Writers Residency: An opportunity to write and share
This month, eight writers are living and writing at the Point Way Inn in Edgartown - the first full session of the Martha's Vineyard Writers Residency. Poets and fiction writers at various stages of their careers have come to the Island for two to four weeks to write, away from the usual demands and distractions of home and other work.
Two local poets, Justen Ahren and Fan Ogilvie, organized the residency in its present form after a trial run last year. In recent years, The Point Way Inn has become a dedicated space for visiting artists. Mr. Ahren and Ms. Ogilvie learned when the inn would be available for a writers residency, built a website to promote the project, and advertised it in a handful of national publications for poets and literary writers.
"Justen and I are both interested in bringing poetry to the public and creating communities," says Ms. Ogilvie, West Tisbury's poet laureate. "This residency evolved over 10 or 12 years of figuring out projects to do together. Last year, Robert Pinsky recommended a student of his, and we found another writer from the Boston area." Two local writers also joined in the trial residency.
"In selecting people for this year's residency, I tried to get a feel for their seriousness of purpose," Mr. Ahren says, noting that there were close to 100 applications for the eight available spots.
Mr. Ahren attended a residency last January in Costa Rica. "The nice thing was that for people there, their art was their job," he says.
It's harder to focus when working close to home, Mr. Ahren believes. "It's too much of a pull to go see friends, to take care of your family. I think there's something about taking a group of people and putting them in a new environment together. Seeing a place with fresh eyes gives you inspiration, as a traveler. It also helps the writers to form a community - they're depending on each other for companionship. In the evenings, sharing a kitchen, they might talk about what they're doing and issues that come up in their work."
There are no formal requirements attached to the residency, but the expectation is that the participants will use the time to create or complete new work.
Another important goal is to open a dialog between the visiting writers and the local community. Towards that end, the organizers have arranged a series of readings at the West Tisbury Library, followed by discussions.
"The library has been incredibly supportive," says Ms. Ogilvie. "In fact, I think all the Island libraries have been doing a great job, supporting writing." Mr. Ahren adds: "They were really gung-ho about making it work. That really furthers the goal of connecting outside voices with the community here."
The West Tisbury Library also hosts a similar series of readings by fellows from Provincetown's Fine Arts Work Center each year in March.
Mr. Ahren also plans to organize potlucks for the visitors and selected Island writers. "I see these overlapping circles, and connecting those larger circles to the Vineyard's writing community," he says.
Ellen Goldstein, a poet attending this year's residency, has attended two other residencies. "This is a really nice size," she says, "which is important because one of the things with residencies, and with writing in general, is getting a balance between community and solitude. Usually, when you're writing in the real world, there's too much community and not enough solitude."
Ms. Goldstein, a poet from outside Boston, is working on the final draft of her first poetry collection. She will read from her work on the October 7, along with Sweta Vikram, who is working on a collection of short stories set in India and the United States.
Next Wednesday, October 14, Katherine Govier and Cynthia Lowen will read. Ms. Govier is the author of eight novels and three short story collections, and is working on a novel set in the coal mining town of Canmore, Alberta. Ms. Lowen's poetry has appeared in Barrow Street and Black Warrior Review, among other publications. She lives in New York City where she is a freelance writer.
The following week, October 21, features Dominque Paul and Gladys Swan. Ms. Paul's first book, "The Possibility of Fireflies," was published by Simon & Schuster in 2006, and subsequently made into a film. Ms. Swan has published two novels and six collections of short fiction. Her stories, poems and essays appear regularly in the Sewanee Review.
The final reading, on October 28, will feature Marie Myuyng-Ok Lee and Georgia Clark. Ms. Lee teaches creative writing at Brown University. She is the author of "Somebody's Daughter" (2005), Booklist Best Book of the Year and WGBH summer reading pick. Ms. Clark is an Australian fiction writer living in New York. Her current book series is called "Tigerskins, Inc." The books' main characters are designed to serve as positive role models for young women.
Writers Residency readings, 5:30 pm on Wednesdays through October, West Tisbury Library. More information about the Writers Residency is available at writersresidency.com/.
Amelia Smith is a freelance writer living in West Tisbury.