Martha's Vineyard Visiting Writers at West Tisbury Library
Photo by Lynn Christoffers
Folding chairs are lined up in rows facing a wall lined with racks of magazines from "Acres" to "Wooden Boats." There are close to 20 people, chatty, and informal, and it looks like a regular meeting of such-and-such club, where everyone is on first-name basis.
It is 5:30 on Wednesday night at the West Tisbury Library, the weekly October meeting of the Martha's Vineyard Visiting Writer's series. Presented by the West Tisbury Library and the Martha's Vineyard Writers' Residency, the 12 participating writers in-residence come to the library three by three, to read their work.
Writer Justen Ahren, who with West Tisbury poet Fan Ogilvie co-founded and organized the Writers' Residency three years ago, introduces Claudia Miller, the owner of Point Way Inn in Edgartown, who supports Island arts programs and provides private rooms ($150 a week) during October for the writers in residence to work or to just contemplate.
With fledgling similarities to the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, N.H., and Bread Loaf in Middlebury, Vt., The Writers' Residency provides writers in all genres a quiet space and place to create, a motivating climate, and a supportive network of peers. This year, there were 100 applicants. Residencies, from two weeks to a month, are held each October, and bring notable writers to the West Tisbury Library on Wednesdays to share their work.
"We're trying to infuse the writing scene on the Vineyard with different voices and perspectives," Ms. Ogilvie explains. "We look for a broad representation. Every year there is a different collective character to the group. This year it's very professional and accomplished."
And it begins.
Mr. Ahren presents Patricia Patterson, who taught at New York and Fordham universities, and was a finalist for the Raymond Carver Prize.
A short woman whose glasses rest midway on her nose, she holds a sheaf of papers from which she reads "Bridgett's Lipstick," the story of an elderly couple's love, loss, and grieving. Her voice is matter-of-fact as she reveals Bridgett telling her husband Eddie she'd give him all her money if he made sure to outlive her. But while standing at the kitchen sink Eddie slumps over, "breaking his glass and the last of his promises."
As she continues, Ms. Patterson's face disappears behind her papers. Bridgett has begun drawing red hearts in lipstick on mirrors and other objects. There is both poignancy and humor, and when Ms. Patterson finishes, a collective "Awww" is sounded, followed by applause.
Next up, Kirby Wright, a smiling Irishman from Hawaii, whose work has been nominated for two Pushcart awards, and winner of the Browning Society Award for Dramatic Monologue.
Mr. Wright has two offerings: "Lunch with a Pulitzer Prize Winner," set in Hong Kong; and "Barracuda Blues," set in Honolulu. It is a raw account of a push-pull father and son dynamic that escalates to abuse.
Los Angeles writer Karen Hunt, a tall woman in a tailored black coat, is co-founder of InsideOut Writers, a creative writing program for incarcerated youth in Los Angeles. She was commissioned by The Adirondack Review to write about Maureen McDermott, a death row inmate convicted in 1995 of hiring men to kill her former housemate, Stephen Eldridge. Ms. McDermott, among the 13 women under sentence of death in the state, is the first woman to have her death sentence upheld by the high court since California reinstated capital punishment in 1977.
Ms. Hunt came into possession of correspondence that makes her privy to Ms. McDermott's thoughts and feelings about life on death row: "a universe of death," and, "Now I see only shades of gray."
When the audience in the library reacts to what she reads, Ms. Hunt doesn't pause, glancing instead at the wall clock to make sure she hasn't extended over the 30-minute time limit.
Among the writers who will read work on Wednesdays are: Award-winning playwright Jamie Pachino Jones, recipient of the Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays award; Sylvia Sukop, recipient of the 2009 PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Rosenthal Fellowship; Jude Marr from Herefordshire, England, working on her third novel; award-winning poet Katie Kingston; author Neil Swidey, a staff writer for The Boston Globe Magazine; poet Gay Giordano; writer Deirdra McAfee; Juliet Bressan, a novelist from Dublin, Ireland; and Renee Ranchan, a poet from India.
Visiting Writers Series, 5:30 pm, Wed., Oct. 20, 21, 28, West Tisbury Library. Free. For more information, visit writersresidence.com; 508-693-3366.