By Holly Nadler
For six years now, writers — both aspiring and professional — have met in the spring and fall for a full immersion in both their craft and in all things Vineyard, in particular all things Edgartown. The writers’ retreat takes place at the charming Point Way Inn on Pease Point Way.
Nancy Anne Miller, a poet and painter from Bermuda (a poem of hers was published in last Friday’s Gazette), is a sixteenth generation descendant of sea captains and felt a particular affinity for the same lineage in Edgartown. “The light takes you in,” she said of her time here.
Pete McDonald of Seattle, now hard at work on his third novel, also enjoyed his stay on the Island, having discovered the writers’ group while on a meditation retreat in Barre, Massachusetts. “One of the things to come out of this experience was the decision to change my book from the third person to the first,” he said.
The driving force behind the writers’ residency is Justen Ahren, a West Tisbury poet and landscaper. Mr. Ahren finds applicants, or more accurately, they find him, online and through adds placed in Poets & Writers Magazine.
“I receive over a hundred applications for each residency and end up selecting about twenty-five percent of those, based on their work samples,” he said.
Writers can choose to stay for two or four week residencies. The cost is minimal, thanks to the owner of the Point Way Inn, Claudia Miller.
In 2006 Ms. Miller decided to stop being a hotelier and instead make her space available for visiting writers and artists. Originally from Munich, Germany, Ms. Miller was inspired by the salons of Berlin and Paris during the 1920s that helped to incubate the creative impulse. “I like to share my private home [seven bedrooms] with people visiting in pursuit of the arts,” she said.
Throughout the year, the Point Way Inn offers accommodations to writers, artists, dancers, and filmmakers brought here by such institutions as the Vineyard Playhouse, Featherstone Center for the Arts, the Yard, various residencies such as Mr. Ahren’s, and ArtFarm Enterprises. Mrs. Miller’s foundation is called Pointing The Way.
Poet Roberta Bienvenu of Lyndonville Vt., summoned fresh enthusiasm for a book of poetry that she had deemed finished years ago. “I’m looking at life from a new vantage point now, and this retreat helped me sort that out,” she said.
Years ago, with her small children, Ms. Bienvenu rented a house each summer on Chilmark Pond. “We all refer to those summer days as the happiest times of our lives.” The poet grew up on Long Island but said she cannot find those same hints of yesteryear there. Much of the Island, though, takes her back in time.
Aspiring playwright Jenny Klion grew up in Brooklyn but married on the Vineyard. “We waited for over an hour for John Alley to show up,” she remembered. Ms. Klion’s father bought a condo at Mattakeesett in the 1970s, a destination that has often brought her to these shores. Before arriving at the Point Way Inn this October, Ms. Klion was concerned she’d be “distracted” by her stay in a place she had long ago learned to love. “Instead, I was totally inspired,” she said. While in residence, she began a new play, a portion of which impromptu actors read last Thursday at the West Tisbury Library. “It’s a work in progress,” she said with a chuckle.
A large feature of the Writers’ Residency is to gather folks from the community every Thursday night of October (and also in April during the spring residency) at the West Tisbury Library to hear participants read their work.
The final week’s reading featured the first part of Ms. Klion’s new play, plus Bronx-bred writer and educator Liz Dolan reading her powerful, prize-winning short story, What’s Like What? After a month of presiding over other people’s work, Justen Ahren caved in to pressure and shared a small collection of poems from his book, The Bells in Her Mouth Are Ringing.
A persistent question asked of Mr. Ahren is whether or not he’s open to including Vineyard writers and poets in the residency. “We’ve tried in the past but the purpose of a retreat is lost when Islanders go home to take care of domestic chores or to run errands. A total focus on one’s work is lost.”
Last Friday evening at the Point Way Inn, the writers gathered at the inn around a candlelit table with a cozy fire burning in the grate. In a few days, they would all be headed home, to Dallas, Washington, D.C., New York State, Bermuda and elsewhere, all with new perspectives and inspiration for their projects. But on that night it was time to relax with each other along with two Yorkshire terriers and a gentle giant of an English bulldog who both waited for a speck of cheese to fall to the floor or a damp oyster cracker from the clam chowder that Nancy Anne Miller pronounced “the best” she’d tasted in her four weeks in Edgartown.