This Week: Writing from the Heart, the Valentine’s Day Edition!


PLEASE NOTE the due to snow storm THIS EVENT HAS BEEN POSTPONED ONE WEEK to February 20!

Kate Abbott, Editor of Berkshires Week, wrote a beautiful article about this event, including interviews with some of the readers.  Check it out here!

Join us for an evening presentation of heartfelt writing by six Berkshire women writers.  Their views on LOVE will be surprising, engaging, sometimes funny, sometimes tragic.  Not to be missed!

Thursday, February 20, 6 p.m. in Edith Wharton’s salon at The Mount, 2 Plunkett Street, Lenox.  Free and open to the public.

Check out our Facebook event page here!

About the Readers

Maria Black, Liv and August

Maria has been writing fiction for a number of years, publishing short stories in such literary journals as Indiana Review, The Sun, Gulf Coast and Seattle Review. She is currently a student in the MFA Fiction program at UMass Amherst where she teaches writing and is finishing her novel. Maria lives in Lenox with her family.

Mary Campbell, Looking for Love….
Mary is a woman’s empowerment and sexuality coach, ordained inter-spiritual minister and counselor, author and educator. She leads Walking Our Talk and sensuality workshops and trainings in NYC and at Sruti Yoga Center in Great Barrington. In addition she is a wedding officiant and works privately with couples wishing to deepen their heart and body connection.

Sheela Clary, Wantoks
Sheela was raised in Egremont and after many years away returned to the Berkshires to settle down. She is a teacher by training, a freelance grant writer and editor by convenience, and a home-educating mother by choice. Her writing goal is to create an essay half as lovely as a word by Marilynne Robinson.”

Lorrin Krouss, The Rocky Road to Happiness
Lorrin, a former legal assistant, was inspired to write fiction and memoir after attending the 2012 Berkshire Festival of Women Writers. She is now an active member of the BFWW. Thanks to Suzi Banks Baum, one of her recent essays appears in “An Anthology of Babes —- 36 Women Give Motherhood a Voice.” She lives happily in the Berkshires with her husband Andrew.

Betsy McTiernan, What’s Love Got To Do With It?
Betsy moved to Great Barrington in 2005 after retiring from SUNY Oswego. She works part-time at Simon’s Rock as a academic writing tutor for international students. She and her husband have overseen the care of her elderly mother since 2006–first in their home, then in assisted living, and now in a nursing home. Betsy’s been a journal– keeper for almost 40 years.

Grace Rossman, The Goddess Effect
Grace is a junior at Bard College at Simon’s Rock, concentrating in Critical Geography/ Political Ecology/Globalization Studies and Activism Through Performance. “Activated” by an activism class she took with Festival Director Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez during the fall (2013) semester, Grace developed The Belly Monologues website, concept, and workshop. Inspired by activists like Eve Ensler, eco-feminist theorists like Carolyn Merchant, and cultural critics like Slavoj Zizek, she believes that ecological, social, and psychological issues are most effectively addressed by honestly and unabashedly acknowledging what is. Currently writing the script for a multi-media performance she hopes to direct as her thesis project senior year, she is ready and eager to tell it like is.


Mark Your Calendars for the 2014 Berkshire Festival of Women Writers!

Click to download the BFWW 2014 program as a PDFAfter months of organizing, the 58 events of the 2014 Festival are now up on the website and ready to view!

The printed Program is also available at locations throughout the Berkshires and environs–make sure to pick up your copy!  You can also download it from the website, here. Or view the program online here.

You can also view event descriptions on our Festival Facebook page–please LIKE, JOIN, INVITE and SHARE your favorite events with your Facebook friends, to spread the good word of our Festival far and wide!

See you at the Festival!


Berkshire Women Writers Lean-In Gatherings Resume September 22

Maria Sirois, Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez and Lydia Littlefield lean in at the September 12 "Writing from the Heart" event, a smashing success, with more than 70 people in attendance despite the thunderstorms.  Also reading their heartfelt writing: Suzi Banks Baum, Hannah Fries, Jan Hutchinson and Anni Maliki.

Maria Sirois, Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez and Lydia Littlefield lean in at the September 12 “Writing from the Heart” event at The Mount.

If you’re a woman writer, you are cordially invited to join the new Berkshire Women Writers Lean-in group for our first fall meeting on September 22 from 3 – 5 p.m. at the Berkshire Museum.

Co-hosted by BFWW Founding Director Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez and Berkshire Museum Director of Communications Lesley Ann Beck, the monthly meeting is open to all women writers on a free, drop-in basis.

At the September 22 meeting, we’ll invite proposals and suggestions for the six meetings we’ll hold between October and May.  Our hope is that this group will function Festival-style, with different women stepping forward to take the lead on planning and presenting each of the monthly sessions.

We also hope that the Lean-In Group will serve as an incubator for spin-offs such as writing circles or reading series, to meet the needs of our members for a greater and more sustained community of Berkshires women writers.

Join us to share your vision and add your voice!

The Berkshire Museum is located at 39 South St., Pittsfield. The meeting is free and open to all women writers from the Berkshires and environs; it does not include Museum admission.


More pictures from the Writing From the Heart Event

Rain and thunderstorms did not keep more than 70 people for coming over to The Mount for an evening

of heartfelt writing offered by seven creative women.  A moving, inspiring, courageous night!

Presenters Maria Sirois, Suzi Banks Baum and Lydia Littlefield

Presenters Maria Sirois, Suzi Banks Baum and Lydia Littlefield

Anni Maliki

Anni Maliki

Jan Hutchinson

Jan Hutchinson

Hannah Fries

Hannah Fries

Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez


Update on the New Women Writers Lean In Group

A dozen women writers gathered at the Berkshire Museum on April 28 for the first meeting of the monthly Berkshire Women Writers Lean In Group.  Hosted by Lesley Ann Beck, Director of Communications at the Berkshire Museum, and Festival Director Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez, the meeting was a lively and inspiring start to what we hope will become a terrific resource.

The next meeting will be held on Sunday, May 19, at 3 p.m. at the Berkshire Museum, free and open to all women writers. Please bring a piece of writing to share (500 words or less) so we can appreciate all the wonderful voices in the group. Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez will give a presentation on starting a blog and we will discuss the importance of blogging for writers.  We will meet once more, on June 16 at 3 p.m., before taking a break for the busy summer months.  

At the first meeting, we came up with many ideas for the future.  Here are our notes, as summarized by Lesley Ann Beck.

A monthly gathering can meet the needs of working writers by offering opportunities:

  • To learn and discover new approaches to writing
  • To share our work, both with each other and in more public venues
  • To share our experiences and create community
  • To learn and/or share the business of writing – discipline, marketing, etc.
  • To learn how to create opportunities for ourselves (Straw Dog Writers Guild, Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance are interesting models)
  • To have small, anchored groups evolve from the larger group to focus on specific work
  • To create smaller book groups and reading series

Among the group assembled at the first meeting, most expressed a preference for either Saturday or Sunday as the meeting day, and most preferred late afternoon. We did agree that rotating or changing the time and day of the meeting, as well as the venue, would allow more writers to participate. 

There was a lively discussion of the various topics that could be covered, as well as the format of the gatherings. We agreed that alternating talks and presentations with workshops would be best. Chances for sharing, discussion, Q&A, and engagement will be built into the gatherings that include a presentation. The gatherings that have a workshop format will certainly include exercises, breakout groups, and practice sessions. It was agreed to alternate creative topics with “nuts & bolts” topics that focus on the business of writing. Some of the suggested subjects include the use and benefits of blogging; finding our voices; self-promotion; and turning personal experiences into fiction/ turning personal experiences into non-fiction.

Other ideas include offering open mic sessions at venues such as Starving Artist Café in Lee or the Bookstore in Lenox; creating a library or database of resources and a shared calendar of writer events; and creating a salon for collaborations and experimenting with the unconventional – “sparking new thinking.”

We also discussed the creation of a Festival anthology; building an online Festival bookshelf with information on works by participants; and more opportunities connected to community-building, such as a quarterly curated reading or event series open to the public.

The new monthly Lean In Group is free and open to all women interested in writing.  Come join us and see what creative sparks we can get going together!


It’s Time to Lean in with the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers!

Presenters at the In Words Out Words In Women's Own Words 2013 Festival event at the Deb Koffman Gallery

Were you inspired and energized by the Festival events you attended last month?  Are you looking to extend that collaborative spirit throughout the year? Then this new series of monthly gatherings for women writers is for you!

The Berkshire Festival of Women Writers is pleased to announce a free new monthly event series, designed to encourage local women writers of all ages to “lean in” and collaborate to inspire and strengthen each other’s development as writers.

The first meeting will be held on Sunday, April 28, at 3 p.m. at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, MA, hosted by Dr. Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez, the founding director of the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers, and Lesley Ann Beck, director of communications at Berkshire Museum.

The idea for a monthly gathering was generated during the March 3 Festival panel discussion, Berkshire Magazine Presents Women Writers and the Role of the Editor, a lively presentation at the Triplex in Great Barrington, hosted by Berkshire Magazine editor Anastasia Stanmeyer.

The panel discussed issues such as the changes that the Internet is bringing to the careers of writers and editors, the various ways women writers deal with the somewhat isolating nature of their work, and the challenges of the business side of writing.

It was clear that there are many more important topics to be considered than could be covered in a single conversation, and audience members responded with great enthusiasm to the suggestion of a monthly convocation.

The initial meeting on April 28 will be an exploration of the many possible directions the group could take, from creating a list of potential discussion topics and inspiring guest speakers to planning the year-long schedule of regular meetings as well as some workshops. Suggestions and ideas from attendees are welcome!

The Berkshire Museum is located at 39 South St., Pittsfield. The meeting is free and open to all women writers from the Berkshires and environs; it does not include Museum admission.  Your RSVP to would be appreciated.


Festival party a big hit!

Hosts, presenters, organizers and Festival friends met at the Y-Bar in Pittsfield to mingle and raise a toast to the close of an extraordinarily successful 2013 Festival season.

Approximately 2,000 people attended the 56 Festival events held throughout the county during the month of March, and a preliminary review of the audience evaluations indicates that everyone was well-pleased by the events they attended.

Below are some photos from the party, for those who were there in body and those who were with us in spirit!


Alison Larkin & Kristen Van Ginhoven

Festival Program Coordinator Claudette Webster, left, with Festival presenter Pauline Dongala

Keith Emerling carves the luscious duck and lamb he cooked and brought to the party!


Festival host Suzi Banks Baum with Festival Rep. Lorrin Krouss

Festival presenters Susanna Opper and Robin Catalano

Nina Ryan and her husband with Claudette Webster

Festival presenters JoAnne Spies and Lynnette Lucy Najimy

Festival essay contest winner Deborah Swiatek samples the great Mission tapas fare

Lorrin and Andrew Krouss


Drawing for prizes!




It Takes a Village to Raise a Successful Festival

The Berkshire Record published this column by Festival Director Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez in the April 6, 2013 issue:

Festival organizers Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez and Judith Nardacci

It takes many villages and many people to create a grand Festival like the month-long, county-wide Berkshire Festival of Women Writers, and I want to thank everyone who helped make it happen: the more than 150 women who participated as presenters and hosts, the venue hosts who generously donated their space, the Local Cultural Councils of fifteen Berkshire towns who helped with funding, along with the John A. Sellon Charitable Trust, the Massachusetts Council on the Humanities, Bard College at Simon’s Rock, Quality Printing, the Shoppers Guide and the many other donors and advertisers who helped bring the 2013 Festival of Women Writers to the more than 2,000 people who packed the audiences of events throughout the Berkshires during the month of March.

I have been asked, why limit the Festival to just women writers?  Why not make it open to all?  My answer comes right from the voices of many of the women who participated in this year’s Festival, who underscored how hard it is, still, for women to overcome structural barriers to their full creative and economic participation in the literary world.

Research has shown—from Carol Gilligan to Mary Pipher to Leonard Sax—that in mixed-gender gatherings, women tend to become more reserved, to hesitate and lose the self-confidence needed to assert themselves in public.  The current controversy over Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In, which urges women to be aggressive into order to succeed professionally, underscores the fact that women must overcome strong cultural conditioning to succeed in what is still a male-dominated world.

In addition, it is still true that women bear a disproportionate responsibility on the home front, which can make it hard for them to give their all to their literary careers. A woman who is continually on call as the primary homemaker and child care provider will have a much harder time writing that Great American Novel or becoming a senior editor at a major news organization or publishing company.

Some women, like Sheryl Sandberg, are wealthy enough to be able to employ others to do the housework, but even for these few, it is still true that women are underrepresented in the annals of “great writers” of the past as well as the present, which creates unspoken but powerful expectations—for example, that women only write “chick lit” about “women’s issues.” The truth is that women today are writing about every topic under the sun, making our Festival of Women Writers sessions of great interest to the men as well as the women in our audiences.

