Noepe knows no bounds

Ukulele player Yolani Dodi welcomes guests to Noepe Center of Literary Arts. — Photo by Jenny Klion

Recently arrived from New York, new Times contributor Jenny Klion checked out the latest offering by Noepe Center for Literary Arts. See an event you’d like to attend? Write us at

I thought I knew it all about the Island — big sky, big cookies, and lots of unfiltered gossip — until I moved here! But thanks to The Times’ events listings, I see there’s so much more to learn. For example, did you know the Wampanoag name for Martha’s Vineyard is Noepe, which means the “land between the currents”? Which was also the Island’s original name? I did not! Noepe is also a haven for the creative community on the Island, thanks to Noepe Center of Literary Arts. Last week I headed to their first Thursdays in the Garden event, part of a free summer series filled with readings, music, and drinks in their outdoor garden.

Noepe is located at 104 Main Street in Edgartown, at the former Point Way Inn, a magical house, where all sorts of literary minds are spinning their stories. The Martha’s Vineyard Writer’s Residency began here in 2007, under the artistic direction of 2012 West Tisbury Poet Laureate Justen Ahren. Writers would arrive at the inn during the off-season, stay in beautifully appointed rooms for anywhere between two and six weeks, and get to work.

Though a creative success for all those involved, five years later, Justen and the inn were faced with a kind of financial challenge — use it or lose it. So after lots of brainstorming and then a leap of faith, a more expansive umbrella organization was formed: Noepe Center for Literary Arts. This was the land between the currents, where not only could the off-season residency program survive and thrive, but weeklong writing workshops could be had all summer long as well.

Plus, beginning this summer, Noepe is open to the public on Thursday afternoons; locals and visitors, writers or otherwise, can now share in the creativity of this literary sanctuary and see what goes on behind the white picket fence. Food, drink (excellent white sangria, I might add), performances, and tours of communal spaces in the house fill up the late-afternoon event.

“Noepe is a gem, and you can quote me on that!” espoused Deb Dunn, who heads up Noepe’s children’s books division. Deb was responsible for bringing in this week’s workshop teacher, Emma D. Dryden, a celebrated children’s book editor, who spoke on the outdoor stage about her class, and the art and craft of children’s book writing. Also on board was one of the workshop students, Chicago storyteller Lynne Clayton; she turned on her Irish brogue and enacted a morality tale about a mother who makes a deal with the devil, but is ultimately saved by her daughter’s refined thinking. Whew! Completely engaging and entertaining.

Next up was Justen himself, who read several compelling poems from one of his collections, “A Strange Catechism.” His inspiration here was a curious woman he used to see often, standing, twirling, in a parking lot. For these poems he imagined her backstory, wondered about her struggle, yet had hope for her future — “If only you find the courage to ask …”

PickPocket Bluegrass Band, a lively duo of guitar and mandolin, added their harmonic spin to the event. Their performance was bumped up a notch even, via a guest appearance by the lovely young ukulele player Yolani Dodi, who performed a sweet original song about life in her native Marshall Islands. Justen himself joined the band as well, finishing out the afternoon with an inspired version of Johnny Horton’s “Battle of New Orleans.” And the man can sing!

And finally, Justen’s partner at Noepe, Jack Sonni, cuts a strong presence on the grounds. He’s part writer-in-residence, part house manager, part marketing guru, and all-out staple on the premises. He’s a Noepe success story, having gone from a participant at the Martha’s Vineyard Writer’s Residency to man about Noepe town. (Did I mention he used to be in Dire Straits?!)

I know another success story from the residency, which is … me. I’ve been in residence there three times. Because back in New York City, I wanted to get to the Island, and I wanted to write intensively, and I needed the space and time. One day on my quest I typed a search into Google, which fortuitously read “Martha’s Vineyard Writer’s Residency.” So, I was there at the beginning, and I’m there now, which just goes to show: Noepe knows no bounds. And what I learned is that I’m grateful to be back ….

Thursdays in the Garden at Noepe, Thursdays in July and August, 4:30 to 6:30 pm, 104 Main Street, Edgartown. Free.

Special benefit for Noepe Center for Literary Arts, Thursday July 30, 4:30 to 6:30 pm, $25: Reading by Junot Diaz, author of the Pulitzer Prizewinning “The Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.”