Island writers at ‘Islanders Write’

Tips and talk from the best in the biz will fill the Grange Hall next week.


The fourth annual “Islanders Write” (IW) conference presents a robust lineup of interactive panels and more, with writing pros exploring a range of popular genres on Monday, August 14.

The IW conference, at the Grange Hall on State Road in West Tisbury, is a summer staple for Island residents and visitors, and is free and open to all. The 2017 IW edition has a different flavor from past iterations. In addition to Monday-morning panels on six specific writing genres, IW will present a look at how cartooning works, featuring Island resident and New Yorker cartoonist Paul Karasik.

And Monday afternoon is dubbed “The Laughternoon,” reprising a 2015 comedy-writing panel that morphed into an hourlong laugh riot. A second panel on comedy writing has been added. Moderator Arnie Reisman has reassembled the 2015 comedy-writing cast of Jenny Allen, Fred Barron, and Nancy Slonim Aronie on “Why We’re Not as Funny as We Were Two Years Ago.” Island wit and author Holly Nadler will convene bestselling comedy authors Annabelle Gurwitch and Adam Mansbach to consider “Nude Bathing On the Standby Line: Where Funny Begins and Ends.”

The conference opens on Sunday evening at 7:30 with “You Can’t Make This Up: A National Political Discussion,” featuring a trio of passionate, often boisterous, national political pundits. Roll Call columnist Walter Shapiro, Huffington Post columnist Richard North Patterson, WGBH radio and TV host Callie Crossley join moderator and journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault for a reality check on the state of the nation. This evening event will be simulcast on the first floor for overflow crowd.

In addition to tips, insights, and discussion with a roomful of best-selling and Pulitzer Prized writers and authors, attendees will also interact with authors throughout the day at ongoing book signings and writing workshops.

IW director Kate Feiffer says the fast-paced conference combines the tried and true and some new wrinkles. “We’re continuing to evolve, and adding new things. We want to engage more people in the discussion, and an open mic format will encourage that. The first-floor venue will be more personal, with authors on hand, book signings, and writing workshops throughout the day,” she said.

Citing the rich array of writers and authors with Island homes and connections, Ms. Feiffer said it is “an important part of our mission, to involve those resources. Everyone in the IW program is Island-connected.”

A complete schedule of events is available at We spoke with panel moderators about their panel content

Author and law and American civilization expert Jack Fruchtman moderates biography writing with best-selling biography authors Elizabeth Hawes, Meryl Gordon, and Rich Michelson. “Biographies are more of a personal matter today, less distant, often exploring a personal relationship between the writer and subject. Biographies don’t have to be about people, they can be written about things, places, and historical context,” Mr. Fruchtman said.

Ms. Feiffer moderates “Writing for Tweens,” or middle grade fiction. The genre is about novels for kids transitioning to “big books.” The tween market is the fastest growing segment in book publishing. “The writing is often playful and lyrical. It can take a deft touch to tell a sophisticated story to a young audience without being boring, or preaching to them,” she said. Awardwinning author Elise Broach; LInda Fairstein, the New York Times bestseller cop-thriller author who is new to the middle grade genre; and Gregory Mone, author of “Boys in the Water,” offer panelist perspective.

Real people will make real pitches about their manuscripts at “The Pitch Panel,” a morning session moderated by Hachette Book Group VP Torrey Oberfest and panelists John Hough Jr., who has pitched his own bestsellers, Gretchen Young, editor to an impressive list of authors at Grand Central Publishing, and agent Rosemary Stimola, who primarily represents children’s and young-adult authors, including some whose names you’ll know even if you don’t know any children. ”Agents and editors are the gatekeepers, the first stop [for authors], so the pitch is so important. It is critical for writers to be able to articulate their work clearly and to understand what is marketable. The panel shows what the process is going to look like at this most important period in your career,” Ms. Oberfest said.

Bliss Broyard moderates “Writing Your Life: Memoir” with Jessica Harris and Madeleine Blais as her experienced panelists. “There’s always been interest in people’s stories, but the interest has widened in recent years,” Ms. Broyard said. “Formerly memoirs centered on trauma in the writer’s life. Readers now are also looking for stories of lives well lived, uplifting lives. Jessica Harris and Madeleine Blais have done that. Self-identity, people struggling with their own stories.

“We’ll also work with the importance of research, and handling that soft lens of [personal] memory. We’re a small panel, so there’ll be lots of opportunity for comment and feedback,” Ms. Bliss said.

Geraldine Brooks will moderate “Crossing the Gender Line,” authors who write in a gender other than their own. Panelists include the Island’s Nicole Galland and Amor Towles; all three have successful books in the form. Ms. Brooks has some questions: “What makes a writer attempt to imagine a voice in the opposite gender? Is it the creative challenge of empathizing with ‘the other,’ or is it the sheer necessity of the story that compels a particular narrator?

“We’ll explore the whys, but also the hows: How do you go about creating the inner life of a flapper, or a runaway adolescent, a Venetian soldier, or an 1850s abolitionist Army chaplain? Is it easier or more difficult if the subject is historical rather than contemporary? Is there any voice that is just too elusive to channel, any place where imagination should not dare to go?” she said.

Veteran newsman George Brennan, MV Times news editor, will moderate a discussion with Mark Kramer, professor of narrative journalism at Boston University, Ms. Blais, and Ms. Gordon.

“Despite what Donald Trump would have people believe, the ‘failing’ New York Times and Washington Post aren’t failing. Their circulation gains show a thirst for long-form narrative journalism, a hunger for solid journalism rather than sound bites or news in 140 characters,” Mr. Brennan said.

“National political events have given news gatherers an opportunity,” he said. “If we write stories that readers feel part of, they will stick with them, including readers of local news.”


Islanders Write takes place on Sunday, August 13, and Monday, August 14, at the Grange Hall. For a complete schedule, visit