I hope that one day there will no longer be a need to provide a special platform for women to step out and share their voices in the public sphere, but right now, from everything I’ve heard back from presenters and audience members, it is clear to me that women still need that extra encouragement, that sense of being welcomed into a space that explicitly seeks their perspectives.

The Berkshire Festival of Women Writers aims to give women writers the boost of a dedicated space of their own, where it is a given that they will have the spotlight and the full attention of all present.  I thank the Berkshires for providing such a welcoming, enthusiastic response to the upwelling of women’s creative expression during the Festival month, and look forward to all the ripples that will continue to spread out in the coming weeks and months as we lay the groundwork for the 2014 Festival season.


2013 Essay Contest Winners and their Prize-winning Essays!

A large crowd gathered in Edith Wharton’s elegant living room at The Mount on March 23 to hear the four winners of the 2013 BFWW Essay Contest read their essays on “Masculinity.”

Second prize winner Deborah Swiatek waits her turn to read

The winners are pictured below:

L-R, Hilda Banks Shapiro, Ellen Bliss, Joan Embree, Deborah Swiatek

They were introduced by Essay Contest organizers Michelle Gillett and Nina Ryan, as well as this year’s Essay Contest Judge, Katherine Bouton.

Michelle Gillett

Nina Ryan reads from Edith Wharton's autobiography


Katherine Bouton

The winners have graciously agreed to share their essays with our Festival website audience.  Read on!

Read the rest of this entry »


Festival Day 30: Writing for Personal Evolution and Solo: Women’s Travel Adventure Writing

The final day of the 2013 Festival featured two events, held back to back at the South Berkshire Friends Meeting House in Great Barrington.

Author and writing instructor Dara Lurie presented an interactive workshop on writing as a process of personal growth and self-understanding.

Dara Lurie


Afterwards, three women adventurers–Susan Fox Rogers, Dawn Paul and Dorothy Albertini–took the stage to talk about writing their experiences of solo adventuring.  As it turned out, some of the adventures were more inward and imaginative than outward-bound, but all offered provocative insights in using writing as a vehicle for exploration.

Solo panel, L-R, Dorothy Albertini, Susan Fox Rogers and Dawn Paul


Susan Fox Rogers



Festival Day 29: Good Friday

On this day we rested and prepared for the final day of the Festival!

Cheryl Luft at "Trust"


Festival Day 28: What’s Your Story?

Lara Tupper


The final session in the four-part Festival series at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health featured author and writing teacher Lara Tupper.  Festival rep Lorrin Krouss spoke glowingly of her experience:

“Lara Tupper is a teacher with the ability to bring forth the very best in her students. In only a two hour session at Kripalu, Lara turned a room full of people (about 72) into confident writers – pros and novices alike. We wrote from the heart, soul and depth of past and present feelings.  The sharing of our stories made all of us believe in our own creativity, abilities and in ourselves.”













Festival Day 27: Wind & Rain, The Female Rebel and Speak Out and Speak Up!

Three outstanding programs took place this evening!  Here are some photos; more description coming soon.

At the Lichtenstein Center in Pittsfield, Rosemary Starace and JoAnne Spies led an Elemental Orchestra in a performance of music and poetry that had the audience spellbound.

Rosemary Starace; photo by Cheryl Luft

JoAnne Spies; photo by Cheryl Luft


Meanwhile, down at the Railroad Street Youth Project in Great Barrington, a group of teens led by Festival rep Kirsten Peterson and spoken word poet Alexis-Marie Wint, both seniors at Bard College at Simon’s Rock, met to put words to action in a workshop on speaking up and speaking out in poetry.

Spoken word workshop by and for teens at the Railroad Street Youth Project





Festival Day 26: Passover break

Leigh Strimbeck leads a talk-back with her actors and choreographer

On this day we rested and reflected over some of the many thought-provoking moments in the Festival!


Festival Day 25: K.A. Laity on How to Keep Writing with a Fulltime Job

Professional multi-tasking professor/writer/media sorcerer Kate Laity made it seem quite simple in her Festival presentation this evening: just make writing part of your routine, put the time in your schedule and don’t let it slide–keep that writing date with yourself!

Persistence is all, she said, and writing, let’s face it, is mostly a sport for tortoises….slow but steady wins the race….

K.A. Laity


Festival Day 24: Finding Your Voice, The Prose Poem and Small Stories in Hidden Places

All three Sunday Festival events went off beautifully.  A small group of teens gathered at the Otis Public Library under the guidance of Berkshire Magazine editor Anastasia Stanmeyer, who led them through a workshop designed as an introduction to magazine journalism.  Anastasia reports that in response to the writing prompt ” Are you ready for spring?” one workshop participant penned this description:

“The whip of the wind and the heavy snowfall desist. Instead, the interplay of birdcalls and running river awaken from the shadows. Spring is here. The feeling of winter has left me gloomy. I always hated to shovel the front driveway, or have no wood left for the fireplace. Such things have their ups and downs—sledding, skiing, and snowman building are some of the many enjoyments winter brings. Even though I love such things, spring sets a different mood: the awakening of wildlife, and the special wisps the trees give, I especially love. It’s both a new beginning for us, and for others. We all begin to take off our heavy jackets and jump into the seasonal shift towards spring.”

Meanwhile, down at the Bushnell-Sage Library in Sheffield, another group of writers gathered for a workshop on the prose poem offered by Festival presenter Jessica Treat.

Jessica gave this report, with a few representative poems that were produced in her workshop:

On Sunday, March 24th from 2-4pm I gave a workshop on The Prose Poem.  For each of the participants I’d prepared a packet with various examples of prose poems, from Charles Baudelaire to W.S. Merwin to Anne Carson. We also looked at definitions by Mary Oliver and others. The final poems we read and discussed were “Self-Portrait in Green” by Brian Johnson and “Against Green,” by Sean Thomas Dougherty.  Participants were then told to write in response to a color: green, red, orange or purple.  What follows are three poems from the workshop. Jane Bernstein, Betsy Selfo and Tony Palmieri generously agreed to share their poems.   —Jessica Treat

Self Portrait in Green
Green is for me the color of life — green fruit smoothies dyed vibrantly verdant by the cleansing tide of kale and parsley. Springtime and moss. Valley full of fully dressed trees. Pine and hemlock green all year long, improbable color in the white winter snowscape. Green peas, green beans, green chard, green chives, green tea, green giant.  I’m still surprised my blood isn’t green. Why iron instead of chlorophyll?

–Jane Bernstein, Sheffield, MA


Self-portrait in purple for these ropy hands that pat the cat and the homemade noodles and I can’t think of where else these purple hands haven’t been. Oh, a baby’s butt, never in my life. I didn’t want a purple screaming baby yelling for me. “MOMMY, MOMMY.” I had to run away.

Betsy Selfo, Harwinton, CT


If you’re waiting for an explanation, you’ve come to the wrong house. There is a reason for the red, but it isn’t important. I’ll tell you this: it was about the feel, about changing the texture of the hardwood, the walls, bumpy and mottled but now smooth, waxen. And red. The crayon broke once, like magic, a piece for each hand, and the circles have made my shoulders burn. But the blue is gone, the crayon is gone. When summer comes, the sun will change it anyway, it’ll run or sweat. So just go ahead, you can’t fix it and I won’t explain. So stop asking questions and use your razor.

Tony Palmieri, Middletown, CT


Finally, up in Pittsfield, mid-county, another group of about 50 gathered at the Lichtenstein Center to hear the oral stories of presenters Carla Oleska, Pauline Dongala and Vera Kalm.

Just another rich and varied day in the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers!

Vera Kalm, Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez and Carla Oleska


Festival Day 23: Poetry Compote, Gala Essay Contest Reading, Talk to Her

We don’t have photos yet from the Poetry Compote (if you were there and took some, please send them our way!), but host Lisken Van Pelt Dus reported that the event was well-attended and very successful.

In the afternoon, almost 150 people gathered in Edith Wharton’s beautiful living room at the Mount to hear the four winners of the 2013 Festival Essay Contest read their winning essays exploring the topic of masculinity.  Writing about their fathers, brothers, sons and–in the case of first prize winner Ellen Bliss–their favorite “butch dyke aunt,” the essays were moving and insightful, and had the audience spellbound.

Afterwards, a good time was had by all at the Gala Reception, fortified by sparkling water, wine and beautiful cheese platters supplied by Rubiner’s Cheesemongers of Great Barrington.

Essay contest winners, L-R: Hilda Banks Shapiro, Ellen Bliss, Joan Embree and Deborah Swiatek

First prize winner Ellen Bliss wrote afterwards:

“I just wanted to send a warm “thank you” for Saturday’s event.  What a wonderful experience it was for me!  I was very nervous about reading my essay in front of an audience and on top of that, at Edith Wharton’s home.  As it turned out, everyone was kind, gracious, and generous. I had nothing really to worry about.  The other winning essays were brilliant and I was honored to be in their company.”
Ellen also thanked Essay Contest Judge Katherine Bouton, saying, “She was most generous with her praise and even offered me some advice.  I am most grateful.”

Katherine Bouton introduces the winners


Lashonda Katrice Barnett

The final Festival event of the day was “Talk to Her: Interviews with Women Musicians,” a presentation at the Get Lit bar at The Bookstore in Lenox, by Dr. LaShonda Katrice Barnett of Brown University.  Festival rep Judy Nardacci reports:

“LaShonda Katrice Barnett took a rapt audience through her process of writing I Got Thunder, her book of interviews with black women songwriters that describes each woman’s process of creating music and making a career through both her gifts and her strength and persistence. Besides describing how she made connections with such renowned women, she made us all part of a conversation about such giants of the music industry as Odetta, Cassandra Wilson, and Miriam Makeba. Her gracious and engaging interactions with a group of more than twenty five knowledgeable and delighted fans of various music genres made this event a lovely way to spend the afternoon.”


Festival Day 22: Trust, Virtual Artists’ Collective and The Trojan Women

What a day it was at the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers!  JoAnne Spies started it off with her collective performance “Trust,” at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge.  JoAnne reports:

“Each artist’s piece was a gem. We heard Barbara and Graham Dean’s songs about Mumbet and Walkin to Freedom as we walked through the Four Freedoms rotunda, Ben Friedman’s ‘Seeking At-one-ment’ by the ‘Golden Rule,’ Nathan Smith’s sonnet about shaking hands by the ‘Golden Rule’ and ‘The Marriage Counselor, ‘Pastor at Church on the Hill Natalie Shiras and Chief of Police Rick Wilcox speaking about trusting oneself and authority by ‘The Runaway.’

“On to the next gallery, led by the eagle flute played by Windrose Morris we heard different artists throughout the room. Teresa Thomas danced to my song ‘Beloved Friend.’ Wendy Rabinowitz, (Satyena Ananda read by Wendy) and Ani Grosser read prayers and poems. Jan Hutchinson read her poem by the 3 Boys Fishin’. Eric Reinhardt sang his ‘Jemma’s Waltz’ by the ‘Fortuneteller.’  Mari Andejco read a poem, Pooja Rue danced to the tunes of Windrose Morris, Dylan Keating and Vikki True.”

The piece ended on a high note, with JoAnne leading the group in singing her song “The Survivor Tree.”

Later in the day, up at MCLA Gallery 51 in North Adams, Rosebud Ben-Oni and Arisa White read poetry and talked about their lives growing up in gritty, uncompromising environments in central Brooklyn and Arab East Jerusalem.

Festival rep Judy Nardacci was there, and reports:

“Rosebud Ben-Oni and Arisa White shared their writing with a small but welcoming and enthusiastic audience at Gallery 51: Rosebud, reading poems that helped her channel and express feelings of frustration and anger; and Arisa, about a difficult but resilient childhood. Both welcomed audience questions and encouraged us – especially several students in a writing program at MCLA – to send work to their HER KIND blog, the official site for their forum VIDA: Women in Literary Arts.The readings helped us see both the challenges and the deep satisfaction of the writing process, and specifically, the advantages of a supportive outlet and connections with other women writers in a new social-network format. They clearly enjoyed reading together as friends and colleagues, and provided a most memorable afternoon.”

And in the evening, Leigh Strimbeck and her students from Russell Sage College, took to the stage at Bard College at Simon’s Rock with a stunning performance of Leigh’s adaption of “The Trojan Women,” set in a post-apocalyptic landscape along the banks of the Hudson River in Troy, NY.  The audience was spellbound and wrapped up in the tremendous power, passion and outpouring of cathartic grief of the women of Troy in the face of the losses they faced as a result of war.




Festival Day 21: Nancy Slonim Aronie and Laura Didyk

Nancy Slonim Aronie

Nancy Slonim Aronie gave an inspired presentation to about 80 people at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health as the third of their series of Festival offerings.  She talked about the necessity for writers to tell stories from their hearts and their guts, not trying to protect readers from the stuff that is painful and raw–the work of the writer is alchemical, she said: “to turn shit into gold.”

