo (Up Jump the Boogie) and performance poet Alix Olson (Independence Meal CD, Word Warriors: 35 Women in the Spoken Word Revolution, editor). The panel members will discuss the role that poetry can play in a politically charged atmosphere, examining what’s effective, what isn’t and why it’s so hard to write a successful political poem.
“I’m excited about the diversity of this panel in regards to the subject. All four have a different relationship with that subject, to share with the audience and bounce off each other. They will read their own poems, and also some political poems that inspired them. This is not geared only towards poets; writers of any genre will find inspiration for their own work, and anybody who’s interested in politics, and how we say what we need to say about what’s going on in the world, would find this interesting.”
“The Art and Craft of Songwriting” will turn the Kleinert/James into a relaxed living-room atmosphere on Saturday from 4 to 5:30 p.m., when acclaimed lyricist Johanna Hall recreates the popular songwriter-in-the-round series, featuring performances and discussions about techniques and inspirations for song creation. Hall, once a columnist for the Village Voice as well as contributing to other publications, will host singer/songwriters John Sebastian, Robbie Dupree and Jonell Mosser for a too-short session of entertainment and audience questions and answers. “John, Jonell and Robbie are not only three of my favorite people, but three of my favorite songwriters,” says Hall. “Jonell has fans in Woodstock and will be flying in from Nashville.”
A songwriter since her first effort in 1970 (a song co-written with John Hall for Janis Joplin), Hall has written for and toured with many of the greats. Still teaching, she now sings alto with Ars Choralis, a Woodstock-based vocal ensemble, and serves as president of its board. She collaborates with Mosser: a wholly different experience, compared to writing with and for male artists. You might have seen her byline on stories about music and culture in the Woodstock Times, and look for her upcoming book Rock & Roll Witness.
On Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., check out “Texture: A Dialogue about Words and Paint” with visual artist Joan Snyder and Marilyn Symmes, director of the Morse Research Center for Graphic Arts and curator of prints and drawings for the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University and author of Dancing with the Dark: Joan Snyder Prints 1963-2010. Barbara Redfield will host the discussion at Town Hall, in which Snyder’s work will be examined in terms of its literary context. A 2007 MacArthur Foundation Fellow, the artist first gained public attention in the 1970s with her elegant, abstract “stroke paintings,” some of which can also be seen in her book Joan Snyder: Primary Fields.
Often called an autobiographical or confessional artist, Snyder chooses subjects ranging from the landscape to love, death, motherhood, sex and politics. Her paintings frequently contain text. When asked about that inclusion, and about how subject matter might be identified in such abstract work, Snyder responded, “Text and title reveals part of what a work is about. Someone who knows my work well, over the years, can ‘read’ it, know what it’s about. Everyone will react differently according to who they are, their experiences in life, their sophistication and lack of sophistication – which often helps, too. It’s like hearing music: We all hear it differently. And sometimes even I don’t know exactly what it’s about.”
Meanwhile, the incomparable Barry Samuels will moderate a panel of agents and publishers at the Kleinert/James on Sunday in the same time slot. Agents Lynn Johnston and Shaye Areheart, publisher Bruce McPherson and book-fixer David Wilks will explain the ins and outs of the treacherous-but-ever-exciting world of publishing. Things in the industry are changing fast. Don’t miss this one, whether you have aspirations of publishing your first book or your fifth best-seller.
Martha Frankel, Festival co-founder and also notoriously incomparable in her own right (Hats and Eyeglasses), will host “Memoir A-Go-Go” at the Kleinert/James on Sunday from 4 to 5:45 p.m. A lively panel including Ann Hood (Comfort: A Journey through Grief), Mark Whitaker (My Long Trip Home: A Family Memoir) and Susan Richards (Chosen by a Horse, Chosen Forever, Saddled) will show why memoir is the hottest genre going these days. Writers lay bare their souls, and readers devour the results voraciously. And everyone has a story to tell. The well-constructed memoir can inspire anyone to take pen in hand and begin writing.
The genre is a favorite of Frankel, who created (with Richards, Abigail Thomas and Laura Shaine Cunningham) the first annual Woodstock Writers’ Festival around memoir alone. When not chin-deep in Festival administration, she teaches ten-week-long writing workshops wherein you can “learn to write with a voice that reflects the true you: the voice that isn’t afraid to show both your weaknesses and your strengths; the voice that isn’t concerned, first and foremost, with what others will think.”
Other sessions on the lineup are filling up fast. TMI’s Thursday night “Rock & Roll Story Slam” at Oriole9 is sold out, as are a couple of the writing workshops scheduled for Friday (Marion Winik’s “Writing the Commentary” and Rick Tannenbaum’s “So You Want to Publish Your Own E-Book”). As of this writing, the “TMI Project: Page-to-Stage Monologue Writing Workshop,” Susan Brown’s “James Joyce Meets Judith Krantz” (novel-writing) and Gretchen Primack’s “Freedom through Form Poetry Workshop” are still open for registration.
Check www.woodstockwritersfestival.com for available workshops and for a full Festival schedule of events, which includes: “Occupy Albany: An Evening with William Kennedy” at the Kleinert/James, hosted by Redfield and with question-and-answer session moderated by WAMC’s Joe Donahue; breakfast at Joshua’s with Bar Scott and Abigail Thomas; a “Politics and Pop Culture” panel moderated by Larry Beinhart with Kurt Andersen, Daniel Radosh, Bill Zimmerman and Lynn Harris; “Occupy Your Heart: An Evening with Augusten Burroughs,” hosted by Jonathan Van Meter at the Bearsville Theater; breakfast at Joshua’s with Carey Harrison and Janus Adams doing “Shorts: Sweet, Savory & Spicy: The Serious Business of Being Funny” at the Kleinert/James, with Shalom Auslander, Greg Olear and Elisa Albert, hosted by Abbe Aronson; a “Songwriters’ Concert” at the Kleinert/James, with Fred Gillen, Jr. and Matt Turk, hosted by Ken Schneidman; and dinners at either Oriole9 or Joshua’s Café each night, where you can get up-close and personal with the literary personnel.