Its history may have been ended prematurely, but the Noepe Center for the Literary Arts’ storied 10 years were remarkable by any measure. Housed in the Point Way Inn in Edgartown, Noepe hosted more than 1,000 writers in residencies, dozens of workshops led by professional writers, and readings and other events featuring literary figures such as Billy Collins, Junot Díaz, David McCullough, and Geraldine Brooks. But the inn, built by a 19th century sea captain as his home, will be sold shortly, though its spirited devotion to the arts will endure.
The Point Way Inn was a B and B until owner Claudia Miller turned the inn over to various local organizations to house visiting artists — actors, musicians, dancers, writers, and artists of many other disciplines. Ms. Miller’s ongoing support of the arts was a passion.
“She thought the space was being underutilized, and had approached me to see if I had any ideas for what could be done in the shoulder seasons,” Justen Ahren recalled. “I had recently finished grad school and had just come back from a residency in Costa Rica. I wanted to see if I could replicate something like that on the Vineyard.” He was the founder of the Noepe Center and its director.
“To me Noepe could almost exist anywhere, because of the community that has come out of it,” Mr. Ahren said. “It’s all about that community and supporting each other’s careers.”
Former residents, workshop attendees, and instructors have stayed in touch over the years through Facebook. They have used Noepe’s Facebook page to announce publication of their work and awards, to make connections with others in their area, to plan meet-ups, and generally to forge a disciplined and geographically diverse community based on shared experience.
Sara Goudarzi, a Brooklyn-based writer whose work has appeared in Scientific American, National Geographic, the Christian Science Monitor, cnn.com, the Globe and Mail, and various poetry reviews, praises Noepe in a Facebook post commenting on the announcement of the center’s closing: “While writing my novel, I felt as though I were swimming alone in a large ocean with no land in sight. Then I discovered Noepe Literary Center, and for the first time in a long time, not only did I see land, I found a path to get there. Gratitude is not a worthy enough word for how I feel toward Justen Ahren, Sara, Jack Sonni, Sean Murphy and all the writers I’ve met at my literary home. This chapter of Noepe as we know it might’ve closed, but the words and friendships continue.”
Ms. Goudarzi is just one of the many writers who while at Noepe worked on novels, poetry, and nonfiction pieces that were subsequently published. Among them are Susannah Cahalan, author of the New York Times bestseller “Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness”; Julia Dahl, crime reporter and author of three critically acclaimed crime novels; and Sanderia Faye, winner of the 2015 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award.
Journalists have also passed through Noepe on the way to fiction or nonfiction writing careers. The New York Times, Vanity Fair, the Boston Globe and the Wall Street Journal are just some of the publications where the work of these writers has appeared.
In 2007, Noepe began offering two- to six-week writers’ residencies during the spring and fall. “For our first residency we had two people,” says Mr. Ahren. “Last year brought in over 300 writers.” Mr. Ahren has amassed a collection of more than 100 books written by former residents, who donated them to the center’s library.
The summer workshops were led by literary luminaries such as bestselling author Elizabeth Rosner, whose third novel, “Electric City,” was named one of the best books of 2014 by National Public Radio.
Ms. Rosner shares her praise of Noepe on the center’s Facebook page: “Unforgettable and irreplaceable. That goes for Noepe as well as for you, Justen Ahren. With boundless gratitude from me and all of my student-writers who have been inspired and nourished there. I know that your many talents will shine elsewhere!”
For the first four years of its existence, Noepe was solely a writers’ residency. In 2010 the center began offering summer live-in workshops, featuring writers known nationally and internationally.
During the summer months, Noepe also hosted weekly gatherings in the courtyard with music and readings. These open houses sometimes attracted visiting literary figures such as the poet Billy Collins, who once popped in for an impromptu reading.
Guests in residency at the beautifully appointed inn often cooked and dined together, gathered to read their work out loud, or just enjoyed intimate evenings around the fireplace in the cozy den.
“I think that what was so appealing to the writers was the community that formed there, and how comfortable people felt to be creative and share their work,” says Mr. Ahren. “I think that’s really what distinguished Noepe from other residencies.”
Former residents continue to plan reunions and meet-ups, and form satellite groups in other locations.
A handful of Noepe veterans have even relocated to the Vineyard, having fallen in love with the Island during their residencies. Among those is Jack Sonni, former guitarist for Dire Straits, who first came to Noepe to pursue his lifelong dream of being a writer, and then came back to serve variously as writer-in-residence, house manager, and marketing manager. The Vineyard also inspired writers to base their novels in whole or in part on the Island.
Mr. Ahren himself has benefited from his Noepe experience. “I now have friends all over the world,” he says, reeling off an impressive list of the many geographic locations represented by Noepe residents — New Zealand, India, Japan, the Czech Republic, Africa, South America, and others.
“My career as a writer has really grown along with the residents who came through,” Mr. Ahren adds. His book of poetry, “Strange Catechism,” was published by Ex Libris in 2013. He has since written another book, and is currently working on a performance art piece with music and movement.
“Noepe took so much of my time,” says Mr. Ahren; “I spent less time on my own creative pursuits. I’m looking forward to being able to delve more into my own work.”
Mr. Ahren will continue to teach a workshop called Devotion to Writing in other locations, including Italy, Mexico, and Vermont. “In one way or another, Noepe may continue to host workshops and residencies in other places,” he says. Of course, he is not averse to finding another Vineyard location, but for now he will continue with an online presence and await new ideas.
“It’s hard to be sad about something that has given me the chance to help so many people,” Mr. Ahren said. “I’m forever grateful to Claudia Miller for giving me the opportunity to realize a dream of mine.”