Alchemy was also on the mind of writing instructor Laura Didyk, whose workshop was entitled “Garbage into Gold.”

Festival rep Lorrin Krouss was there and had this report:

“The lively, interactive writing session with Laura Didyk was wonderful.. About 25 people attended. Laura never stops smiling and somehow helps people find their inner creative voice.  We wrote to prompts and shared our writing. We created a story from  a random picture that we were handed.  We laughed, we applauded, we learned from each other and we ate cookies and chocolate.  What could be better!”

Just another busy, thought-provoking day at the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers!


Festival Day 20: WRites of Passage III and Illumination: Memoir Writing as a Path to Peace

The three-part series WRites of Passage concluded with a writing workshop focused on “the final journey: the end of fertility, aging and death,” while down the road in Stockbridge the Women’s Interfaith Institute of the Berkshires hosted Laura Didyk, who gave a presentation on memoir writing as a path to peace.

Laura Didyk

Festival rep Hannah Fries reports:

In Laura Didyk’s workshop/reading on memoir, many of the fifty or so writers present experienced some kind of breakthrough or realization as we followed the steps of her writing exercise.  We found that writing out of two different voices–the voice of innocence and the voice of experience–was illuminating and helped us get to the heart of our stories.  And Laura’s own reading exemplified so movingly what we were all trying to do.  If you missed this event, try this exercise out on your own:

Writing Exercise from Women’s Interfaith event: “Illuminations”

The Voice of Innocence & the Voice of Wisdom*

1.  Make three columns

Label the columns the following way:

Column 1:  1–15

Column 2:  16–30

Column 3:  30+

2. In each column, make a list of stories or events for each age bracket.

These should be events that have stuck with you over the years. (In Column 1, list events from the ages of 1 to 15 years old, etc). Try and keep it to three events max for each age range. Use just enough words to prompt your own recall.

Consider events related to the following:  Personal/family events (birthdays, funerals, graduations, weddings); natural phenomenon (storms, excessive heat, extreme cold, earthquake); accidents/illness; personal rites of passage (first love, first kiss, losing virginity, coming out, moving in with; getting engaged); travel; geographic moves; cultural and/or political occurrences (JFK assassination, death of Elvis, the Gore/Bush recount, 9/11, Occupy Wall Street).

3. Now pick ONE event, the one that stands out most to you. (You can play with other ones later.)

4. Distill the event you’ve chosen down to a single moment

For example: If you are writing about a death, focus on the moment you got the phone call, or the moment of passing, or a moment at the funeral.

A. Write for 7–10 minutes on this moment, following these guidelines:

*Write in the present tense. (“I am sitting in the living room watching a repeat of Seinfeld when the phone rings…”) and from the point of view of whatever age you are writing from.

*Just tell the story straight. State what’s happened/happening. Who is there. What feelings are present. What thoughts go through you mind. But do not interpret your emotions or thoughts.

B. Write for 7–10 minutes about this moment from your present-day self, following these guidelines:

*Use the prompt: “Looking back at this now, I….”

*You can also re-tell the event in the simple past tense. Allow yourself to reflect on the event. (ex: If in the present-tense write you describe being lonely, in this one you seek to understand why you’re lonely.)

*What do you understand now that you couldn’t understand then?

5. If you want to take it one step further:

Write a third paragraph, experimenting with combining the present tense paragraph (a.k.a. “the voice of innocence”) and the looking-back paragraph (a.k.a. “the voice of wisdom”).

*Exercise inspired by Sue William Silverman’s contribution to The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction.





Festival Day 19: IWOW-WOW and Writing for the Web

Despite a late-season snow storm, a lively crowd gathered at Deb Koffman’s gallery in Housatonic for our annual Festival open-mic event, In Words Out Words in Women’s Own Words.

Festival rep Claudette Webster reported that about 30 people attended and the presentations were fantastic and varied, with songs, spoken word, poetry and essays.


Mistress of Ceremonies Francine Ciccarelli

Ellen Russo

Darlene White

Jennifer Holey

Joan Embree


Meanwhile, up at the Lenox Library, Susanna Opper engaged her audience with a fascinating, pragmatic look at “writing for the web.”

Susanna Opper

Festival rep Lorrin Krouss reports:

“Susanna brought her over 40 years’ of experience in business communciaitons for top Fortune companies and small businesses to the Lenox library on a very snowy night. Her newsletter, WEB WORDS, reaches nearly 1,500 subscribers monthly.  Susanna spoke, accompanied by a power point presentation, about creating your own blog or on-line newsletter and the differences between the two.  Then  the group broke into pairs in order to discuss what they would want to include in a blog or newsletter and she encouraged each team to keep in touch on their progress.

“Susanna is a warm and charming person and it came through in every aspect of her presentation.  She never stopped smiling during her entire talk!  Susanna Opper’s event received rave reviews on all of the evaluation forms.”






Festival Day 18: Young Women Writers on the Development of the Self

A group of young women writers took the stage at Bard College at Simon’s Rock with stories and poems dealing in different ways with the development of identity alone and in relationship.

Panel organizer and Festival rep Kirsten Peterson performed a powerful poem, which she agreed to share with Festival blog readers:

Cold Dog on the Mountain, With a Wolf Beside the Fire                

By Kirsten Peterson

It’s assumed that in the history of her domestication the common bitch has lost her bite.
So it’s said that she would do anything rather than live as a love lost stray
that to do so makes her savage.
A wild thing willing to be taken in-
many believe she is just waiting to be thrown a bone
so eager for your heavy petting and it makes her meek
and so obedient and so loving in return…
Quiet too, if you train her right.

But strays do exists
and my stray dog strut is my own to be left alone
but on the street my nervous flash of teeth is seen as a come-hither smile.
Why would I roll over and apologize for growling
when he tried the trick of stating ownership and came too close
whistling and grasping
because I am his desired pet?
Why would I see him as anything but the threat he is?

They assumed that it is in my nature and breeding to both love and obey,
that my devotion and love is all encompassing and limitless
and thus I am rebuked or dismissed if I dare to howl in protest.

I’ve had the catcher’s noose descend and welcomed the change of pace
but when caught and kicked enough I learned to duck away.
I learned the hard way the hand that feeds is too often a fist-
how could they think that a bitch won’t fight back like a true hound dog?
When backed into the corner would you blame me when I begin to snarl and snap-
fighting through a panicked scramble of foaming mouths and twisting bodies
just trying to get away and back to that stray sense of self.

Denied my voice
I remembered mouths could bite.
It starts with the slow process of working off that muzzle
chew away his belt and rolled up newspaper
and when we square off it’s my teeth
my speech
my gut instinct telling me I fight or I die
encased in my hide which by now has been numbed to his heavy palms.

He taught me the word bitch
now I have my own words to impart
and I will be understood.
When I speak back now my teeth aren’t smiling.
and my growl isn’t playful-
if I whimper it’s because I am in pain.

But by threat of tooth and nail I will speak
against the leash, the clip, the collar-
I rile up
pull against.
When they tell me to follow the ways I was trained
tell me to obey the command and to heel
tell me it’s in my nature to follow
I sit back with my mouth wide and laughing,
tongue cool and eyes open,
and I do nothing but look them in the face as equal.

Push me further-
you will see me raise my lips and hackles-
not a milk-drowsy pup,
not a sleek and shining pet,
when I bite, I bite for blood.
This is cold reminder
that every dog is just one meal too few
and one beating too many
from becoming a wolf.

They will know this
and assume nothing more.


Festival Day 17: “Water Children,” From the Top, Writing with Prompts and Orion Reading

It was a busy Sunday at the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers!

Festival rep Judy Nardacci had this to say about the morning screening of the film “Water Children,” hosted by the Berkshire International Film Festival at the Triplex:

“An audience of forty attended the Sunday morning screening of the beautifully filmed and moving “Water Children” at The Triplex. We were taken, through music and the creation of a moving art project, into the lives of women and a natural event in their lives in a wholly unique, sometimes unsettling, and always mind-expanding way. Watching people move through Tomoko Mukaiyama’s “cathedral” composed of thousands of white silk dresses, we experienced with them the depth of emotion evoked by the project; and had an opportunity to think of “art” – and the women the artist invited to participate in it, in a new way. The artist and the director collaborated to create a quiet, deeply felt and captivating work of film-making. One audience member called it a “life-enhancing and probably life-changing film.” Most felt a “talkback” would have added depth to the experience.”

Festival rep Lorrin Krouss attended the “From the Top” writing workshop with Alison Lobron, and reported that on every evaluation form she received, “the comments were all excellent and each and every person that attended stated that they wished that the session was longer.  That  is indeed the height of compliments!”

Alison Lobron

At the well-attended Orion reading in the afternoon, writers Ginger Strand, Melissa Holbrook Pierson and Andrea Cohen read from their works, which all explored the intersection of nature and culture.

Hannah Fries


Andrea Cohen



Melissa Holbrook Pierson


Ginger Strand


Festival Day 16: Writing for Tweens, Moving Out of the Garrett and Radio2Women Talks

Saturday started off with a talk at the Stockbridge Library by author Lisa Greenwald on writing for the tween audience.

Lisa Greenwald

Teens Michelena Mastrianni and Emilee Logan enjoyed the presentation.



Later in the day, a power group of women took the stage at Bard College at Simon’s Rock for the kick-off of a new series, Radio2Women Talks, hosted by Serene Mastrianni.  The room was packed with about 100 people, to hear Evelyn Resh, Joanna Krotz, Sheila Keator and Diane Patrick share their perspectives on what it takes to be a woman of power, and what obstacles get in the way of achieving that goal.

First Lady of Massachusetts Diane Patrick and host Serene Mastrianni


Evelyn Resh

Joanna Krotz

Sheila Keator and Serene

Young women from the Rites of Passage program, organized by Shirley Edgerton, pose with the speakers








Festival Day 15: Half the Sky with WAM Theatre and Sisters for Peace

Kristen and Caroline introduce the evening

An engaged crowd of nearly 200 streamed into the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center tonight to see Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, presented by Kristen van Ginhoven ofWAM Theatre, Caroline Wheeler of Sisters For Peace. and the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers.

Following the screening, a spirited community conversation ensued with special guests Jeanet T. IngallsMaia Conty, Janis Broderick, Bryan Nurnberger and Ananda Timpane all of whom hit home the message that each of us can contribute to making the world safer and more promising for women and girls here in our own communities, as well as internationally.

L-R, Kristen Van Ginhoven, Bryan Nurnberger, Jeanet Ingalls, Janis Broderick, Ananda Timpane, Maia Conty

Hats off to Kristen and Caroline for putting together this fantastic Festival event, and

thanks to Beryl Jolly of the Mahaiwe and McTeigue & McClelland for making it possible.


Festival Day 14: Writing the Wild Heart

Workshop leader Jennifer Young

For hundreds of generations, our ancestors’ primary relationship was with the earth. They felt themselves part of an intricate community of life. Today, most of us live in towns, cities, and suburban neighborhoods.

We may no longer live in the wilderness, but it still lives within us, and connecting to that part of ourselves can be a powerful and healing process.

In this workshop, participants explored in writing and discussion a variety of landscapes: deserts, forests, oceans, rivers, and mountains, seeking to discover what these landscapes bring up for us, and how they can empower, inspire and support our lives.


Festival Day 13: WRites of Passage 2: Sex, Giving Birth and Motherhood

Workshop co-leader Elizabeth Young shared the following brief essay she wrote during the session, about writing with the women in the group:

“Why is it so comfortable with women?  Why can we talk together, strangers here, about the secrets we keep bottled inside? Remember Alice?  She finds the bottle, it says “Drink Me,” and she does, without fear.  In the world outside this room, would we drink something unknown, or would we be afraid of poison, of harm, of ever more abstract loss and destruction?

“This session feels like an Alice moment, when we’re fearless, ready to unbottle the secrets, to allow them out of the bottle and into the room.  There’s a bottle.  It’s small, thick blue glass with a wax seal holding the cork tight.  The label is attached with hemp string.  It’s linen paper, faded ivory.  The handwriting is curved and elegant.  It says, “Open Me.”

“This group is the liquid inside: each drop of female courage is what we, like Alice—and like Grace Slick, too—needs to drink.  One woman in the group starts it, uncovering loss, and we’re off, laughing as we encourage and daring ourselves to put the secrets into words.  I don’t remember what happens when Alice follows directions:  “Drink Me.”  She may become small first.  But I like Grace Slick’s version (sorry, Lewis Carroll, it’s a girl thing)— “Go ask Alice, when she’s ten feet tall.”

“And that’s what happens, isn’t it, when we drink the bottle of courage?  We get big, and brave, and strong.  The minute we share with each other, woman to woman to woman, and we feel with love and joy each other’s drops of courage, we become ten feet tall.  I’m struck by how rare this is, a coming together to solidify female bravery, which takes the form of words and serves the functions of unlocking, creating, building, connecting.

