New protocols and temporary closures haven’t been enough to stop the persistent, creatively charged efforts of Noepe Center for Literary Arts. This Island organization traditionally operates out of Featherstone Center for the Arts, but when Featherstone temporarily closed its doors as a COVID-19 precaution, Noepe had to adapt.
Since then, Noepe has held a myriad of virtual events, including poetry, fiction, and miscellaneous other writing workshops. Their June poetry reading, “Poetry in the Time of Quarantine and Protest,” took place over Zoom in collaboration with Featherstone and Pathways Arts.
As summer draws nearer to its end, Noepe will close out the season with a pair of virtual workshops. Happening now is a five-day series with awardwinning author Hanif Abdurraqib, which he calls “Thinking Beyond Genre.”
According to Mathea Morais, director of Noepe Center for Literary Arts, this workshop focuses on pushing the boundaries of genre. “It’s about breaking out of the idea that poems have to be with poems, and essays have to be with essays,” Morais said.
Abdurraqib has written a variety of work, including poetry collections, essay collections, and cultural criticisms with a focus on music. With his diverse resume, Abdurraqib is using his platform at Noepe to teach hybrid form and out-of-the-box thinking.
Though “Thinking Beyond Genre” wraps up on August 7, there’s more to be experienced at Noepe. “The Young Ones: How to Write Young Adult Fiction” runs from August 10 to August 14, led by author Lilliam Rivera.
Rivera is an awardwinning writer, known for her middle-grade and young adult novels. Her virtual course will reflect this work, delving into young adult fiction and the craft that brings it to life. “How do you develop that voice, how do you create those worlds?” Morais said, naming a few topics of workshop discussion. “How do you differentiate between what would be an adult novel and what would be a young adult novel?”
When Rivera’s workshop was first announced, Noepe planned to charge $250 per person, with a limit of 12 students for the course. However, thanks to the generosity of the owners of the Narragansett House and one anonymous donor, Noepe was able to offer scholarships toward Rivera’s course to six writers of color.
Noepe asked those interested in receiving a scholarship to email the center with a letter of interest, a bio, and a description of a current project. The deadline closed August 5, and scholarship winners are to be chosen shortly.
Noepe announced the Inkwell Scholarships BIPOC Writers “with an eye to the disparities in the number of books written by Black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC), about BIPOC characters,” according to an email sent to Noepe’s mailing list.
“The owners of the Narragansett House last year supported Noepe by housing our teachers and two students, and paying for their workshops,” Morais said. Though a virtual setting negates the need for housing, this year’s scholarships are a form of kindness and support that spans all platforms.
Even as these workshops close, there’s more from Noepe on the horizon. Though there are no definite plans for September, Morais hopes to continue offering online classes.
“I think it’s an amazing way to bring people together from all over the world. We’ve had people from England, Canada, California, Florida,” Morais said.
For Morais, this expansive outreach is exactly what she’d hoped to bring to Noepe when she took over as director in 2019. “It was once a very enclosed and perfect place to have a writing center,” Morais said. “When I brought it to Featherstone, I knew I wanted to revamp some of its vision.”
Morais recounted first coming to Noepe as a working woman and mother. With plenty on her plate, Morais understood how the chaos of daily life might prevent some from participating in an intensive program. She hoped to bring the experience of Noepe to even busy individuals.
“I wanted to make it as accessible as possible, and I also wanted to bring more variety to Martha’s Vineyard writers,” Morais said.
Morais was quick to express admiration for on-Island writers, but believes diversity is key moving forward. “We need outside voices. We need people from other spaces who we haven’t been writing with for the past 15 years to look at our work and talk to us and give us new ideas,” Morais said.
The new, virtual Noepe Center for Literary Arts may not be entirely ideal — according to Morais, there’s nothing quite comparable to a room full of writers — but there are upsides to this change.
“It’s made these writing classes accessible to more people, and at the same time, it’s bringing people from all over the world to work with Island writers. That’s really exciting for me,” Morais said.