Word on the street: Woodstock Writers’ Festival returns

The Donahue Interview – a sold-out event every year – promises to be a fascinating and jolly conversation with Woodstock’s own favorite memoirist/teacher/dog-lover. Thomas’ newest memoir, What Comes Next and How to Like It, marks the author’s seventh book (including her nonfictional A Three Dog Life, Safekeeping, Thinking about Memoir). Her most endearing qualities, as writer and friend, always shine through in her work and her public appearances. And Donahue can be counted on to ask questions that allow us an intimate look into her life and world. As beloved radio talk-show host and vice president of News and Programming for WAMC/Northeast Public Radio, he has received over 50 national and local awards for his interviewing achievements.

Saturday holds a full day of panel discussions, which include:

@“The Critical Role of the Dark in Life and in Spiritual Writing: Spirituality Panel” to be moderated by Gail Straub. Two powerful writers, Mark Matousek and Clark Strand, will examine the critical role that the dark plays both in life and in spiritual writing. Matousek (Sex Death Enlightenment and The Boy He Left Behind) has written extensively and eloquently on the question of how disaster can be used to transform and awaken us. Strand (Waking the Buddha, Seeds from a Birch Tree, The Wooden Bowl), a former Zen Buddhist monk, visionary writer and intrepid spiritual explorer, has written with fearless clarity on the need for a newer, more evolved spirituality that is fully compatible with the realities of modern life. His forthcoming book Waking up to the Dark is a small masterpiece.

@“Tales of My Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated: Publishing Is Alive” will feature a panel of experienced editors, publishers, authors and agents expertly moderated by Nan Gatewood Satter. A 30-year veteran editor of notable works of both fiction and nonfiction, Satter has also co-authored (with Elaine Byre) the book Be Safe, Love Mom: A Military Mom’s Stories of Courage, Comfort and Surviving Life on the Home Front, due out in late March 2015. This discussion will include an illustrious group, including Sara Carder, editorial director of Jeremy P. Tarcher (an imprint of Penguin Random House); Mary Cummings, vice president and editorial director of Diversion Books, a digitally focused publisher in New York City; Woodstock’s own Gail Godwin, three-time National Book Award finalist and best-selling author (12 critically acclaimed novels and Publishing: A Writer’s Memoir); Ned Leavitt, longtime editor/literary agent/industry mover-and-shaker of Simon & Schuster, the William Morris Agency, and the Ned Leavitt Agency fame; and author Jenny Milchman (Cover of Snow, Ruin Falls and As Night Falls, to be released this June), a suspense writer who lived for seven months on the road with her family on what Shelf Awareness called “the world’s longest book tour.”

@The “Standards to Uphold: Journalism Panel” will feature Benoit Denizet-Lewis (America Anonymous, American Voyeur and Travels with Casey), a writer with The New York Times Magazine and an assistant professor of Writing and Publishing at Emerson College; Guy Lawson, New York Times best-selling author (Arms and the Dudes: How Two Miami Beach Stoners Became the Most Unlikely Gunrunners in History, Octopus: Sam Israel, the Secret Market and Wall Street’s Wildest Con and The Brotherhoods: The True Story of Two Cops Who Murdered for the Mafia); Lisa A. Phillips (Public Radio: Behind the Voices and Unrequited: Women and Romantic Obsession), writer and award-winning radio journalist for The New York Times, The Boston Globe and other publications, plus All Things Considered, Marketplace and other national and local radio programs; Laney Salisbury (The Cruelest Miles: The Heroic Story of Dogs and Men in a Race against an Epidemic and Provenance: How a Con Man and Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art), journalism professor at SUNY-Albany. Moderated by Salisbury, this important panel will look at how the advent of social media has forced us to redefine journalism.

@“From Iowa to Italy and Back Again: Fiction Panel” will convene later to discuss the ever-changing challenges of writing fiction with auspicious notables, including Stephen Dobyns (The Burn Palace plus ten books of poetry and 19 other novels); Ann Hood (The Knitting Circle, The Obituary Writer, An Italian Wife and the memoir Comfort: A Journey through Grief, editor of Knitting Yarns: Writers on Knitting); Jane Smiley (Barn Blind, A Thousand Acres and Some Luck, and numerous other works of fiction and nonfiction). Elisa Albert (After Birth, The Book of Dahlia, How This Night Is Different and the editor of the anthology Freud’s Blind Spot) will deftly moderate these genre giants.

Don’t miss out on Little Bites and Big Libations – Part 1 on Friday and Part 2 on Saturday – both events open to the public, and held at the new Commune Saloon in Bearsville and at the Mountain View Studio off Rock City Road. You can mingle with your favorite authors, drink exciting cocktails and munch on delectable hors d’oeuvres. All workshop participants are invited to Friday evening’s bash.

Breakfast with James Howard Kunstler will be served up at Joshua’s Café on Tinker Street on Sunday morning. Kunstler’s look at the future through a realistic-yet-highly-creative lens is sure to provoke intriguing discussions. In his nonfiction books (The Long EmergencyToo Much Magic, The Geography of Nowhere, Home from Nowhere and The City in Mind), he addresses the inevitable end of the oil age, the crimes of Wall Street and the looming economic collapse of industrial societies. In his fictional World Made by Hand series of novels, Kunstler imagines how some of us might adapt to all of that. And he knows of that about which he speaks.

Sunday’s two panel discussions are:

@“Examined Lives: Biography Panel” will be moderated by Tom Folsom, writer (The Mad Ones: Crazy Joe Gallo and the Revolution at the Edge of the Underworld, Hopper: A Journey into the American Dream), director and producer of documentaries. Folsom will talk bio-shop with Amanda Vaill (Everybody Was So Young: Gerald and Sara Murphy – A Lost Generation Love Story, Somewhere: The Life of Jerome Robbins and Hotel Florida: Truth, Love and Death in the Spanish Civil War); Sheila Weller (The News Sorority: Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric, Christiane Amanpour – and the (Ongoing, Imperfect, Complicated) Triumph of Women in TV News, Girls like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon – and the Journey of a Generation and Dancing at Ciro’s: A Family’s Love, Loss and Scandal on the Sunset Strip); and James Grissom (Follies of God: Tennessee Williams and the Women of the Fog).

@“Memoir à Go-Go” is the festival’s signature panel, joyfully moderated by Frankel (Hats and Eyeglasses and Brazilian Sexy: Secrets to Living a Gorgeous and Confident Life). Doing what she does best, she’ll chat with writers who have chronicled their lives in such unique locales as a harem, onstage and among the Kennedys: Christina Haag, actress and author (Come to the Edge and contributor to the anthology The Brown Reader: 50 Writers Remember College Hill); Jillian Lauren (Pretty, Some Girls: My Life in a Harem and Everything You Ever Wanted); and the startling Susan Saxman (The Reluctant Psychic).

An author/entertainment journalist/WDST radio-show host in her own right, Frankel comments on her role as festival director. “The only way I know how to work is by trial-and-error, mine or yours. I don’t know how to do it the other way. We – I used to worry about all the wrong stuff. Now I know that the writers are very self-contained, and as long as they can come and go as they please, once they’re here, they love it.”

For further schedule information, locations and ticket pricing – individual, Full Festival Pass or the Whole Shebang (which includes a workshop plus lots of extras like a Tuthilltown Spirits Tour and Tasting for Two) – check the website below.


Woodstock Writers’ Festival, Thursday-Sunday, March 19-22, Woodstock; www.woodstockwriters.com.


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