““Drink Me.”  That’s what we hear the minute we’re out of the womb: a woman saying, “Here, baby, Drink Me.””

Festival Rep Betsy McTiernan, who attended this session, wrote:

“An inspiring evening. The first prompt–write a letter to a body part–got us off to a provocative start.  Everyone wrote; everyone read, and judging from the laughter, everyone had a good time. Angela and Elizabeth created a warm, welcoming atmosphere, including some great snacks. I missed WRites of Passage #1, but I’ll be returning on the 20th for WRites of Passage #3.”


Festival Day 12: Stories from the Inside Out with Annabelle Coote

Festival Rep Lorrin Krouss reports that “Stories from the Inside Out” was wonderful!

Annabelle Coote

“It was a great space and Annabelle set the room up with some chairs and mats and pillows on the floor, along with hundreds of colorful pictures.  We started off with walking around the room to get acclimated wtih the space, then we did warm-up exercises (“brain dancing”), then more walking around the room to notice any differences in our observations.  After a pause for self-awareness, we each conducted a body scan to look for stories within ourselves and which part of our body helped us to find that story.  Then we wrote for a while, using the scattered pictures for stories or poems, followed by a wonderful time to draw – and a marvelously conducted sharing session.   Everyone went home with a new perspective on their own bodies and the stories we hold inside.  Annabelle is a very gifted instructor.”



Festival Day 11: Young Women Writers of Monument Mountain Regional High School

There was a full, appreciative crowd on hand at the Guthrie Center to hear some of the talented young women writers of Monument Mountain Regional High School share their work.  Here is the program of the event, and some photos of the speakers.

MMRHS English faculty Lisken Van Pelt Dus introduces the speakers








Festival Day 10: Sweet Dreams of Women’s Human Rights

We had a fantastic turn-out of over 100 people for an outstanding International Women’s Day Program, hosted by Ricky Bernstein and the Berkshire Human Rights Speaker series as part of theBerkshire Festival of Women Writers.

The film SWEET DREAMS was uplifting, inspiring and very real, and sparked a lively conversation with director Rob Fruchtman, which continued out in the lobby over a special Blue Marble Ice Cream social, sponsored byRubiner’s Cheesemongers & Grocers.

If you missed it and wished you were there, come to theSisters for Peace and WAM Theatre present: Screening: Half The Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide program next Friday at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, brought to you once again by the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers.


SWEET DREAMS Director Rob Fruchtman talks with Berkshire Dining For Women organizers Leslie Heilig and Linda Baxter


Ricky Bernstein scoops Blue Marble Ice Cream


Jan Hutchinson, Marion Jensen and Dolores Stein




Festival Day 9: Alison Larkin, Iris Bass, Sondra Zeidenstein & Millie Calesky

British-American comedienne Alison Larkin brought down the house in a special performance of her brilliant new one-woman show, Alison Larkin LIVE.  Alison asked that we not take any photos of the show, but we did snag a couple of her afterwards, as she signed her book, The English American, and chatted with the audience.
We at the Festival are so grateful to Alison for volunteering her time and amazing talent in a benefit show for the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers!  Brava Alison!


Earlier in the day, there were two lively workshops at the Mason Library in Great Barrington: Iris Bass on “Return to Little Women,” and Sondra Zeidenstein on “Women, Creativity and Aging.”

Festival Rep Judy Nardacci reports:

“Iris Bass led an enchanted audience to a new understanding of a favorite childhood book. Louisa May Alcott, like her character Jo, was a main support for her 19th century family. But Louisa was far from satisfied with the “ideal family” she created, and although she made a living from the series about the March girls and their families, she also wrote (under pseudonyms) the lurid gothic-style novels that would have surprised many of her young fans.

“Iris used her knowledge of the real history of the Alcott family under the leadership of its utterly impractical and even neglectful father, as well as her delightful sense of humor- and sometimes outrage- to explore both Louisa and the March family.Excerpts from Mark Adamo’s opera  of the same name expanded our understanding of the depth and poignancy of the March family’s lives and marriages; and gave us a new appreciation for a feminist writer who lived with her own set of challenges and disappointments.”

Judith Nardacci introduces Iris Bass

Festival rep Lorrin Krouss reported on Sondra Zeidenstein’s workshop in the afternoon, which had about 30 attendees.  “Sondra spoke a bit and then added some insight into her own life and  health issues and how all of this impacts her writing.  The guests sat in a circle and Sandra encouraged all to “share” where they are now at their current age and  where they are in their creative life.  It was interesting to listen to everyone’s stories especially those women who were 80+ —- very encouraging.”

Sondra Zeidenstein talks with a workshop participant

Millie Calesky had this report on her Festival workshop in Pittsfield:

“My workshop was well attended (25 + attendees) and, in my humble estimation — a great success.  Folks came from as far away as Kingston and Glens Falls NY, Bennington and North Adams. We were together for three hours and did some deep work together. I am honored to be a part of the festival, and look forward to participating next year!”

Festival Rep Judy Nardacci, who attended Millie’s workshop, described it this way:

Millie Calesky leads writing workshop“Millie Calesky truly brought out the “genie” in each person, in a workshop that drew a large (25+) and enthusiastic group from as far as Glens Falls and Kingston, NY; Bennington, VT; North Adams, and Canaan, CT on a sunny pre-spring afternoon. They gathered to hear about the process of journaling for the first time, to become reacquainted with an activity that had been missing from their lives recently, or to explore new ways of continuing a process that is part of every day but needing some fresh insight.

“Using written exercises and small group conversations, participants were invited to consider journaling to look at their own feelings, relationships with others, a way to stimulate creative writing, to think through and resolve problems, to bring completion and catharsis to troubling situations, or purely for enjoyment. As Milllie said in her summary, “we did some deep work together”. The comfortable and informal setting (upstairs at The Lichtenstein), the care and planning Millie had put into making the afternoon productive and flexible so that it met a range of expectations and needs, and the thoughtful inclusion of breaks, snacks and handouts made this workshop useful, relaxing and fun! It was a lovely and enlightening way to spend the afternoon.”

Suzi Banks Baum

Also, today Festival friend, host and supporter Suzi Banks Baum posted a great testimonial to the Festival today on her blog, Laundry Line Divine.   Check it out here.  Thanks Suzi, for all you’re doing to get the word out about the fabulous Festival we’ve got going on in the Berkshires this month!



Festival Day 8: Do You Want to Get Published and Before I Forget…Workshop

Despite a snowstorm just winding down, Carole Owens hosted a lively, informative and delightfully intimate discussion with Roberta Sillman and Edith Velmans, both writers, and Julia Lord, who runs a small literary agency.  Carole’s advice to fledgling writers was to begin by asking: who are you writing for, and what do you want to say? Her own answer was to write her book The Berkshire Cottages for “the woman with green spandex pants and bright red hair” who wanted to know “where the castles are?”

Julia worked at home, before picking her young children up at school. Roberta wrote stories and novels at home, with small children around. Edith created a memoir for her grandchildren; it was eighteen years in the making and published because of a chance conversation between her son-in-law and a friend who happened to be the chief editor at Viking!

The conversation ranged from book recommendations to the unlikely renewal of interest in historical figures and events because of recent film releases (Argo and Lincoln) to how to select an agent, the importance of having a strong voice and a good team to work with; and the interest now in new voices, especially those of women.

The Stockbridge Library’s reading room provided a comfortable and welcoming place for an engaged audience and four open, warm and funny women who clearly love their work and are generous about sharing their passion and knowledge!


 Later in the day, Sally-Jane Heit reprised some favorite scenes from her one-woman musical memoir, “Before I Forget…” and dialogued with the audience about the process of writing memoir.

Sally-Jane Heit

Sally-Jane talks with members of the audience


Festival Day 7: Julia Cameron LIVE at Kripalu

Julia Cameron

One thing I learned from Julia Cameron’s Festival presentation at Kripalu on March 7 is that she was once married to the director Martin Scorsese, and helped him write the screenplay for TAXI DRIVER!

Cameron shared the outlines of her early life, showing over and over how her audacity and refusal to be discouraged served her creative muse and helped her become the celebrated and successful writer she is today.

Like Socrates, who always said that he followed his “daemon” or inner voice when it came to decision-making, Cameron said that at crucial moments in her life, she heard a voice giving her direction on what to do next.

It was in response to a “voice” she heard while rambling in the West Village of New York City that she began to teach back in the 1980s, and her teaching led to her phenomenal best-seller, The Artist’s Way, which has sold millions of copies and has, in her words, paid the bills so that she could write what she wanted.

“If we exercise our creativity,” she said, “there is a force that comes to support us.”  The question becomes, how do we tune out, ignore or respond to our inner censor (Cameron calls hers “Nigel”), in order to allow the creative juices to run uninhibited?

Julia Cameron still swears by the practice that she outlined in The Artist’s Way, the faithful writing of three “morning pages” a day.  “The morning pages are a greased slide to autonomy,” she said with absolute conviction.

In the morning pages, we can learn to respond to our own “Nigels” with equanimity.  “When Nigel attacks, I just say, ‘Thank you for sharing,’ and I move on,” she said imperturbably.  “The truth is that the more original the work you’re exploring, the more vicious the attacks will be.  But those vicious attacks are actually telling you that you’re heading in the right direction.”

Cameron emphasized that creative people need to find “believing mirrors,” people who will “reflect back to you your genuine possibilities as an artist. Optimistic, enthusiastic, and generous, such people are friends to our work. They bring us courage to go forward,” as she said in a recent interview.

It is essential, Cameron says, to have what she calls a “creative cluster” of kindred spirits to encourage and stimulate each other to overcomes obstacles and do the creative work we were born to do.

Creative clusters,” she says, “where we gather as peers to develop our strength, are best regarded as tribal gatherings, where creative beings raise, celebrate, and actualize the creative power which runs through us all.”

Cameron calls this a “Sacred Circle,” which allows us to “midwife dreams for one another.  We cannot labor in place of one another, but we can support the labor that each must undertake to birth his or her art and foster it to maturity,” she says.

This is exactly the spirit we are trying to create with the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers this month.

It was quite an honor to welcome Julia Cameron into our Sacred Circle of women artists here at the Berkshires.

With any luck (and a little help from Kripalu!) she will return often to bring us the inspiration, wisdom and encouragement we need to sidestep our own “Nigels” and unleash our full creative powers.


Festival Day Six: Coming to America and WRites of Passage

Angela Vuagniaux, Anni Crofut and Suzi Fowle were the perfect guides for an intense, inspiring writing journey into the memories of first menstruation.   How can we shed memories of not being sufficiently celebrated, and write our way into a new honoring of this crucial rite of passage in a young girl’s life?

At the WRites of Passage workshop


L-R, Anni Crofut, Angela Vuagniaux and Suzi Fowle




Coming to America

Two of the women married men they barely knew (one had stepchildren who still kept a shrine to their deceased mother, and resented this stranger in their home). One woman taught history at a college in Beijing, but fled because of the repressive government. Several, college graduates, had difficulty finding meaningful work in the United States. All six struggled to find work, friends, and ways to connect in unfamiliar surroundings and in a language and culture as foreign as the landscape.

That was the background for the “Coming to America” event at Williams College on Wednesday, facilitated by the Berkshire Immigrant Center in Pittsfield where the women find support and guidance, and with mentoring by Elizabeth Kaidah, a junior at Williams. Hearing stories told by such strong, resourceful, resilient and yet at times very vulnerable and isolated women, gave the audience a deeper appreciation of what is needed to survive and make a full and meaningful life here.

Students, friends, teachers, supporters, husbands and children, and many others filled the hall to cheer them on- and sample homemade cookies, salsa and other snacks. These images, by photographer Marcela Villada Peacock, will give a sense of this joyous occasion.  Everyone is already looking forward to next year’s event!

(More precise captions to come)

Yuko Takaya with friends

Two of the presenters

Greta Phinney (English teacher, center) and presenter Youlin Shi (right) with a friend

A presenter with Marcela Villada Peacock



All the presenters receive gifts and applause

Presenter Liliana Sills


Marjorie Cohan and Hilary Greene from the Immigrant Center, with Marcela Villada Peacock, presenter



Festival Day Five: Cuatro Mujeres, Cuatro Generos & Writing Your Power, Passion & Play

Professor Holly Brown of Simon’s Rock, along with student presenters Paola Garcia, Melissa Sherman-Bennett and Abby Smith, led a spirited workshop highlighting lesser known 20th century Latin American women writers Gabriela Mistral (who should be better known as she won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1945!), Clarice Lispector and Maria Teresa Solari, as well as Mexican artist Frida Kahlo.  The event was interactive and lively, including short writing exercises, readings and small group discussions. The audience came away with new knowledge and some new ideas about how to approach unfamiliar texts.

