In Print

Martha's Vineyard Writing

Meet your neighbors on the page

By Pat Waring - December 21, 2006

Martha's Vineyard Writing, Volume Two, No. 1, Winter/Spring 2007, Cleaveland House Books, Martha's Vineyard, 2006. 124 pages. $14.95.

There may be something in the air here on Martha's Vineyard that stirs so many of us to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). Everyone knows the long, long list of nationally published and acclaimed writers. Many others have published well but not so widely - a volume of poetry or two, memoirs, perhaps a single novel, or articles in local magazines and newspapers. And there are still others whose writings were once found only in diaries, letters, poems penned on grocery lists, short stories and even novels kept in desk drawers or computer desktops. Those who wrote but did not publish - not until the Howes House Writers' Group, Cynthia Riggs, and "Martha's Vineyard Writing" came along.

The slim journal, published twice a year, contains a wealth of writing in many forms - poetry, fiction, essays, reviews - and some drawings too. Mystery author Cynthia Riggs of West Tisbury edits and publishes the book, a labor of her love of writing and her wish to encourage fellow writers. The Winter/Spring 2007 issue, the journal's third, is just out, and it's packed with a rich variety of work by some 30 contributors, ranging from poets to novelists to essayists. But in the brief biographical notes we learn they are also musicians, teachers, artists, retired executives and business people, parents, and even a vintner, a rabbi, and three ministers.

A number of them have published their work before elsewhere; others have not. Moods of the entries range from lighthearted to dramatic, humorous to philosophical. Certainly what binds all these contributors together is their common love of writing and their delight in sharing it.

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Times Chilmark columnist and feature writer Jacqueline Sexton introduces the collection with her witty recounting of how the Howes House Writers Group, a crew of wordsmiths who gather weekly at the Up-Island Council on Aging in West Tisbury, entered the daunting world of marketing their work. From there on the book is so varied and compelling one is tempted to pour a cup of tea, find a comfy couch, and read it all in one leisurely afternoon sitting.

Before opening this latest volume, stop to enjoy the cover - seabirds along the surf line photographed by Islander Sarah Mayhew, now of California. Then thumb through until something catches your eye, or be disciplined, and read in order. Either way, the book is a feast for word lovers.

There are hefty, tantalizing chunks of novels-in-progress, just enough to make us want to read more. They are nicely accented by poems scattered through the book - sometimes one, sometimes a handful. Here are essays, memoirs both light-hearted and meaningful. Here and there artist Edward Hewett inserts a clever cartoon drawing, both whimsical and mischievous, visual commentaries on Island life.

Along with the quality of writing - the obvious care and love that has gone in to each piece, the book offers a prize beyond being a pleasure to read. It gives us a unique chance to meet fellow Islanders in a new and intimate way, to hear stories we might not have heard, to see sides of neighbors we never knew about, to be touched by the musings of someone we have seen daily at the post office but really never knew well. In that way, these collections join us closer together, build community, and perhaps even inspire new friendships. And it may get a few modest writers out there to dig in the desk drawer, turn on the computer, type up the poems on the tattered shopping lists or phone pad, and submit them to be considered for the next edition. In a Martha's Vineyard winter, what good gifts are these!