A woman in Ellenville I know writes a humor column week-in and week-out. She’s a single mom, shuttling her kids to and from a host of activities, as well as to their father in Connecticut each weekend. One thing has had her beaming all winter and spring…she’s attending this weekend’s Woodstock Writer’s Festival on the final Sunday of its three days, April 20-22, attending panel discussions on book publishing and humor. She’s been spending months preparing a manuscript of her columns for it and asking all about Woodstock, which she’s never visited.
Meanwhile, Monday, April 16, I was lunching at Joshua’s Upstairs with festival co-founder Martha Frankel and publicist Abbe Aronson, both talking a mile a minute about filled workshops, dinner events, surprise announcements, national advertising tie-ins, and a brand new New York City series of WWF events kicking off this Saturday night. And they are excited about a live webcast, at which the fourth presence at our table, Vogue and New York magazine interviewing legend Jonathan van Meter, will interview Running With Scissors author Augusten Burroughs. That webcast will be received at an event at a restaurant in New York City, tying the venues together.
“(Burroughs’) new book is high concept for grown ups, all about grown up issues but filled with all these gems of advice. Yet he’s very bossy. While also funny. What’s great is that I agree with just about everything he says. His basic thing is to say ‘Stop whining. Get on with it,’” van Meter is saying, noting how the interview set for the Bearsville Theater should be visually interesting given that both he and Burroughs are bald with glasses.
Aronson and Frankel chime in on the use of the word “bossy,” and I scribble down Burroughs’ new book title for reference: This Is How: Proven Aid in Overcoming Shyness, Molestation, Fatness, Spinsterhood, Grief, Disease, Lushery, Decrepitude & More. For Young and Old Alike.
The festival kicks off with a rock and roll writer’s story slam Thursday night at Oriole 9, made up of 3½ minute vignettes…like pop songs on a classic album. The first 22 to sign up enter. Judges include songwriter Johanna Hall (“Still The One”), rock photographer Catherine Sebastian and Woodstock Festival promoter Michael Lang. Friday’s chock full from 9 a.m.-10 p.m. with workshops, panel discussions about writers who deal with issues of resilience, a dinner at Oriole 9 sponsored by the new website Inkubate (which Aronson whispers will announce a new online slush pile for would-be writers to submit works to for agents and editors), and an evening discussion with and by the great William Kennedy of Ironweed and his various Albany-based novels fame.
At our table the conversation centers briefly on those afore-mentioned workshops, all sold out now, but one of the key elements to what the Woodstock Writers Festival has become. alongside that incoming humorist’s thrill to be coming to Woodstock and this table of writers’ pleasure at having a long weekend to hobnob with peers and those they’ve been dying to meet for eons.
The workshops each involve 12 to 15 people working alongside a writer on specific issues ranging from self-publishing one’s own e-book to the specifics of poetry. They meet in area homes which Frankel describes as ranging from a view-rich aerie atop Ohayo Mountain to a woods-surrounded home on Abbey Road and several loft-like spaces right in town. But those are already all sold out this year.
“You know this all started as a way of keeping the Golden Notebook afloat,” Frankel says. “Also, it seems we’ll have the perfect weather all weekend, around 60 degrees with light showers.”
I ask how many people are signed up, altogether, and the numbers range between 750 and 1000. Aronson speaks about the Eye-Bobs reading glasses that will be everywhere, given their stylish sponsor’s presence this year, including several booths where participants can get photographed with them on. Meanwhile, van Meter talks a bit about how much he’s looking forward to getting some writers’ tips from those leading panels, given that he’s now got to finish his newest book, a memoir entitled Ladies Man, all about the art of writing about women.
“My last book took like five years of research,” he says. “This one, I want it to be all from here…”
And he points to his head.
On Saturday, the Woodstock Writers’ Festival follows a breakfast event at Joshua’s featuring Bar Scott and Abigail Thomas, with a panel on political writing moderated by Larry Beinhart (Wag The Dog); a poetry and politics discussion; and a songwriting workshop which Frankel says John Sebastian and Robbie Dupree have been practicing dialogue for (“how cute,” she adds). Oh yes, as well as that Burroughs/van Meter bald man talkathon, the highlight of the weekend in many people’s eyes and expectations.
Sunday begins with a reading of great stories at Joshua’s, featuring the sonorous tones of Carey Harrson’s voice, among others’. Then that publishers/agents roundtable, moderated by Barry Samuels, and a painter/writer talk with Joan Snyder and Marilyn Simmes; the humor panel hosted by Arsonson; Frankel’s session on memoir writing, dinner at Joshua’s, and a final concert from Gillen & Turk.
The second big announcement my three lunch-mates want to make is about that Saturday night webcast from the Bearsville Theater…it’ll be received, with dinner, at the new Manhattan restaurant Alsion Eighteen, on 18th Street between Fifth and Sixth. Then, once a month, the Woodstock Writer’s Festival will have an event in the city…to let everyone know just what a literary scene Woodstock’s developed in recent years, like some renaissance return to its salad literary days when Hart Crane, Wallace Stevens, Tennessee Williams, and so many others summered, wrote, and socialized here throughout the 20th century.
“I bought a house here on my third visit,” van Meter admits of his move to town a few years ago. “I never knew Woodstock was such a great town for aging partiers.”
He described the new underpinnings of contemporary Woodstock intelligentsia.
“I hate writing so much I’ll do anything to make it easier,” he admits. “I think Woodstock is a great writing town because one can get out easily. You attend a party and it’s filled with notables…and there are all these good writing gremlins up here. This festival just feels right…”
Everyone laughed and kibitzed about local restaurants, the library, Upstate Films, the tennis club, local shopping, the big seasonal events like Christmas Eve and Halloween.
And then there’s this palpable moment of silence.
Everyone checks their phones, their I-Pads, then agree it’s time to scatter. Deadlines, festival arrangements, other engagements all beckon…and scream out for attention.
By then it’s also only a few hours until things kick off. And the really big party gets underway all this weekend.++
For more on all things Woodstock Writers Festival, check out their advertisements in these pages, check out posters around town, or visit woodstockwritersfestival.com.