Holly Brown


Abby Smith presenting


Paola Garcia presenting


Mary Campbell Case led a group of about 30 Festival attendees in her own infectious brand of “writing, passion, power and play.”  She waxed enthusiastic about her workshop the next morning:

“BIG BRAG!! 30 great women sat around me tonight as I led us in deep, crazy, and even loud body-heart-soul meditations to access and then journal our Inner Wisdom for the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers. I called it Writing Power Passion and Play: Letting Your Soul Have Its Way With You!!!

“And best if all, I was improvising THE WHOLE TIME!! Two years ago when I began teaching my work I was panic stricken, notes in hand, in front of 8 women. Tonight it was FUN! Great ideas popped thru and I just kept saying YES! Yippee for this one glorious life!!!”

This is what our Festival is all about: giving women the courage and confidence to claim their own unique voices, put their ideas into words on paper and in speech, and share them with supportive, stimulating audiences.  YIPPEE indeed!

Mary Campbell Case leads her workshop


Festival Day Four: Fleeting Reality

Lynnette Lucy Najimy and Marie-Elizabeth Mali explored the ways in which photography and writing could intertwine.

Marie-Elizabeth shared her gorgeous underwater photographs and film clips from recent scuba trips in Indonesia, and read powerful, poignant and often funny poetry, giving the endangered creatures of the tropical reefs a voice, and using them as avenues into a moving exploration of her own life and place in the world.

Lynnette showed photographs she had taken at the decaying Great Barrington Fairgrounds, and read a personal narrative that moved gradually off the perimeter and into the heart of the Fairgrounds proper, and into the heart of her own unfolding life story.

At the end of her presentation, she introduced Janet and Bart Elsbach, who recently purchased the Fairgrounds with the intention of turning it into an outdoor community center dedicated to education, sustainable agriculture, local economies and recreation.

A lively discussion with the audience ensued, with questions for both Marie-Elizabeth and Lynnette, as well as Janet and Bart.

Marie-Elizabeth and Lynnette will be continuing to develop these projects–we’ll bring them back to share more in future Festivals for sure!

Lynnette with Bart and Janet Elsbach


Marie-Elizabeth Mali



Festival Day Three: Women Writers & Editors on their Craft & their Business; Women tell new stories of the ecology and economy of hope

Festival Rep Judy Nardacci describes the Berkshire Magazine panel:

“Berkshire Magazine’s event was praised in the evaluations for the diverse points of view, the realistic insights into the world of writers trying to survive in a changing and challenging time, and the honesty of the panel. Only one of the six said she is able – barely, at times- to earn a living from writing alone.

“Others have a variety of part-time work from editing to public relations work. Some value being able to work from home, and others need to flee from the phone calls and demands of running a household to find a quiet space to write. They found working with an editor variously helpful, frustrating, collaborative, or crushing. They all – no matter what the personal difficulties are that they each encounter – gave us the sense that writing is as much a part of themselves as breathing. We came away from the morning much more appreciative of both the obstacles and the craft that are part of their lives.”

Berkshire Magazine Editor Anastasia Stanmeyer and Ellen Lahr

Later in the day, The American Institute of Economic Research hosted a panel of women whose work is moving to change the dominant paradigms of humans’ relationship with both the environment and the economy.

L-R, Phyllis Webb, Judith Schwartz and Billie Best


Please send your thoughts about these events to, we’ll be happy to post them on the blog!


Day Two of Festival–More than 100 turn out for Mason Library Events

This just in from Festival Rep Lorrin Krouss:

Mary Kate Jordan


“Today was amazing!  There were over 30 women at Mary Kate Jordan’s “Sedna” event – she is an incredible story teller.”

Mary Kate sent us a note later in the day, sharing her perspective on her panel:
“I spent much of the rest of the day basking in the afterglow of the morning. The women and men who co-created the tribal circle with me were profoundly present: open, vulnerable, and solid. No easy task, that. I honor the heart and integrity each one brought to the event. They wanted to know why Sedna matters to us; they cared.”The Inuit myth of Sedna speaks profoundly to me of the capacity to hold hope and (Lorrin’s word here) courage in the face of seemingly insurmountable circumstances: personal, cultural, even geographical. The way we hear her story, and the way her story plays in us as we listen, challenges easy, habitual, comfortable thinking about our own stories, and our own writing.
“Sedna’s story became available to those of us outside Inuit culture with the announcement in early 2004 of the discovery of a new planetary body in our solar system which now carries her name. In the version I present of this archetypal tale of the Primal Mother, Sedna invites each of us to claim a place as one ofher children, and then challenges her children with opportunities for radical trust: What if there’s actually a gift in whatever is, no matter what the packaging seems to predict?
“Thanks so much for the opportunity to share Sedna’s story with women and men of such good heart.  Long live the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers!”
Thank YOU, Mary Kate, for sharing this important message with us here in the Berkshires!
Lorrin Krouss went to both Mason Library panels, and she reports:

Sonia Pilcer

“At the “Women of a Certain Age” event there were over 75 people!!! Sonia Pilcer mentioned to me that next year, she would like a bigger space!  The women who read from their stories or their poetry were excellent and the crowd went wild after each one spoke.  It was a fascinating and diverse group.”

 Festival Rep Pauline Dongala was also there, and she wrote:

“This afternoon’s program was standing-room-only. I cannot find words to describe how good all the women writers were. I was proud of all of them. We have talented women around here and it takes a festival like this to bring them out. I am still flowing with joy.”


Barbara Slate also drew a great crowd at The Bookstore in Lenox, where she talked about her latest graphic novel, Getting Married and Other Mistakes, and the art and craft of the graphic novelist.  Here are some photos from her event, contributed by Richard Minsky.

This is how Festival Rep Judy Nardacci described it:

“Barbara Slate was fabulous! She had the audience right with her, from her first words, and Matt (Tannenbaum, owner of The Bookstore) said he hadn’t heard so much laughter in a long time. Barbara read from a tall stack of her comics- and even a sheaf of rejection letters. She took us on a tour of her evolution as a feminist graphic artist, starting with her line of “Ms. Liz” greeting cards in the early days. Women picked them up, read them, laughed – and then they “put them back and picked out a Hallmark card”. The world wasn’t ready yet for her pointed, acerbic wit.

“Besides Archie and Beauty and the Beast, she even drew Barbie comics (“with a breast reduction”, she said). It was fun to see the range of her work, and her colorful, very individual style as both artist and person.

“She expressed her disappointment that her overtures to schools and libraries haven’t been more successful, so one woman promptly suggested she do a workshop on “Graphic Art for Adults” right here at The Bookstore. She already has seven people enrolled!”

Barbara Slate


Let the joy flow on at the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers!

Please send us your impressions and responses to the Festival events you attend, as well as any photographs you’d like to share with us, and we’ll be happy to post them here on our blog.

Let’s keep the Festival spirit burning brightly in these gloomy last days of winter!

Women of A Certain Age panel, 3-2-13. L-R: Ellen Meeropol, Barbara Janoff, Lee Schwartz, Susie Kaufman, Alyson Dineen and Sonia Pilcer.


Out of the Mouths of Babes Festival Kick-off a Great Success!

cover art by Suzi Banks Baum. graphic design by Rose Tannenbaum.

Out of the Mouths of Babes: An Evening of Mothers Reading to Others opened the Festival with over 115 people crowded into Dewey Hall in Sheffield. The evening also served as the launch party of An Anthology of Babes: 36 Women Give Motherhood a Voice edited by Suzi Banks Baum.

The program featured readings by book contributors Alana Chernila, Janet Reich Elsbach, Nichole Dupont, Jenny Laird, Michelle Gillett, and Suzi herself, as well as a story-in-song by Stephanie Campbell. Psychologist, author and Williams College professor Susan Engel served as a respondent, and the Q&A with the audience afterwards was lively and engaged. Among the audience were contributors to the anthology Hester Velmans and Linda Jackson of Berkshire County, Sharon Pywell of Newtown, MA and Sou McMillan of Wooster, MA. The audience enjoyed rice pudding and tea along with art by Anthology contributors Gabrielle Senza, Karen Arp-Sandel, Christine Casarsa and Jennifer Currie. More art was shared by Laurie May, Rose Tannenbaum and Sarah Nicholson.

For a complete view of the March 1 event go to Laundry Line Divine. And if you’d like your own copy of
An Anthology of Babes: 36 Women Give Motherhood a Voice, you can order it here. Proceeds from book sales benefit Volunteers in Medicine Berkshires and the Community Health Programs offering women in Berkshire County free and low-cost health care.

We’d love to hear your response to the event. Please post your thoughts in the comment section here or on Laundry Line Divine. Here is what Festival attendee Jennifer Clark said:

Thank you from the bottom of our many hearts for your work in developing community and the gifts we have among us.


Festival LETTERPRESS Workshop a great success!

Read all about it on Melanie Mowinski’s blog, and see below for some great pictures of the process, taken by Suzi Banks Baum of Laundry Line Divine, who hosted the Mothering & Creativity Festival session at the beginning of March, and is one of our most active Festival supporters.

The process is extraordinary, as is the finished artwork that participants were able to create in just one six-hour workshop!!






















Orion poets provide a Festival send-off into National Poetry Month

Poets, from left: Elizabeth Bradfield, Cecily Parks, Amy Dryansky, Hannah Fries, Jessica Greenbaum. Photo credit: Lee Rogers

Orion’s poetry reading on a chilly, damp April 1 was a warm closing for the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers–and a great local kickoff for National Poetry Month.
Each poet read pieces that have appeared in Orion magazine, along with a selection of other work.  A spirit of reverence for the living world resonated through all of their readings, marked by the kind of gracious attentiveness that likely brought these poets to Orion’s pages in the first place, and which is such a gift to those who read and hear them.  We are grateful they traveled from eastern Massachusetts and New York to be with us!
If you haven’t gotten enough poetry yet this month, you’ll be glad to hear of another festival–the Massachusetts Poetry Festival–happening April 20-22 in Salem, MA.  Check out their website and get a taste of the exciting events they have planned.

Gala Festival Finale at the Mount A Heartwarming Success!

It was a capacity crowd in Edith Wharton’s elegant drawing room at the Mount for the reading by the three winners of the BFWW Essay Contest on Femininity, sponsored by Michelle Gillett and Nina Ryan, and judged by Alison Larkin.

Audience assembled at the Mount for the Gala Festival Finale

Nina Ryan and Michelle Gillett, who have shepherded many budding Berkshire writers to successful publication with their writing workshops, editing and agenting skills, opened the proceedings with many thanks to the 50 women who submitted their essays to the contest.

Nina Ryan

Michelle Gillett












Alison Larkin warmed up the audience with a marvelous comedic performance based on her autobiographical novel The English American, which has just been published as an audio book, and is on its way to becoming a major motion picture.  Alison had the audience laughing and sharing along with the joys and challenges of her experience as a creative young woman in an adoptive family that didn’t quite know what to make of her talents.

Alison Larkin

Then it was the turn of the prizewinners.

First up was Suzi Fowle, whose moving essay told of how her daughter’s impending rendezvous with menarche brought up all kinds of memories of her own first period, as well as resolutions to do more to nurture her daughter through this important life transition.

Suzanne Fowle

Sheela Clary read a piece about her experience as a Peace Corps volunteer in Papua New Guinea, and how she spent a terrifying night convinced she was about to be raped…only to learn later that her host “Papa” had been standing guard by her door the whole night to protect her.

Sheela Clary

Both Suzi and Sheela choked up as they read, and there were many tears in the audience as well, as their honesty and willingness to reveal their own struggles was deeply appreciated by their listeners.

Hilda Banks Shapiro

Hilda Banks Shapiro, the first prize winner, read an essay that looked back over a lifetime of strength and courage; focusing on how, as a young mother of 12, she used her intuitive grit and courage as a woman to find her own voice, and to make it on her own as a single mom after her husband walked out on the family, leaving them with a dairy farm that only managed to lose money.  Again, not a dry eye in the house as Hilda finished her story!

The presentation ended with a few remarks by yours truly, Festival founding director Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez. I was surprised and moved when members of the organizing committee, Alice Myers and Judy Nardacci, presented me with flowers and a spoken tribute, and I went on to express how much I have appreciated all the support and enthusiasm that the Festival has generated in all the hosts, organizers and participants, as well as the audiences that have turned out in such droves. It is truly inspiring and energizing to see how much talent is hiding away in these Berkshire hills, and I am already looking forward to more occasions to bring us together to share our gifts and voices, and in so doing, change the world.

Here are some great photos of the Gala Reception that followed the reading, taken by Suzi Banks Baum, Artist Mom extraordinaire, of Laundry Line Divine fame.

