In Print

Martha's Vineyard Writing

A page-turning look at local talent

By CK Wolfson - July 27, 2006

"Martha's Vineyard Writing," The Howes House Writers, Cleaveland House Books, Summer/Fall 2006,122 pages, $14.95.

Rooted in the Vineyard, the impact of the glossy journal, "Martha's Vineyard Writing," reaches beyond its individual pieces to provide readers with a sense of the community and the place that spawned it.

The evolution of this bi-annual collection of juried work of Island poets and writers has a quintessentially Vineyard tone and aspect.

With private funding in addition to a grant from Massachusetts Cultural Council, the origins of this smartly designed collection go back almost 20 years when, as an outgrowth of a writing class, a writers' group formed and began meeting weekly at Howes House, the West Tisbury senior center.

Cynthia Riggs, the prolific West Tisbury author, founded the group has intermittently headed it over the years. She notes, "This Island has so much talent, it ought to be recognized."

She describes the Howes House meetings as dynamic, members engaging in lively discussions when they gather to present their work. Smiling, she quips, "I'm the monster who says, 'Enough' - the one who keeps order because it is such an interesting group."

Inspired by the less formal publication project of a Connecticut-based writers group, Ms. Riggs says, "We wanted an outlet for our own writing," and stresses, "and for anyone who wants to contribute."

For this Summer/Fall volume, 120 wanted to be included. Among the 36 whose work was accepted are popular piano teacher Charles Blank, Unitarian Universalist Society minister Judith Campbell, Featherstone Center for the Arts poetry teacher Fan Ogilvie, retired president and chairman of the board of a Fortune 500 company Nelson W. Potter, and playwright, editor, and writer Susanna Sturgis.

The democratically organized process of selection is executed by an editorial board made up of every participant in the Howes House writing group.

For inclusion in Vineyard Writing, submissions are passed around to the editorial board (e-mailing is preferred to mailing printed material), then screened and rated from one to five. Comments are noted.

After all entries have gone through the ranking process, Ms. Riggs, whose reputation for mentoring writers is well deserved, considers those pieces that have consistently received the highest numbers. It falls to her to "try to make the nicest mix," but according to Ms. Riggs, it is a fluid process. "It just works, and it's a pleasure to put together," she says. "I spare myself all the work of reading manuscripts that are not the quality I like to have."

Five poems by the late poet George Mills open the edition followed by "Not Guilty," a first-person piece by activist, writer, and rabbi Carla Theodore.

Ms. Riggs writes of Island summers; Amelia Smith, on landmarks such as the Elizabeth Islands; Sarah Montrowl captures the old West Tisbury Library and Quansoo; while Ethel M. Sherman is inspired by Chilmark.

Punctuated with charming cartoons by contributor Edward Hewett, and incidental drawings by Ms. Riggs, the book is an affecting jaunt through poetry and prose; fiction and nonfiction. The collection includes work that is personal, both poignant and humorous, offerings of reflections on life and nature. All inventive and well crafted. All personal. All Island.