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

Abbe Aronson, who does our publicity, came to me and said that one of the writers at Jon Stewart, J. R. Havlan, would like to do a panel. He’s bringing writers from Letterman, Colbert and Jimmy Fallon. He called and said, “What do you want us to do?” And I said, “Honey, you write for Jon Stewart. Far be it from me to tell you what to do.”

Carey Harrison, the playwright, approached me and asked about doing a historical fiction panel. We have Ann Hood, Charley Rosen, Tad Richards – they’re all doing that. And we’re doing a short-story reading with Lydia Davis and Norman Rush. On the memoir panel we have Christa Parravani and James Lasdun and Andre Dubus III. We have a poetry panel with Eamon Grennan and Maureen N. McLane, led by Priscilla Gilman; and a cross-generational panel on spirituality with Elizabeth Lesser, Lodro Rinzler and Meggan Watterson, and moderated by Gail Straub.

Frankel describes how synchronicity works to bring these authors to town – for example, how she was reading Dubus’ book Townie and got a press release from his publicist the next morning: “New York Times best-seller author on tour.” And Frankel wrote back, “Do you think there’s any way Andre…?” And the publicist said “Yes” on the spot. By chatting on Facebook, Frankel got Rhoney Stanley to join Elissa Schappell and Alan Light on a panel called “Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll.”

MF: We’re doing a story slam again on Thursday night: “Fifty Shades of Tie-Dye,” a Too Much Information (TMI) event with Abbe Aronson, Kim Wozencraft and Paul Green as judges. It runs the gamut, plus we’re streaming the whole weekend live this year. If you buy it live, you’ll have it for a certain amount of time. We’ll take questions from the streaming audience, memoir groups, poetry groups. I keep thinking of different audiences we can approach. It’s just Kenny Schneidman and me running as fast as we possibly can.

AH: How do you manage to teach in the midst of all this?

MF: I love Thursdays. Thursday is the day I teach, and sometimes I say, “Oh please, when is Thursday coming already?” It feels good; it’s wonderful to hear people’s stories; it’s good to hear that their stuff is changing, getting better. People who have never written before can write things they’re proud of; people who are good can get better. I can get better. I love teaching.

AH: Did you ever imagine you’d be a teacher?

MF: No. I quit college because they told me I had to be a teacher. When that advisor said, “You’re never going to be a writer, you might as well be a teacher,” I didn’t realize I could do both. So, it was like, “F…k you, I’m outta here.” And I walked out of school. I wanted to be a writer.

Once I was published, I started thinking about teaching. I started thinking, “I wish somebody had said this to me: ‘You have to write until you throw up.’” Even if you write comedy like I do. It’s not fun, but it can be enjoyable. I stepped back and thought, “Teaching isn’t the booby prize – it’s the prize.”

AH: I know that you have a broad spectrum of students, most of whom want to be published. If that’s not what somebody wants to do…

MF: I think everybody who comes to a writing class, whether they admit it or not, is hoping to publish something. That’s the prize of writing: that somebody will read their work. There are other people who would be horrified, who spend the whole time lying, saying, “I don’t want anybody to be mad at me.” I said, “Then you can’t be a writer. Somebody’s gonna be mad at you. That’s the way it works.” Although I have found that people are way less pissed than you would imagine, because people like being talked about.

WFF holds daylong workshops on Friday, with notable authors helping to hone in on the various aspects of the craft. This year, workshops will be led by Abigail Thomas, Bar Scott, Lynn Johnston, Marion Winik and Koren Zailckas.

MF: I think what you really need to do is: Tell the truth, the hard truth. And then you can change it. A lot of the people who come to study with me are writing memoirs. I tell my students, “Don’t worry about the names… If you get published, you might have to change the names or something. But you have to tell the truth.”

AH: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me.

MH: Thanks for not making fun of my hair in rollers.

The Woodstock Writers’ Festival runs from Thursday, April 18 through Sunday, April 21, with various sessions taking place at the Kleinert/James Center for the Arts, Oriole 9, Photosensualis Art Gallery, Joshua’s Café and the Center for Photography at Woodstock. For more information, go to

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