Sonia Pilcer, Hester Velmans and Jana Laiz


Essay Contest and Gala Finale hosts Nina Ryan and Michelle Gillett


Hester Velmans and Festival director Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez


Essay contest judge and host Alison Larkin, holding a copy of the new audiobook edition of her bestselling novel The English American

Guests Mary and Lila Berle


We hope the Festival will brighten the front door of the Mount in March for many years to come







Self-publishing panel draws a big crowd

The Stockbridge Library hosted a capacity crowd on Friday night for the panel on self-publishing organized by Carole Owens, with Hester Velmans, Jana Laiz and Melissa Batalin.

From left, Melissa Batalin, Carole Owens, Hester Velmans and Jana Laiz

Each author had her own take on the relative merits of self-publishing, as opposed to trying the more traditional big publishing route, but all thought it was a very worthwhile avenue to explore.

Melissa Batalins, who runs Troy Bookmakers, shared a wealth of information about how to make your dream book a reality.

Jana Laiz, who runs her own imprint, Crow Flies Press, shared her war stories of being a DIY publisher and author, but she glowed when sharing the fruits of her labor.  Her success stories include Weeping Under This Same Moon and Twelfth Stone.

Hester Velmans talked about her two books for young readers, the first of which gained such a following that they positively demanded that a series follow–and it has!

And Carole Owens shared her stories of being published by big publishing companies, which she said, included enough difficult experiences that she was quite open to considering the possibility of other avenues.

The audience was filled with questions and comments, making for a lively discussion until the library closed its doors at 8 pm.

Audience in the Stockbridge Library






This Woman’s Work Offers Diverse Bounty

Made in the Berkshires co-curators Hilary Somers Deely and Barbara Sims hosted a benefit performance entitled “This Woman’s Work,” featuring Berkshire women writers reading their own work, staged readings of new works by local women playwrights, and songs by singer-songwriter Lisa Mandeville.

A full house at the Unicorn Theater for This Woman's Work

Mary Mott started off the evening, reading her funny, poignant short stories.

Mary Mott

Berkshire Theater Group Executive Director Kate Maguire and Barbara Sims joined forces in a staged reading of “Adjustments: A Gentle Comedy for Cynical Times,” by Gloria Miller and Ilene Tetenbaum.

Kate Maguire and Barbara Sims (seated)

“After Prom,” a play by Jane Denitz Smith, was given a lively staged reading by Lauren Stanek, Cody Miller and Hilary Somers Deely.

Condy Miller (seated), Lauren Stanek, Hilary Somers Deely

Stockbridge artist Susan Merrill read one of her short stories, which one audience member compared in content and delivery to the deadpan humor of Andy Rooney.

Susan Merrill

A staged reading of the screenplay “Lovesick,” by Maria Nation, about a girl whose early sexual abuse leads her to become a nymphomaniac, had the audience spellbound.  Cast members were Rudi Bach, Corinna May, Emma Dweck, Cody Miller, Walton Wilson and Hilary Somers Deely.

Staged reading of "Lovesick"

Cody Miller in Lovesick

Lovesick cast

Lisa Mandeville, backed by her husband Fran Mandeville, delighted the audience with several original songs.

Lisa and Fran Mandeville

The evening ended with a lively talkback between the writers and the audience.

This Woman's Work writers' panel with co-curators Barbara Sims and Hilary Somers Deely, standing

The evening, which ended with dessert, prosecco and general good cheer, gave the audience a tantalizing taste of what is to come in next year’s Made in the Berkshires Festival, slated for Columbus Day Weekend, 2012.











Heroic Girlz A Hit!

Educator/filmmaker duo Cindy Parrish and Meg Agnew screened their film HEROIC GIRLZ at Simon’s Rock as part of this year’s Festival of Women Writers.  The film, starring four 11-year-old girls including Cindy’s daughter Emma Parrish Post, invites viewers to imagine the early lives of famous historical women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Amelia Earhart.

Meg Agnew (left) and Cindy Parrish

After the screening, Meg and Cindy led the audience in several writing exercises designed to stimulate the imagination and help writers tap back into the feistiness of their pre-adolescent selves.  A lively time was had by all!

Cindy Parrish



Bard College Faculty Read in the Festival

Bard writing and literature faculty members Celia Bland and Susan Fox Rogers came over to Simon’s Rock to read their work as part of this year’s Festival.

Celia Bland

Celia Bland read powerful poetry about her ancestry and family legacies that persist into the present.

Susan Fox Rogers read from her new memoir, My Reach, which combines environmental and nature writing about her kayaking experiences on the Hudson River, with the narrative of her parents’ deaths and her grieving process.

Susan Fox Rogers

Both writers held the audience’s rapt attention, and engaged in lively discussion afterwards.



Folktales presentation at The Bookstore in Lenox draws a crowd

It was standing room only at the Bookstore on March 25 for the presentation of folktales from three different cultures: Greek, Hungarian and the Appalachian Mountains.

Vera Kalm

Vera Kalm read a funny, poignant story from her own translation of a famous Hungarian woman folk storyteller.

Judy Nardacci reading Zoe Dalheim's Greek folktale

Judy Nardacci stood in for Zoe Dalheim, who was home nursing a cold, reading a marvelous folktale in the Greek tradition, written by Zoe.

Dolores Burch

Dolores Burch delighted the audience with her rendition of a traditional “Jack” tale from the American Appalachians.

The event concluded with a lively reception featuring homemade goodies and wine from host Matt Tannenbaum’s Get Lit wine bar.





Inspiring social justice for International Women’s Day

The BFWW celebration of International Women’s Day on March 18 took the form of a daylong film festival with the theme “Human Rights, Activism and the Arts.”

In the morning, the Berkshire International Film Festival sponsored the screening of SARABAH, the inspiring story of Sista Fa, a Senegalese rap star who rose from a difficult, impoverished childhood to overcome gender discrimination and become the outstanding performer she was meant to be–and then used her talent and charisma to lend support to the Tostan campaign to end female genital cutting in Senegal.

In the afternoon, Pamela Yates was on hand at Bard College at Simon’s Rock to screen and discuss her new film GRANITO: HOW TO NAIL A DICTATOR, produced by Paco de Onis with Skylight Productions.

Pamela was introduced by program co-sponsor Ricky Bernstein, director of the Berkshire Human Rights Speaker Series, as well as Eleanore Velez of Berkshire Community College.

Ricky Bernstein


Eleanore Velez

After the screening of the gripping, powerful film, Pamela Yates took the stage to answer questions from the audience.

Pamela Yates

Pamela’s personal story of bringing her “granito,” her little grain of sand, persistently to bear on the human rights atrocities in Guatemala was very inspiring for the audience to hear.  GRANITO tells the story of how Pamela’s early work as a filmmaker in Guatemala during the genocide years of the late 1970s and early 1980s bore unexpected fruit when her footage was used as evidence in an attempt to extradite a general to Spain to stand trial for genocide.

The story has a positive ending, too, as this general, Rios Montt, who for years continued to act with unapologetic impunity, has recently been ordered to stand trial in Guatemala for crimes against humanity.

The appreciative audience gave Yates a standing ovation for her work on the film, and left the hall feeling inspired  to look for occasions to add their own “granitos” to the on-going, worldwide struggles for social justice.

Listening to Pamela Yates speak at the McConnell Theater, Bard College at Simon's Rock


Danke Li’s Fascinating Oral Histories of Chinese Women

Danke Li

Danke Li, Professor of East Asian Studies at Fairfield University, mesmerized her audience with her film and stories of the struggles of ordinary Chinese women during the Chinese war with Japan.  Millions of Chinese retreated to the city of Chongqing during the war years, severely straining food supplies and living quarters.  Chinese women were the backbone of families’ survival, Professor Li argued, keeping the home fires burning despite terrible loss and privation as the Japanese relentlessly bombed the city.

A presentation that brought to the Berkshires the voices of Chinese women whose stories have never before been told–and without the efforts of Professor Li and her students, might have been lost forever, since the women celebrated in the film and book are now reaching the end of their lives.



Gastronomica/Orion event a big success!

Friday night’s event cohosted by Orion and Gastronomica magazines (and held at Williams College Museum of Art) offered a rich array of poetry, prose, and reflection for the hundred people gathered there to listen.

Ruth Reichl speaks beneath a projection of the Walker Evans photograph, "Kitchen Wall, Alabama Farmstead, 1936."

Celebrated writers Francine Prose,  Ellen Dore Watson, Elizabeth Graver, Patty Crane, and Ruth Reichl each read pieces inspired by the same photograph by Walker Evans–some more historical, some personal, some associative and collagelike–and spoke about their creative process.

Ellen Dore Watson speaks. Behind her, left to right: Elizabeth Graver, Ruth Reichl, Patty Crane, Francine Prose.


Simon’s Rock student responds to MISSREPRESENTATION screening

A young man’s response to the Festival screening of MISSREPRESENTATION on March 14 at Simon’s Rock:

“I really enjoyed the documentary, much more than I was expecting. I thought it made a strong case for the significance of the issue [that women's demeaning presentation in the media goes hand in hand with their lack of representation in politics and other leadership positions] and did an excellent job presenting the evidence with real-world examples, leaving little room to question whether this prejudice was truly happening. I think the film is incredibly persuasive of the fact that there is a problem, perfect for those that question this claim due to a lack of personal experience (as I did before coming to SRC).
“I’m convinced that I will never look at women’s depiction in the media the same way.
“I’ve been telling lots of people (other students, my parents, Facebook) about the documentary and many are very interested to see it themselves. So I hope you still plan to show it again! I would come see it again.
“And when telling others about the film, I repeated what one of the hosts had said that HuffPo had rated it #3 on their 50 Best Things to Happen to Women in 2011. Some students questioned me about this, so I looked the list up for myself and discovered the film was actually #2, outrated only by the three women who shared last year’s Nobel Peace Prize! In case you haven’t gone through the list, I highly recommend it. I found it incredibly inspiring.
“I think the general Simon’s Rock community would love the film, and if I had a daughter or sister I would insist that they see it themselves in order to recognize the poison being shoved at them merely to sell more junk.
“The single point I wish it had covered was how this issue is important for everybody. At some point one of the speakers said something like “this system hurts everyone, but it is especially rough on women”. I wish they had elaborated on this a bit more. And the obvious way in which society as a whole is damaged when half of the population is being dangerously oppressed and everyone is brainwashed into unrealistic standards. Sure, the male population might have more control right now, but wouldn’t a harmonious society be in everyone’s benefit?”
–David Ernst

Hannah Fries reads poetry of the unsung women heroines in the Bible and mythology

Hannah Fries reading at the Women's Interfaith Institute

Poetry editor and associate editor Hannah Fries of Orion Magazine delighted her listeners last night with a series of poems about women like Noah’s wife, or the Oracle at Delphi, who have come down to us through history and myth as unnamed traces of women who lived, loved and left their mark.

In Hannah’s imagination, such women have been like spring bulbs planted beneath rocks, trying courageously but often fruitlessly to push their way up into the light.

Through her clear, powerful poetry, they found their way into the sunshine, and brought all of us with them.

If you’d like to read Hannah’s poem “Pygmalion’s Girl,” you can find it here at Mead Magazine.


Festival Mystery Authors Seek Submissions for Anthology & Contest


Leslie Wheeler and Barbara Ross at the Bushnell-Sage Library

Leslie Wheeler, host of the session “Death in Shorts: Women Writing the Mystery Short Story,” has this to say about her presentation last week at the Bushnell-Sage Library in Sheffield:

“My co-presenter, Barbara Ross and I had a great time!  We were honored to have our event be one of the 40 put on by the Festival.

“We were impressed by the high level of enthusiasm and talent demonstrated by the 30-some people who attended the event.  During the two ten-minute periods we gave them to write first lines of stories, then opening paragraphs, the room was quiet as they scribbled furiously away.  It was filled with oh’s and ah’s as they read their lines and paragraphs.  There was also plenty of laughter at how wickedly clever many of the lines and paragraphs were.

“Barbara Ross and I hope we receive lots of submissions from workshop participants  to both Blood Moon, the forthcoming anthology of short crime fiction by New England authors that we co-edit, and also to the Al Blanchard Award Contest, which I chair.

“We handed out submissions guidelines for the anthology and the contest at the event, and we encourage Berkshire women writers to submit. The guidelines for the anthology can be found at; for the contest, at”





Looking forward to Brave Words and Powerful Images on Sunday 3/11

Madonna a Pelican, from MADONNA COMIX, by Celia Bland and Dianne Kornberg

Celia Bland, author of the intriguing multimedia poetry volume Madonna Comix, which features stunning graphic art by Dianne Kornberg, will be the host of Sunday’s BFWW reading “Annunciation,” with Sarah Towers and Harriet Brown, two accomplished writers whose work in a variety of genres includes pieces in The New York Times Magazine, O Magazine, Glamour, and many other publications.

Anyone who has been touched by the deeply destructive world of eating disorders will be especially interested in this program, since Ms. Brown will be reading from her new memoir, Brave Girl Eating: A Family’s Struggle with Anorexia.

