The organization Pathways Arts has been hosting weekly readings of new work ever since its inception. For over a decade, it has been encouraging local poets and writers to bring work to share with the community — first in person, then on Zoom during the worst of the pandemic. Now, in order to shake things up a bit, the Pathways organizers have brought an accomplished poet and literary critic onboard to bring writers from around the country into the mix.
Aquinnah resident Ron Slate has published two books of poetry with Houghton Mifflin. He also publishes an online journal called On the Seawall, which features new work in poetry, essays, fiction, art, and commentary. Contributors and guest editors include nationally recognized writers, critics, and translators. Slate describes the mission of the publication online, writing, “We think of On the Seawall as a ‘gallery’ — a location in the neighborhood, a place where we display our work for our community, where everyone is welcome to create and to witness the work.”
Now Slate is bringing the same spirit of inclusiveness and community engagement to the Pathways readings, which he emcees. The current format combines live, in-person readings with visitors participating by Zoom. A large screen is set up at the Pathways space at the Chilmark Tavern to allow attendees to listen and interact with the guest participants.
So far, featured readers have included poets Elaine Sexton, Elizabeth Jacobson, and Lynne Thompson. Sexton is a New York-based poet and author of three books. Her poems, art reviews, book reviews, and works in visual art have appeared in journals and anthologies, textbooks and websites, including American Poetry Review, Art in America, Poetry, O! the Oprah Magazine, and Poetry Daily. Sexton teaches at Sarah Lawrence, and has been guest faculty at NYU and City College of New York.
Elizabeth Jacobson served as poet laureate of Santa Fe from 2019 to 2021. She has published two books of poetry, and she founded and directs the WingSpan Poetry Project, which conducts ongoing poetry classes with shelter facilities.
Lynne Thompson is the current poet laureate for the city of Los Angeles. Her three books of poetry have garnered many awards, and she sits on the boards of the Los Angeles Review of Books, Cave Canem, and the board of trustees for Scripps College (current president).
After the invited guests read on Zoom, members of the community — those attending in person or by Zoom — are invited to share their work.
“In my mind there should be no boundaries between the person who has a full-time job and writes about her father, and someone who’s published a whole book of elegies and writes for the New York Times,” says Slate, who is impressed with the number of talented writers that the Island boasts. He is currently working with two young writers, and encourages youthful poets and writers to participate in the Pathways readings.
Slate first began attending Pathways Zoom readings in 2020. “During the beginning of the pandemic I was lonely, so I started to participate in the Tuesday Zoom meetings,” he says. Eventually Pathways co-director Keren Tonnesen asked if he would be interested in leading the readings. His involvement has allowed the organization to expand beyond the Island through Slate’s friendships and connections with writers from across the country.
Slate himself has an impressive résumé. He earned his master’s degree in creative writing from Stanford University, and studied American literature at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He edited a poetry magazine, the Chowder Review, for 15 years.
Taking a break from literature, Slate served for many years as vice president of global communications for EMC Corp., then as chief operating officer of a biotech/life sciences startup. He is currently a board member of the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities, and a member of the National Book Critics Circle. He was a judge for the 2019 PEN America Translation Prize. His first book of poems was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle poetry prize and the Lenore Marshall Prize of the Academy of American Poets.
In 2016, Slate and his daughter Jenny co-wrote and published a memoir, “About the House,” helping to raise more than $250,000 for nonprofit organizations in the U.S. and abroad, including Planned Parenthood and the ACLU.
Slate moved to the Vineyard, along with his wife, artist and former genetics counselor Nancy Gilson, in 2017. Since then he has resumed writing regularly, and often reads his own work at Pathways, along with a variety of local poets and prose writers.
“The notion is we’re all in this same business together, “ he says. “We’re all trying to show what’s actual in the world. Some of the writers are pointedly political, some personal, some more abstract, some focusing on nature. Despite our differences, as writers we’re all in this together.”
“Writing and Poetry Tuesdays” happen weekly in person (for now) at the Chilmark Tavern and via Zoom. Doors open at 6:30 pm, readings begin at 7. For more information or to get involved in upcoming events, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.