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ON THE SCENE: Celebrating and nurturing local writers

June 15, 2017
By NAJ WIKOFF - Columnist , Lake Placid News

One of the tougher ways to make a living is as a writer, especially those who write fiction, nonfiction and most especially poetry. An established novelist can do fine, but not too many achieve that status. Ninety percent of novels and screenplays get rejected. The best way to get your book even considered is to have already had work published. The next best way is to have a killer opening paragraph that hooks the reader and doesn't include a single typo or misspelled word, and with flawless grammar. But even that won't work if you are pitching a mystery to a romance publisher.

In the Adirondacks, writers are lucky, not because agents are running around waving checks (they're not), but because it's such a stimulating place to live and write. Further, they can connect with and support each other through the Adirondack Center for Writing.

Fundamentally, the Adirondack Center for Writing is about helping Adirondackers tell their stories and find an audience, or as staff member Baylee Annis would say, "bringing words and people together." Founded in 1999, the center achieves that mission through hosting readings in all manner of venues, Pop Up Poetry events, storytelling slams, writing retreats, publishing conferences, story times for kids, visiting authors and more. Check out their calendar on their website, and you'll find listings for multiple events every week nonstop throughout the year.

Article Photos

Photos provided — Naj Wikoff
From left are Adirondack Center for Writing Literary Award winners George Drew (poetry), Brian Heinz (children’s lit), William Belcher (fiction), Lorraine Duvall (memoir), Elizabeth Cohen (poetry) and Russell Banks (nonfiction). Not pictured is Lale Davidson (People’s Choice).

"ACW is an integral part of the arts landscape in the Adirondacks," said Nathalie Thill, executive director. "Our programs rival those of organizations from urban areas with much larger budgets. We bring these incredible programs to communities large and small throughout the whole region. I'm proud of ACW's innovative programming, democratizing an art form that many initially find intimidating, and bringing awareness to the fact that reading and writing are non-negotiable to being human. We are building a strong sense of community, even family, throughout the North Country."

On Sunday, June 11, about four dozen members of the writing family came together at Heaven Hill Farm in Lake Placid to learn who won the center's annual Literary Awards for writing, to hear the judges' comments, to purchase books from the authors and to hobnob. The judges described the books they read, pulling excerpts from most to share. You come away feeling that all the books are all worth a read, purchasing and sending as gifts to your friends. You also learn that there is an incredible variety of topics covered.

In contrast to so much art and photos in most galleries, the writing isn't all about nature by a long shot. Books submitted included children's books, poetry and fiction. The topics included exploring the quiet waters of the Adirondacks, global health crisis, re-examining the most famous murder in the Adirondacks, a cookbook, what it takes to start a business, a graphic novel on birth control, and profiles of people who served in World War II.

"My story had several skeletons in the closet," said Steve Baratta of Glens Falls, winner of the 2017 Howl Story SLAM. His eight-minute story was about coming out as gay and, in doing so, learning that his mother had realized that aspect of her son some years earlier, as he discovered when she presented him with her prom dress.

"Real passion makes a good story," said Baratta. "Truth. If your story is coming from deep inside, then all of that is there and comes out."

"A good story has to be well structured and be something that people can relate to on an emotional level," said Rob Carr of Saranac Lake, the 2016 Howl Slam Winner. "You want them to feel, 'I've been there before.' 'I've been embarrassed like that,' or 'I've been that sad or happy before.' I think the most engaging and impactful stories are those where people can relate to what the storyteller is talking about."

Adirondack Center for Writing board member Nancy Rosenthal fills that role. She is not a writer but a listener, a person who loves to read books.

"I'm an avid reader," said Nancy, whose favorite book is "The Great Gatsby." "I joined the board because they needed a reading representative. I read a whole variety of things: fiction, nonfiction. I've read more books than I can count. My parents got me into reading earlier than I can remember."

"The Adirondack Center for Writing helps writers in the region feel as though their work matters," said Roger Mitchell of Jay, a longtime supporter of ACW who served as one of the two poetry judges. "The Adirondacks are a part of the world that many people know but do not realize how much writing goes on here, how much good writing. Nathalie, the director, has been brilliant at coming up with all sorts of plans for getting young kids interested in writing, bringing major writers up from New York City and showcasing the quality or writing that's taking place up here."

Lorraine Duvall of Keene won the memoir category for "In Praise of Quiet Waters," a terrific achievement for the second book she's ever written.

"I started out just wanting to write about my life mostly for my grandkids," said Duvall. "I went to writers' retreats, met other writers, and I thought 'This is a lot of fun!' So I decided to keep going, and I have been writing ever since. I started this book by writing about canoeing adventures I had. I then decided to put them together including a historical perspective on how the laws came into being that protected these waters."

"I am very pleased," said fellow Keene resident Russell Banks after winning the nonfiction category for his travel book "Voyager." "It's nice to be read and recognized celebrated in your hometown. Usually, they throw stones at you and send you away to the gate. The Center for Writing pulls people together and reaches out simultaneously. Programs in the prisons, in schools, in bars and other places where they do the SLAMs represents reaching out, while the awards and workshops help create a sense of community amongst the writers."

"The level of writing is continually improving," said jurist Joseph Bruchac. "Every year we see more books, better books and better-produced books. I feel every writer who submitted is a winner. Every book we read is unique and deserving of an audience. I suspect that less than 1 percent of 1 percent of the population will write a book, complete a book and get a book published. It's an amazing accomplishment. The fact that there are so many people in our region producing such wonderful literature is a tribute to the creativity found here."

A full list of the authors, winners and books submitted is available on Adirondack Center for Writing website,, along with listings of readings and related events.



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