2 p.m., Blodgett House, Bard College at Simon’s Rock.

Free and open to the public.




A father’s response to “Out of the Mouths of Babes”

A good story is a golden pathway.  It takes you places you would likely never go on your own.  It lets you pull on another’s skin and walk around in it for awhile, breathe life in with it, see the world through a different gamut of colors.

Good stories touch the deepest, hidden chambers of your heart, those secret places you forgot you still lived in, and they make you want to occupy those places again, and more fully.

Sitting in the audience the other night at the Out of the Mouths of Babes reading at Simon’s Rock took me and my wife Tomma on some amazing journeys into those neglected pockets of love, loss, hope and pain, discovery, redemption: the evening was absolutely and completely compelling, beautiful and inspirational!

I heard the echoes of my own conscious, deliberate, joy/pain-full fatherhood of raising my two wonderful girls, in the brave, touching, funny, authentic pieces read by the authors.  I felt again my own womanly/manly love for my children that burned so fiercely in those years and which has never left me.
It made me want to be more brave in my own writing.  This is the courage of women, the true courage all of us can rise to: the courage to be our full and authentic selves, and I admired it so in every phrase, every turn of the stories the women read to us.

The readings and the many bright, engaged faces there also brought me back to a sense I have had for much of my adult life that the company of women can so easily be an inspiring, exciting, ultimately transformative place to go, no matter what our sex.  It brought smiles, tears and a return to a sense of creative home that I’ve been missing for so long, and renewed my appetite for more.

I love the feminine heart and energy!  We need it so.  It may yet save our human world, one soul at a time.  Thank you!

–James Lawrence

‘Out of the Mouths of Babes’ drawing announced on Laundry Line Divine!

Dr. Jenny Browdy de Hernandez at 'Out of the Mouths of Babes'

Here are a few highlights from Friday March 2 ‘Out of the Mouths of Babes: An Evening of Mothers Reading to Others’.
I am posting favorite frames of the evening on my website Laundry Line Divine.

Stop over there to hear news, read highlights of the event and learn about the winners of the drawings I am holding there this month.

Win books by authors featured here at the BFWW like:





Alana Chernila









Gina Hyams













all photographs of 'Out' by Christina Lahr Lane


Thank you for all your support of this and all the BFWW events.
I am posting highlights on Twitter @laundrylinediv using #outofthemouthsofbabesevents and #BerkWomenWrite. Join me on Twitter.

With love,
Suzi Banks Baum


Ramsdell Library Poetry Reading a Winner

Tonight at the Ramsdell Library in Housatonic, five poets took the stage to share their lyrical observations, memories, dreams and desires.

It was a beautiful series of presentations, moving from images of grieving daughters at a mother’s bedside, to solitary hikes up familiar Berkshire landscapes, to far-flung ports of call.

Jan Hutchinson shared poems about her alter ego, Grace, who always seemed to come at the right moment to offer words of wisdom or advice.

Jan Hutchinson


A lovely line from Jan’s work: “Moods are the inner life’s unpredictable weather.”  Later the narrator continues, “Moods are a lot like chickens.  We have to herd them out the front door.”

Susan Melot wrote about scenes from her daily life in New York and Becket, MA, where she and her husband have a home.  Her poem “Manhattan Corpus” brought the city to life in a series of metaphors, comparing the metropolis to a living body.

Susan Melot

Tammis Coffin and Christine Ward both read poetry inspired by their lives in the great outdoors.  Christine wrote about climbing Monument Mountain, which she often does, and confessed wryly that “Sometimes a trail can be a trial…but perhaps it is the trial that makes the trail worthwhile.”

Tammis Coffin

Tammis shared a poem about a paddling trip into the wilderness of Newfoundland, where her “paddles dripped starlight in the August night” and she watched the Perseids meteor shower reflected in the still salt water of the sea.

Christine Ward

Claudette Webster, one of the coordinators of the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers and a poet herself, shared several poems that dipped into different emotionally charged moments of her life, keeping the audience spellbound.

Claudette Webster

Another great Festival night was had by all!

Writing as a path to positive transformation

Maria Sirois in action

On Day 4 of the Festival, Maria Sirois offered a writing workshop, “Happiness: Writing as a Path to Positive Transformation.”  Having seen Maria in action before, I knew she would be giving us something very special, and I was not disappointed.

She led us in a series of writing prompts that asked us to think about what our own personal sources of happiness have been.

She shared a great lesson: that pleasure plus meaning equals happiness.

And she reminded us to always “lean towards the light” in our creative endeavors, rather than dwelling on what upsets us.

The two hours of Maria’s workshop passed all too quickly, leaving me hungry for more of her wisdom.  Fortunately, she is working on a new book that will share her talents and knowledge much more widely in the world!

Maria left us with a few parting gems of thought.  The one I found the most powerful is this: Have faith that who you are matters to the world right now.

Write out of that faith.


More of my reflections on Maria’s workshop are posted on Transition Times.

—Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez



Another Chapter from Sonia Pilcer’s The Last Hotel: A Novel in Suites

If you came to last Saturday’s “Women of a Certain Age” panel, it may be that like me, you just can’t get the sound of Sonia’s marvelous characters Pincus and Faye out of your mind.

Well, here comes a treat!

Sonia has graciously shared with us another chapter from her novel-in-progress, The Last Hotel, about the residents of a residential hotel on the Upper West Side.  This is the chapter about that marvelous, mouth-watering brisket that brings the two lonely-hearts together.



Suite 32

(c.) Sonia Pilcer, 2012

Once a week, Henry slipped rent envelopes under residents’ doors.  Saul  collected on Fridays.  Standing behind the top-half of the closed door of his ancient office, a tiny cubicle with black cubbyholes for mail, a cracked peg board with keys and an extinct switchboard, he studied his ledger with everyone’s names and room numbers.

Finally, he looked up.

Faye Meyer paid him forty-five dollars.  He stared at her check, peering in the light as if he hadn’t received the identical check the week before.  It might be forged.

“Okay,” he said, putting a mark next to her name in his large ledger.


“Don’t mention it.”  He grumbled something in Polish or Yiddish to himself.

Though Saul could be a petty, parsimonious pain in the ass, everyone respected, even protected him.  It was hard not to stare at the blue number tattoo  on his left arm when his sleeve was rolled up.  There was a letter, which looked like a B, a hyphen, five or six numbers.  Faye tried to make out the exact numerals, but feared he’d notice her staring.

With his glossy, thick hair, black tight curls streaked with silver, his strong physique, Saul must have been something in his youth.  But thinking about his youth, she realized how he had spent it — in some German camp in Poland where they branded him like livestock.

Reardon, the Irish bartender on the second floor, stepped to the side of the elevator as Faye entered.  A strikingly handsome man with sculptured features, he had white skin like a baby’s that had never seen the light.  A regular vampire with very black brows and deep-set black eyes.  Black turtleneck.  Once he’d been an actor.  Rumor had it that he’d had a role in a Fellini film.

They nodded at each other.  He was polite enough, but never made a moment’s eye contact.  Oh well.  Faye reminded herself that she was a member of the Invisible Women’s Club.  As he walked out of the elevator, he nodded at her again.

Faye liked living at the Last Hotel.   The random roll of the dice every time you stepped in the elevator.  If you were going to live alone, as she did since Putzface walked out on her, there was always other people to watch, to imagine their lives.  And it was a crosstown bus to Hunter College, where she taught.  Often she walked across Central Park in the morning.  People said she was crazy to go by herself.  She loved the park and walked briskly.

Now Faye sat down on her couch and took off her shoes.  Then sighed.  The end of another week.  She’d only had a few classes.  She had to read her graduate student’s thesis proposal.  And her Colette article for Feminist Press was overdue.

She walked into her tiny kitchenette.  Open her small fridge, took out a package of sirloin wrapped in butcher paper.  Laying it flat on a wooden block, she contemplated the red meat.  She could never be a vegetarian.  She began to hammer the meat with her fists.

If only I had someone. He doesn’t have to be terrific or even great. But weekends sometimes seemed so long.  She’d go for B+, B, maybe even B-.  She said this to herself not with self-pity.  She’d had her share of lovers.  And she really didn’t mind being rid of Putzface.

Gathering her ingredients, she now wondered how she would build him.  Her Fantasy Man.  Of flesh and sinew, of course.  Broad shoulders.  She liked that.  Strong arms.  Dark, curly hair, but not too much.   Putzface had black hair on his back.  Now the truth could be told.  She hated it!   Graceful in body and speech.

Faye massaged kosher salt into the meat, imagining she was on a beach, spreading oil on his back.  The salt felt like sand.  Peeling the onions, she wept real tears, which she laughed at as she wiped them with her sleeve.  Pathetic. Peeling potatoes.  Carrots.  Blending them all in her mother’s black iron pot as more tears trickled down her cheeks.

Faye swirled her onions slowly in oil until they were thick and golden, floating in their own juices, the oil sizzling. How she loved the smells.  And how it reminded her of her mother, who she’d lost just two years ago.

Once she’d read an article in a women’s magazine.  “Are You Just Like Your Mother?” Well, she had her pot.  It was like spending a few hours with her mother.

Sadie Goldstein spent all of Friday preparing for the Sabbath.  Brisket was her specialty.  She too rubbed kosher salt into the beef, kneading it into the folds, until her fingers were raw, the salt pinching her skin.

As Faye stirred the iron pot, steam rose to her face, curling her hair.  Double, double toil and trouble. She added the sliced steak pieces. Wiping her forehead with the back of her hand, she caught her reflection in the small window.

She had a strong face – a prominent nose that might overwhelm but for her jutting cleft chin.  Red hair dyed to the limit of respectability, definitely a hussy shade, created a nice frisson with her Ph.D.  Once Faye had been sought after, mooned over, whistled at, loved, and then not.  Now she was an aging Siren.  Would anyone hear her song?  Would she ever be loved and desired again?

“The Invisible Women’s Club,” she reminded herself.  Her sexuality obscure to men of all ages, except those close to the grave, who wanted a caretaker.  How could she accept it though?  To not want someone to see you? To look at your face, meet your eye?  Yet women of the club were hardly invisible to each other.  They scrutinized each highlight, every lost or gained pound, not to mention, any ‘work’ done.  “Did you do anything?  Your wrinkles disappeared!”

“I had a good night’s sleep.”

No, Faye hadn’t done anything nor did she intend to.  She worked for every wrinkle on her face.  So one part of her would look young while the rest sagged?  She wasn’t young.  And she’d paid heavily for her hard-won lines of experience.

At that moment, the telephone rang.  Faye didn’t move.  Five rings, her outgoing message, then she heard her editor Judi’s voice.  “The deadline is past.  Where is it?  Faye, I won’t be pleased if it’s not on my desk on Monday.”

She was supposed to deliver an article on “Women Transitioning: Colette as Role Model.”  Publish or perish.  Well, not really.  She already had tenure.  But she still had to finish the last part.

Faye had a doctorate from City College, specializing in French 20th Century.  She’d lived in Paris for a year, fallen for a French painter, Claude. A year at the Sorbonne.  Lots of wine, lots of sex.   And a thesis: “Master or Muse: The Subjugation of Colette’s Art” which she had turned into a monograph.

She had to write the article this weekend.  Most of it was written.  Just needed a final read through and a strong ending.  Her mother’s brisket would keep her company.  She set the timer for an hour and a half.

Faye walked over to her wooden desk, opening a notebook.  In her notes, she found a quote from Colette that she’d been thinking about.

“You have to get old.  Don’t cry, don’t clasp your hands in prayer, don’t rebel, you have to get old.  Repeat the words to yourself, not as a howl of despair but as the boarding call to a necessary departure.”

Colette faced the same daunting struggle.  To put a so-called good face on it.  Yet in 1921, before turning 50, she had a facelift.  Then she became entrepreneurial, created a beauty institute where she dispensed her ‘secret recipes’ and conducted makeovers in a white lab coat!  Never underestimate a woman’s vanity.  Faye raised her cheeks with her fingers.

Walking into her small bathroom, she turned on the hot water for a bath.  Just hot, hot water.  It was a good, old-fashioned tub with claws. This was one of her Friday rituals.  (She tried not to teach on Fridays.)  To cleanse herself of the week.  Her own mikvah before Shabbat, though definitely secular.  She threw in desert bath salts, sprinkled lilac essence, and a little baby oil to soften her skin.

As she melted into the water, she felt a tweak in her bijoux. Her lovely jewel.  It still lived!  Jewel had the word Jew in it.  What Jonathan, when he loved her, called the little man in the canoe.  Faye raised her legs and pointed her toes.  Studying Martha Graham technique had preserved her stomach muscles, given her strong, muscular legs.  She exhaled and raised her pelvic floor.  Squeezed.  Oh, those kegels! Not kugels! She giggled.  Perhaps like so many other things, sex was wasted on the young. Would anyone ever see her again?  More seriously, would she ever fuck again?  She applied her Anti-Aging Crème into the pores of her face.

