“I am always stunned at the caliber of writing on the Island,” said West Tisbury’s Niki Patton. Since 2015, Patton, a writer herself, has been facilitating Writers Read, a monthly informal feedback group open to all writers, and since 2016, Patton has brought this open mic event to Islanders Write. Writers Read will return to Islanders Write this summer to host “The Vineyard Slam.” This is an open-mic event. Stories can be true, not true, absurd, or racy, and should be about the Island. They must be five minutes or shorter when read aloud; the time limit will be strictly enforced. This event is open to the public, but we suggest if you’d like to read your work you register in advance by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. In addition to “The Vineyard Slam,” for the first time, some of the speakers and workshop leaders at the event will be reading from their work at an open mic.
Throughout it all, Patton will be there, keeping time, calming nerves, moderating feedback, and even reading her own work. IW caught up with her recently to ask her about Writers Read and “The Vineyard Slam.”
We’re delighted Writers Read is coming back to Islanders Write this year. What are this year’s guidelines?
Writers Read is an open writing group held at the West Tisbury library that I facilitate. Local and visiting writers get to read their work, and, if they’d like, get audience feedback. For Islanders Write there will be a special edition that we call “The Vineyard Slam.” It’s open to everyone who wants to tell a Vineyard tale. The story can be truth or fiction, memoir, homage, mystery, science fiction, whatever genre you like — here’s the one place where even “fake news” is OK. There are a lot of great and short Vineyard stories out there — and we want to hear them!
You are a strict enforcer of the five-minute time limit. What fate will befall those who don’t stop reading after five minutes?
If you go over five minutes, our crew of able timekeepers will start playing a variety of songs that have “too long” in the lyrics. (Actually, I just use the Tibetan bowl gong to let readers know they’ve exceeded the time limit.)
Will readers receive feedback on their pieces?
Writers Read loves audiences, so we count on our readers to be listeners too. We’ll ask that if someone wants to read, they plan to stay an hour to also listen to others who are reading. (I promise you won’t be disappointed.) At our monthly meeting, writers ask what kind of feedback they’d like from their audience. But in keeping to a fast and snappy slam format, here I might ask writers if they’d like to invite an adjective or sentence or two as commentary — their choice.
How do people sign up if they want to read?
If you’d like to sign up, please send an email to email@example.com.
Why did you start Writers Read, and how long have you been doing it?
Martha’s Vineyard could be called an Island of writers — both well-known and local — and we have a number of excellent writers’ groups. I started Writers Read almost five years ago as a public group — open to all writers on the Island at any given time, whether they are resident, visiting, or tourist. The West Tisbury library has graciously hosted us since the start. Writers Read is actually a cross between a writer’s group and reading forum, since the public is welcome to attend, listen, and comment. I added that element because I’d often attended readings where all I could do was clap at the end of the piece, when I really wanted to ask a question or make a comment. That’s common in a writers group, but not at public readings. Most of what is being read in Writers Read is work-in-progress, so having different kinds of potential reader feedback makes sense. That comes in the form of not only their fellow writers’ comments but those of the nonwriting listeners who may attend.
“The Vineyard Slam” will take place 12:30 to 2 pm, and the IW panelists’ open mic will take place at 2 pm on Monday, August 12, at Featherstone Center for the Arts. Visit islanderswrite.com for more information and a full schedule of events.