Martha Frankel’s sneak peek of the Woodstock Writers’ Festival

Woodstock Writers’ Festival director Martha Frankel. (photo by Franco Vogt)

Woodstock Writers’ Festival director Martha Frankel. (photo by Franco Vogt)

Author Martha Frankel directs the local annual literary bacchanal called the Woodstock Writers’ Festival (WWF). The catchphrase this year is “Reading, Writing and Revelry,” to indicate the party atmosphere that will extend over three-and-one-quarter days, during which time a flurry of notable authors will speak and teach and carouse with all attendees. It’s billed as an event bringing the hottest names in literature to the most famous small town in the world – a claim that can be weighed by checking out the April 18-21 lineup and schedule at

We sat in Frankel’s upstairs office in Boiceville, where she writes daily and teaches one day a week. For the record, those pink plastic rollers in her Franco Vogt portrait: They’re not props. She had a later photo shoot scheduled on the day we talked, so her California blonde locks were wound tightly around these tubes, just like the ones that we all used to set our hair in the 1960s.

Meanwhile, Frankel seems entirely unself-conscious. As someone who used to chase down celebrities for entertainment magazines, Frankel recalled running into Spike Lee and Michael Jordan in a hotel elevator. Already dressed for bed, she’d grabbed her robe to rush down to her car for a pack of cigarettes. She had previously interviewed Lee for his picture Do the Right Thing, and had accidentally taped over the whole recording at the next screening that she attended. Frankel relates how devastated she was, and how generous Lee was about the error. They became friends. “Every day as a writer, there are surprises to be had; some of it is about the generosity some people have. He could have made my life a living hell.”

Ann Hutton: What were your original expectations for the Woodstock Writers’ Festival (WWF)? Now that you’re moving into Year Number Four, did you ever guess it would be this successful?

Martha Frankel: Every year I just thought, “Okay, let’s put on this show.” But this year felt different. I realized what we’d need to keep moving forward, to sustain that thing of new and old, to have writers who are really established with writers who have their first book out. We really have that.

It’s very exciting. Philippe Petit has a new book out. He’s our opening-night keynote. Cheryl Strayed [will also be at WWF]. I was on Twitter and Jane Smiley was here. I wrote, “Jane sends her love.” Cheryl wrote back, “Oh, I love Jane.” Then I said, “You want to come to the Woodstock Writers’ Festival?” She must have gone on the website; she was off for about 15 minutes. She came back and said, “What day? I’m going to be in Philly. I’d love to.”

Cheryl’s going to be interviewed by Joe Donahue, and there’s nobody who treats writers with greater respect than WAMC’s Joe Donahue.

AH: Why do you say people of all levels can get something out of attending the WWF?

MF: If I had one thing to do over, I’d call it the Woodstock Readers’ Festival. People who are readers think it’s for writers. I see it as a gem for readers to get to hear authors they love and meet them in person. Writing is kind of lonely.

When I first started, I went to the Miami Book Fair for five or six years in a row to cover it. I met George Plimpton and Richard Ford and Jane Smiley and Ray Carver. I would interview them, and I thought, “This is so cool, to bring readers and writers together.” The idea of a festival is a dream come true.

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