Wrapping herself in a towel, she wandered into her tiny kitchenette.  Raised the lid of the iron pot.  Beef effluvia filled the room.  She dipped a wooden spoon, blew, then tasted.  It still needed time.  She added a half a cup of wine, and pat of butter for greater succulence.  Cholesterol, be damned!

Jonathan had been a great appreciator of her brisket.  Though a self-hating Jew, like so many of the lefties they knew from City College, he made an exception for Jewish food.  Good Jewish food and deli, of course.  She’d married him when he was finishing graduate school.  She worked for a French publishing company for a year. He taught linguistics and Foucault deconstructionism at City.  They had two grown children.  After Elissa, their second daughter graduated Bennington, he spent several weeks of his sabbatical, writing a novel at an artists colony in Virginia.  He couldn’t publish the novel. He returned to teaching.  He started fucking his linguistics intern, some linguistics they must have performed, right in her own bed, as she discovered them that Wednesday afternoon when her shrink rescheduled her appointment.

The narrative piqued her colleagues in the lunch cafeteria at Hunter.

“A woman is incomplete until she is married,” said Betty Alecson, Applied Sciences, married to a reborn Scientologist.  “Then she’s finished.  You’re lucky to be free of Jon.”

“True, true,” agreed Selena Grosbard, an abandoned Byron scholar, whose husband ran off with a graduate student.  “When a woman steals your husband, the best revenge is to let her keep him.”  Her pause very pregnant.  “Don’t worry.  She’ll find out.”

“You have two choices in life,” added Alice Valens, a never-married Chaucerian.  “You can stay single and be miserable, or get married and wish you were dead.”

They were her Greek chorus.  Like so many women, feminists like her, they often sounded like they despised men.  She didn’t.  Her father, Isaac, was not an educated man, but had a gentle, compassionate nature, though he worked hard in the docks at Sheepshead Bay.  Yes, Jonathan was a putz.  No doubt about that.   She slipped into blue jeans and a denim shirt.

That’s when she heard the sound. Turning around, Faye saw something curious.  Slowly, her window rose by itself, and a fully formed, rather tall hooded figure crawled in through the fire escape.  She would have screamed, if she hadn’t sat on her bed in pure, open-mouthed amazement.

Was this her Fantasy Man?  Had her imagination created a golem?  She didn’t believe in supernatural kind of stuff, but she sat as if paralyzed.  Whatever it was, was cloaked in darkness, but there was an aura of light surrounding it.  She couldn’t see a face, but a ruby stone shone from a long, delicate finger.

“Who are you?” Faye asked the apparition.

“Who do you think I am?”

“My projection.  That’s what my analyst would say.  That I am transferring my need for love in my life, for a man –“

“Oh, shush, you!  Think of me as a fairy godmother,” she said, pulling down her hood. “I’m just here to give you a good turn.”

“How come?”

“Because we had a lottery, and I drew you.”

“What kind of lottery?”

“You wouldn’t understand.  It’s a complex equation of mitzvot, tzedakah, and because you need it.”

“Excuse me, I don’t understand, but I do have to check my brisket,” she said.  “I’ll be right back.”

She followed Faye into her kitchenette, watching as she stirred the beef, onions sizzling in her black iron pot.  “How did you prepare it?” she inquired.

“A steak, I used sirloin this time, oh, I don’t know, a little tomato paste, onions, carrots, potatoes.  Salt and pepper.  I throw in red wine.”

“And garlic?”

“No, my mother didn’t use garlic in her brisket.”

“You should.  Whole cloves which you sear –“

“What are you?  The Cooking Dybbuk?”

Faye looked, but couldn’t make out a form.  Who cared.  She was really enjoying this, whatever it was.  Maybe she was just losing her mind.  “So what can you do for me? Are you like a genie who offers wishes?”

She laughed.

“What’s funny?”

“That a woman like you goes to bed alone every night.”


“We know your husband was a worthless piece of garbage.”


“You shouldn’t give up.  You’re still young.”

“I’m over fifty.“

“I’m not impressed.  I’m over several hundred.  Go find a lover.”

“There’s no one around.”

“I see a man.  A man of fine character.”

“Oh.  Who’s that?”

“Think close to home.”

“The hotel?  There’s no one.  Saul is married.  Lenny, never.  Ugh.   Reardon doesn’t talk and besides he’s not interested.”




“He’s an old man.”

“Pincus,” she said solemnly.  “There’s more than meets the eye.”

“How do you know?”

“I was married to him in one of my lifetimes.  He doesn’t eat well anymore.”

“Pincus?” she asked the apparition.

“There’s more than meets the eye,” she repeated.  Then disappeared.

Faye walked over to the window with the fire escape.  It was shut.  She tried to raise the window, but decades of paint prevented its budging.  Had she imagined the whole thing? Was it a hallucination?  Maybe something in the brisket.  She sighed.  Could Pincus be her fantasy man?

That’s when her eyes fell on the silver candlesticks, placed high on a shelf above her table.  They had belonged to her mother.  She took them down, blowing the dust off their surface.  She had the impulse to light Shabbat candles.  What the hell.  Faye was not a believer.  She was, in fact, a devout disbeliever.  And yet.  The Sabbath bride was on her way.   Faye lit the first candle, then the second.  She closed her eyes, hands cupped over her face, and said a soft prayer.


Women of a Certain Age Tell It Like It Is

If you ever were under the impression that it’s all downhill after 50, the gutsy, lusty, deeply honest stories and poems shared today at the “Women of a Certain Age” reading quickly set the story straight.

Sonia Pilcer

Led by host Sonia Pilcer, a longtime writer and teacher of writing who divides her time between homes in Columbia County and New York City, the reading featured four other strong women writers, ranging from women who have not yet published, to one woman, Sondra Zeidenstein, who runs her own successful press, Chicory Blue, dedicated to publishing poetry by women over seventy.

It was impressive to hear these women write so openly, with humor and humility, about characters whose experiences with love, erotic satisfaction and frustration, and the challenges of aging must mirror their own.

Zeidenstein read poems honoring two of her mentors in poetry: Allen Ginsburg and Sharon Olds, both of whom have been willing to reveal more to the world than most writers of their own inner-most desires and longings.


Sondra Zeidenstein

Beth Sack read a story about a woman dealing with cancer, and realizing that she would need to leave her husband, a distant and unhelpful figure, if she were to survive.

Beth Sack

Joan Embree

Joan Embree read an over-the-top story about a woman living with a man so horrid that no one is sorry when she sets out to murder him by appealing to his bottomless gluttony.  When he falls over dead after an orgy of eating her delicious home-cooked food,the audience cheered! Listening to Joan read off the drop-dead menu, it was easy to remember that this is a writer who spent many years professionally engaged in gourmet food preparation.

Victoria Sullivan represented a rollicking, sexy voice in older women’s writing, reading several poems that had the audience roaring with delight at her razor-sharp humor, for example when one of her narrators says matter-of-factedly, “I seem to be a woman in whom lust trumps the moral imperatives of the moment.”

Her poem “Blessing the Body” was exquisitely beautiful; perhaps she will be willing to share it with Festival blog readers in a later post.

Victoria Sullivan

Sonia Pilcer herself brought down the house reading a story from her novel-in-progress about the inhabitants of a rooming house on the upper West Side of Manhattan.  Laced with Yiddish and bold with sexual honesty, the story features two characters who might seem entirely innocuous to an outsider, but are brought to live in all their passion and color under the strokes of Sonia’s pen.

a small section of the audience at the reading

It was clear from the lively discussion following the readings that there are many “women writers of a certain age” in the Berkshires who are hungry to share their stories and learn from each other in the process, and many women and men of all ages who delight in listening!

Look for this panel, with a changing cast of “women of a certain age” readers, to become a Festival fixture in the coming years.







by Victoria Sullivan,”Poet Laureate of the Woodstock Roundtable” on radio WDST 100.1 FM


We must gather the parts of our bodies up and love them.

Now I love my little hands.  And is it because someone,

a man, told me they were “perfect little hands”? Did that

make them worthy of my love?  Each part deserves

a blessing.  Here are my feet that hold my weight.

I will love them with their cherry painted toe nails.

My legs are sturdy, I do not fall over.  Bless them too.


And my hips that undulate slowly in dance, I will absolve them

of all crimes.  They need the music. My belly grounds me,

my breasts cry out for love, my neck holds the huge mass

of my head, surely a worth task.  All these I bless, and my eyes,

and ears and mouth that loves to kiss and eat and eat and kiss.

Don’t let me forget my tasting tongue that brushes his skin

and keeps my mouth from getting lonely.  My teeth and lips

of course demand their credit.  But it’s my hair that wants

always to wave the crowd on and guard my scalp and brain—

my hair that shouts a song to all my body: Dance on.


All this as youth slips further and further away, as if

the goddess is laughing at the ironies of life.  I am ready

to dance around the Beltane fires at last, while friends go down

to hip and knee surgeries daily.  At what point is ripeness all?

Never mind the question.  I will bless my body parts

because like yours and yours and yours, they do their best

to keep our hearts beating, the blood still rushing in our veins.

I will kneel down to this husk in which I live, this system

of bones and sinews, this fragile clothing for my soul,

and let tears flow at all the beauty that we grasp

so very incredibly briefly on the swift train ride of life.



Out of the Mouths of Babes Come Great Things!

Out of the Mouths of Babes

A capacity crowd packed Blodgett House at Bard College at Simon’s Rock tonight for the eagerly anticipated Out of the Mouths of Babes event, organized by Suzi Banks Baum of Laundry Line Divine with Alana Chernila, Janet Elsbach, Michelle Gillett, Gina Hyams, Jenny Laird and Matt Tannenbaum.

Each writer read a short piece linking creativity and motherhood, bringing the rapt audience to laughter and tears with personal narratives about the interweaving of these two dimensions in their lives.

The discussion afterwards was honest and profound, as audience members picked up some of the threads tossed out in the readings and added their own stories, questions and concerns to the conversation.

As always in a Festival event, new friendships and connections were forged, old relationships deepened, and all went home feeling richer for the sharing of our all the talent in our midst.

Discussing motherhood and creativity


Michelle Gillett reads to a packed house



Out of the Mouths of Babes video blog by Suzi Banks Baum


Blog Series on Stop in!

poster by Rose Tannenbaum of Berkshire TypeGraphic

Are you curious about ‘Out of the Mouths of Babes’, but can’t wait til March 2, 2012 at SRC?

The conversation about mothering and creativity is happening on the ‘Out of the Mouths of Babes’ page on Laundry Line Divine.

This week, Shari Simpson of the blog EarthMotherJustMeansI’mDusty. Here’s her opening.

I am very honored to have been asked to kick off this series on motherhood and creativity, particularly because I am a big fan of Creation. I use the capital “C”, you see, because I am a Person of Faith (more capitals) and very impressed with what God thought up. The world, life, humans, music, food, humor, dogs, gravity, etc. It’s some good stuff, right? Well done, God. Chocolate? Nice extra. Coffee? GENIUS.


I hope you visit our blog series often in the next two months. Women from across the country will be guest bloggers.


Thank you Shari Simpson and Lissa Rankin for the opening posts in this series.


Suzi Banks Baum

Head Laundress of the Line


Winners of the Femininity Essay Contest Announced

Click here to read the winning essays

More than 50 women submitted essays

in response to the following questions:


  1. the quality of looking and behaving in ways conventionally thought to be appropriate for a woman or girl
  2. women as a group (dated)
  3. a manner or feature commonly attributed to women
  4. the qualities, actions, or types of behavior in a man or boy that are conventionally associated with women or girls

Encarta® World English Dictionary © 1999 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
Developed for Microsoft by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

What is femininity? What experiences of culture, body, biology, roles, behavior, language, work, spirit have defined or made you question ideas of femininity? We invite women and girls of all ages and experiences to take on the subject of femininity in a personal essay; be playful, inventive, unconventional or straightforward, but whatever approach you take, base your essay on personal experience.

Alison Larkin, author of the best-selling novel The English American, selected three winning essays.

And the winners are…

Hilda Banks Shapiro, “Untitled”

Sheela Clary, “Sori Tru”

Suzanne Fowle, “Mothering by Moonlight”

Warm congratulations to the winners and everyone who submitted essays!

The winning essays will be read at the Festival Gala Finale on March 31, 3-5 p.m. at The Mount, the summer home of the Berkshires’ most famous woman writer, Edith Wharton.

All are welcome to attend this event, which will be hosted by Michelle Gillett, Nina Ryan and Alison Larkin.

This is a free, first-come first-served event, with a reception to follow.

Looking forward seeing you there!


The audio book of Alison Larkin’s bestselling novel, The English American, narrated by Alison, joins a Nobel Laureate, President Obama and E.B. White on‘s list of best author narrations of all time! The audio book is available for immediate download by clicking going to