This week brings good news for Island creatives: in collaboration with the Oak Bluffs library, the Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing (MVICW) has announced its Virtual Creative Writing & Literature Festival.
The festival will be completely free of charge, and run between Monday, June 29, and Friday, July 3. Events will take place in both the mornings and evenings. A lineup of award winning authors and poets will offer free writing workshops via Zoom throughout the week, in addition to fiction, nonfiction, and poetry readings. The links to these Zoom meetings and other information on the festival can be found on the event’s Facebook page.
News of the festival comes after the cancellation of MVICW’s annual Summer Writers’ Conference. “We just felt that we had to cancel it, even with the possibility of things opening up,” said MVICW director Alexander Weinstein. “We had 100 writers coming from around the world this year, so for everybody’s safety, we decided we would wait until next year and do a virtual festival.”
While the adjusted setting will undoubtedly make for a different experience, the virtual festival will still incorporate many elements of the summer conference. “The craft seminars on poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction are very similar to the seminars we hold during the in-person conference. In many ways, it’ll be kind of a sample of what the Summer Writers’ Conference is,” Weinstein said.
The festival opens Monday, June 29, with a fiction reading by Weinstein. From 7 to 8 pm, Weinstein will read from his short story collection, “Universal Love,” published in January of this year. A conversation and Q and A alongside author Phong Nguyen will follow, where Weinstein encourages listeners to ask any questions they may have regarding the writing process.
Tuesday will bring the festival’s first writing workshop, held from 10 am to 12 pm. Over Zoom, Weinstein will discuss the role of the “inner critic” in all genres of writing. The workshop will examine “the benefits of literary experiments, the art of taking risks, and how to explore the ‘big projects’ we’ve been longing to tackle and bring them successfully to the page,” according to the event’s Facebook page.
“We’ll do a lot of generative exercises. Anybody participating should have their pen and paper ready,” Weinstein said of the festival workshops. “When people come to the summer conference, I often ask that they invite their inner critic to take the boat back across for the week, so we’re free from it,” Weinstein said. “It’ll be interesting to see how the spirit of that carries into the virtual world.”
From 10 am to 12 pm on Wednesday, poet Christopher Citro will hold a workshop on the craft of the lyric essay. Citro will focus specifically on the hermit crab essay, a way of organizing one’s writing by using a pre-existing format, such as that of a recipe. This workshop is open to all writers, experienced or new to the craft.
“The workshops will be craft-focused for anybody who wants to learn — they’re open for all levels of writers,” Weinstein said. “Part of the ethos of MVICW since the beginning has been that all writers can work together. We’ve had 18-year-olds to 81-year-olds, published authors to beginners, all working in the same room.”
On Thursday, writer and teacher Samantha Tetangco will lead a poetry-writing workshop. Titled “Poetic Justice,” the event will delve into poetry as a tool of activism, using the written word to shed light on political, social, and environmental issues. The workshop will take place from 10 am to 12 pm.
According to Weinstein, those interested in joining a workshop shouldn’t be discouraged by inexperience. “We encourage a great deal of experimentation with form, so fiction writers are very much invited to take the poetry classes. Not having experience in a certain genre isn’t a limitation — in fact, many times our writers really benefit from taking classes outside of their preferred genre,” Weinstein said.
The festival’s final event will be a Friday night poetry reading, from 7 to 8 pm. The readings will be led by Citro and Tetangco, and conclude with a conversation with MVICW assistant director John Howard.
As anyone can attend the festival for free, MVICW asks that participants consider a donation via their website or PayPal link, respectively found at mvicw.com/donate and paypal.me/mvicw. According to their website, 100 percent of donations are poured into the MVICW annual fellowship program.
To those who are hesitant, Weinstein invites a step outside your comfort zone at this week’s festival. “We really encourage experimentation and taking risks, and it turns out that when you take those risks in a compassionate, creative environment that supports you, really incredible writing comes out of that,” Weinstein said.
For more information on MVICW, visit the website at mvicw.com.