A Winter Warm-up: Berkshire Festival of Women Writers Prepares For March With A Week Of Workshops
By Amy Krzanik
“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”—Alice Walker.
As this quote flashes on the screen, so begins Miss Representation, the 2011 documentary that shines a harsh light on how the American media portray woman—as bodies used to sell goods—and how they don’t—as powerful and influential three-dimensional human beings.
The topic of the film is something that Dr. Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez [top photo, top right], Chairwoman of the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers and longtime professor of writing and gender studies, knows all too well. She began the Festival in 2011 as a way to “create encouraging, supportive platforms where women and girls can share their ideas and perspectives in the public sphere.” The reason creative outlets and a community in which to share them are so important, especially to girls and young women, is because, as Marie Wilson, Founder of The White House Project, states in the film, “You can’t be what you can’t see.”
“Men’s voices still dominate in the public sphere, whether in politics, media or the arts,” Browdy says. “The Festival aims to counter that trend, and I am hoping, with the new Writing Workshops for Women, to give more women the tools and encouragement they need to begin to take their own ideas seriously, and step out into the world with them.”
Known for its month-long festival every March during women’s history month, the BFWW now has branched out to serve the area’s creative community year round, with a new monthly Lean-In group that includes upcoming themed workshops for Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, and now a week of creative writing workshops scheduled for January 13-17.
The four six-hour writing workshops (each broken up over a two-day period) will be offered at Bard College at Simon’s Rock in Great Barrington. Open to women of all ages and at any stage in their writing careers, the workshops culminate on Friday with a public reading by participants that is open to the public (yes, including men).
In her workshop, Suzi Banks Baum, creator of BFWW’s “Out of the Mouths of Babes: An Evening of Mothers Reading to Others” and publisher of An Anthology of Babes: 36 Women Give Motherhood a Voice, will coach participants on how to use online sites and apps like Twitter, Facebook, and their own blogs to their advantage in an age when artists of all kinds are expected to be expert self-promoters.
“Writing The New Nature Poem” with Hannah Fries, associate editor and poetry editor of Orion Magazine, will show writers how to link their personal experiences to the natural world in order to create more forceful work about the earth and their place on it.
The award-winning author of two YA/Adult crossover novels, Jana Laiz, will host a class on how writers with a love of young adult literature can attract both teens and adults to their work, taking advantage of the success of series like Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games.
“What’s Your Story?” with local author and jazz singer Lara Tupper will help writers work past the false, embedded ideas of themselves that are holding them back from telling the “true” tales they long to express.
Proceeds from this week of reasonably priced workshops go toward funding BFWW’s month-long festival in March, in which almost all of the 58 events are free of charge, including a talk by Gloria Steinem [top photo, bottom left] on March 4 at MCLA in North Adams as part of that college’s Public Policy Lecture Series, a special lecture-in-song about the women in traditional and contemporary folksongs given by Peggy Seeger [top photo, top left] at the Guthrie Center on March 18, and a performance of an expanded version of ENUF!, a musical featuring the stories and talents of 12 young African American women from Pittsfield on March 30. On March 9, International Women’s Day, BFWW will hold a program featuring three generations of artistic and socially active women from an Argentinian Jewish family—Raquel Partnoy, Alicia Partnoy and Ruth Irupe Sanabria [top photo, bottom right]. This is only a sampling of the performances, events, and author panels that will be part of this year’s festival.
“My not-so-secret ambition with all of this is to change the world for the better,” Browdy says. “If more women’s perspectives were being heard, the discourse would be more about nurturing and less about violence; more about collaboration, less about competition. I’m old-fashioned enough, as a feminist, to be able to say such a thing and mean it.”