Islanders Write promises another year of inspiration and education

The annual writers’ oasis features workshops with John Hough, Justen Ahren, and Niki Patton, among others.

At Islanders Write 2014, cookbook authors, from left, Cathy Walthers, Jessica Harris, Susie Middleton, and Tina Miller. — Photo by Bella Bennett

There are places that just attract writers.

Our Island does. Sausalito, a couple of miles across the bay from San Francisco, is another literary haven akin to us. Sausalito was not much in the 1930s and 1940s, a fishing community with a few boat builders and local businesses that served fewer than 10,000 inhabiting souls. A few writers settled, then others came.

Early Updike was published there. Evan S. Connell Jr., an underrecognized American 20th century novelist, poet, and short-story writer, was a mainstay. The list of first-rate writers who have worked in Sausalito is long.

Today the fishing is gone; a few boat builders persevere, but Sausalito has become a creative processing center, awash in bookish companies, services, and endeavors, and with people who love the written word. Resident Carol Sheldon writes a series of mysteries set in Sausalito. All sounds familiar, eh?

Hard to know how or why these literary communities spring up. Certainly, alluring geography is important. And while writing is a solitary business, writers need other writers, it seems. Like Sausalito, we had the troika (Styron, Buchwald, and Wallace), and we have McCullough, that lion of words, Brooks and Horwitz, Fairstein and Patterson, all names that have drawn their colleagues to our community.

But last August, no one at The Times and Arts & Ideas magazine expected the flood of people, energy, and ideas that flooded the inaugural Islanders Write (IW) event at the Grange Hall in West Tisbury. Hundreds of people packed the meeting room upstairs for panels and presentations, and buzzed around tables and hands-on discussions downstairs. Attendees were not browsing. The intensity was palpable. Turns out we are not only chockablock with writers here, but also with people who love writing, who write, or who are looking for a push into the deep end of the writing pool.

The time is approaching to get everyone back together again. The 2015 Islanders Write event is set for Monday, August 10, at the Grange Hall in West Tisbury between 8 am and 5 pm. Doors open at 7:45, and admission is free.

This year’s Islanders Write will present panels and workshops on the art, craft, and business of writing, with a goal of learning through interactive, hands-on work with experts in the art and craft.

This year’s workshops are about writing better: news you can use, so to speak. At noon, Island resident John Hough will lead a discussion on the role of dialogue in fiction writing. Mr. Hough, author of both fiction and nonfiction books, including the nationally acclaimed “Seen The Glory,” also conducts writing workshops in his West Tisbury home. They are known as hardworking interactive sessions, an environment he will bring to the workshop.

“Dialogue is the essential element in fiction writing because it moves the action. It provides room for the expository. A great example is George V. Higgins’ ‘The Friends of Eddie Coyle.’ Higgins never tells us what the characters are thinking. Dialogue does it,” Mr. Hough told The Times last week. “I encourage writers to bring ideas and passages for discussion. I can talk from my book [“The Fiction Writer’s Guide to Dialogue”], but I prefer conversation. While that’s that’s easier in our small writing groups, I think the workshop will fly by,” he said.

Three other workshops are being presented under the mantle of the Noepe Center for Literary Arts, a top-20 U.S. writers’ residency created by director Justen Ahren in 2007. Noepe presenters will encourage attendees to examine the public and private aspects of writing. Susan Klein, a successful author and public storyteller, will lead discussion of “Spice of Life,” a workshop on organizing and writing memoirs, including an overview of writing one’s memoirs and triggering exercises to evoke memories as well as paired sharing.

Another session hosted by Niki Patton, a writer and an accomplished performer of her work, will encourage attendees to hear their own voices in “Writers Read at Islanders Write.” Ms. Patton created Writers Read this February as a monthly sharing forum for writers of all levels to present short readings from their works in progress, fiction or nonfiction, for a fixed amount of time at the West Tisbury library.

At her Islanders Write workshop, attendees will have the opportunity to read from their work, and receive feedback if they wish. Readers can reserve a spot at the workshop by emailing Ms. Patton at

For the inside stuff, Michael West, an Island resident and author of a burgeoning series of novels, will invite workshoppers to spend time “Finding and Facing your Inspiration,” and Mr. Ahren will lead a group in working on many writers’ biggest problem: doing the writing.

Mr. Ahren recently talked about his subject with The Times. “I call the workshop “Devotion: Cultivating a Daily Writing Practice.” I’ll give people prompts and starters that have worked for me over the years to overcome staring at that vast empty page, to get going on a daily basis. Ideas that work at getting rid of the ‘what I am supposed to say’ and to get to the saying part. Sometimes it’s simple. For example, just being grateful will lower stress and anxiety. Being grateful for the day provides an acceptance, no matter what you write that day,” he said.

Along with book signings and other literary delights, IW 2015 will present a daylong series of panel discussions:

Islanders Write,  Monday August 10

8–9 am, Self-Publishing

9–10 am, Writing Poetry

10–11 am, The Business of Publishing

11 am–12 pm, Developing Character and Voice

1–2 pm, Censorship, Free Speech, and Journalism

2–3 pm, Writing for Laughs

3–4 pm, Writing a Screenplay

4–5 pm, Writing Lyrics that Sing

A growing list of Island literati have signed up to give back to their craft, including the following to date: Justen Ahren, Jenny Allen, Nancy Slonim Aronie, Shawn Barber, Lashonda Katrice Barnett. Fred Barron, Lawrence Blume, Geraldine Brooks, Lucy Dahl, Dawn Davis, Lucinda Franks, Nicole Galland, Tony Horwitz, Jemima James, Amy Holden Jones, Sarah Kernochan, Willy Mason, Richard Michelson, Donald Nitchie, Peter Oberfest, Jamie Raab, Jon Randal, Amy Reece, Arnie Reisman, Katherine Scheidler, Rosemary Stimola, John Sundman, Jennifer Tseng, Michael West.

For a schedule with complete descriptions of workshops and panels, along with bios of all participants, visit: