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The Rural We: Roxana Robinson

Photo by David Ignaszewski

Although born in Kentucky and raised in Pennsylvania, writer Roxana Robinson has a connection to her current home of Cornwall, Conn. that dates back two centuries. The critically acclaimed author of five novels, three short story collections and the definitive biography of Georgia O’Keeffe has had her work published in The New Yorker, Harper’s, The Wall Street Journal, Best American Short Stories and elsewhere. She teaches in the MFA Program at Hunter College, CUNY, and only recently stepped down as President of the Authors Guild. Also an art scholar, Robinson’s articles have appeared in numerous magazines and in exhibition catalogs for the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She reviews books for The New York Times and the Washington Post, and has written essays on gardening for House and Garden, House Beautiful and others. Her own garden has been included in even greater number of publications and is often on The Garden Conservancy’s Open Days tours. On Sunday, April 23 at 3 p.m., at the Cornwall Town Hall, Robinson will give the Norman Dorsen endowed lecture, presented by the Cornwall Historical Society. Her talk is titled “What Are Women Doing in Politics?”

My family has been in Cornwall for 200 years, in a house that my grandparents built, so I’ve been coming here all my life. It was owned by my mother and her two brothers, who shared it, when my husband and I took it over about 10 years ago. We like this area because it’s so quiet; we basically live in the woods, and there’s an astonishing wild natural presence: bears, bobcats, wild turkeys. We always enjoy being in the middle of the natural world. It also has a wonderfully diverse community of writers and artists, which is a big part of the family tradition and is important to us. We love the Falls Village Inn, too, and we go there a lot.

The Historical Society asked if I would give this lecture, and I was very honored. The woman in charge of it knows I’ve been involved in political activism – I was at the Women’s March; I went to Congress with veterans and wrote about that; and I went to Pennsylvania during the campaign to volunteer. The talk will be about what role woman play in politics, which is different now from what it was 100, 50, or even 10 years ago. I’ve been watching to see what effect women are having on the political process. The march was billed as a “women’s march” (although men were there), and it was very powerful on that account, but some countered that the word “women” doesn’t necessarily mean any certain social movement. But women are taking steps and being challenged, and sometimes fiercely challenged, by people who think they shouldn’t have a voice. This election revealed a current of misogyny that is relevant.

I’ve always written about broad social issues in my work – divorce, the environment, and then heroin addiction and the war in Iraq – but through the context of the families in my novels. I’m drawn more and more to social topics that are very powerfully present in our culture. It’s the task of a novelist to address issues that are most important to her, to make them real and important inside the life we all lead. Instead of setting down numbers about climate change, you write a novel where characters are watching the lake and show what they feel about what’s happening to it.

Right now I’m working on my next book, and I have an essay in a collection coming out soon called Radical Hope, which is about this past election and what it means to people. This summer I’m teaching two writing workshops – The Writers Hotel in New York in June, and at a Southampton, NY writers conference in July.

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 04/17/17 at 07:20 PM • Permalink

The Rural We: Jesse Freidin

Photo by Sarah Deragon

Published this month, the book Finding Shelter presents 100 black and white portraits of shelter dogs and volunteers from across the country, along with their personal stories. The eye behind the camera, Jesse Freidin, is one of America’s leading fine art dog photographers, having been awarded “Best Dog Photographer” in the San Francisco Bay area, as well as in Los Angeles, every year from 2010 through 2015. The Boston-born Freidin is also the creator of three viral photography series: The Doggie Gaga Project, When Dogs Heal, and Finding Shelter. His work has been featured in Vogue, The Huffington Post, Live! with Regis and Kelly, MTV and many other places. Although he works with private clients across the country, Freidin is now based in North Adams, Mass., where he lives with Pancake, a Boston terrier. He’ll host signings this spring to benefit area shelters featured in his book, including ones for The Little Guild of St. Francis and the Berkshire Humane Society in May, and at Water Street Books in Williamstown, Mass. on Wednesday, April 19 at 4 p.m.

I fell in love with photography in college and taught myself, using Polaroid cameras. I got my first digital camera only two years ago. When I moved to San Francisco, I started working with dogs and noticed how powerful it was and the joy people had when they were with dogs. I apprenticed at a portrait studio for a year, photographing families. Then I took my Hasselblad and photographed a friend’s dog, and it was an eye-opening experience. I thought, I can do this in a different, fine-art way and I started building up a business. I have wonderful clients that I cherish and we build relationships together. A lot of it is word of mouth, but also social media, the website, and work of mine that appears in magazines. To be a working artist, you have to hustle hard. I’ve been lucky in that I have a unique style and approach.

I love New England, and when I was in California for 10 years, I missed it a lot. I’d always dreamed of having a studio with big windows and a loft, but all of the ones where I lived were so expensive that I was priced out. I’m a country person, and I really wanted a space with other artists in a small town. The price was really good at Eclipse Mill and I moved here without knowing anyone.

I got the idea for Finding Shelter after photographing dogs for 10 years and being involved with animal rescues. Through working with lots of dogs that came from shelters, I saw that people still, in 2017, don’t want a shelter dog because they think they have issues. There’s a reputation of sadness that deters people from adopting and volunteering at shelters. I wanted to show what is beautiful about that world. It’s been proven that a good, professional photo of a dog will get them adopted. But I don’t like silly photographing; I prefer something with depth and feeling that shows the relationship between people and dogs. Shelters are full of beautiful stories — it’s not just the dogs, but the volunteers that get healed.

I started the project three years ago, in San Francisco and Los Angeles. With funding from a Kickstarter, I then selected groups from coast to coast, choosing an even amount of underfunded groups with a high-kill rate and some that were no-kill because they were located in wealthy neighborhoods.

Photos taken in Pittsfield and West Cornwall

In every shelter, the ratio is about 25 percent paid staff and 75 percent volunteers. Without volunteers, they wouldn’t be able to run or even exist. Humans overbreed pets and they don’t know enough about the importance of spaying and neutering, so many animals get abandoned in one way or another. The shelters aren’t so big that they can hold every animal, and there’s not enough money to pay that many people The only way to keep it functioning is to have volunteers. Volunteers walk, feed and clean for zero money. Once they start, they often do it every day for years.

For every shelter I photographed, they received high-res digital files that they’re allowed to use on their website, in the shelters themselves and for other marketing purposes. They can set up book signings, and I’ll go there to raise money for them directly. The shelters also can purchase the books at a discount and sell them to raise money or auction them off at fundraisers.

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 04/03/17 at 10:22 AM • Permalink

The Rural We: Maj Kalfus

Photo: Art School of Columbia County

Maj Kalfus has taken a circuitous route to get back to what she loves most: fine arts. She started her career as a fashion illustrator, but the retail industry was turning to photography, and there was no more work for fashion illustrators. Intrigued by the retail business, she worked in marketing, merchandising and shop development for several major department stores, plus working on brand development for Ralph Lauren and other companies. She lived near the Twin Towers, and then that fateful day happened.

After 9/11, I said, that’s it, I’m going back to my first love, illustrating and painting. For over 25 years, my husband and I had an old farmhouse a few blocks off Copake Lake, and we’ve lived here full time for 13 years. My husband, who’s a photographer, renovated the house and built a studio for each of us.

We lived in Leonia, New Jersey, and raised our daughters there. Then we moved into the city. That’s when I went back to art school, because I had never finished my degree. I went to Empire State College — the two-year arts program — and got my degree in my 50s. I was reinvigorated to do fine arts, and with the huge arts community up here, it’s not difficult to find like minds. I began to teach at Columbia Greene Community College, Berkshire Community College and the Hudson Opera House, and to sub at a high school. This has helped me to get to know the community better, which you can’t do as a weekender.

I do a lot of collage work and oil painting, and I’m known for my animals. I usually do a different project every year. One was the Women of Consequence show, with artwork featuring the Queen of England, Eleanor Roosevelt, Golda Meir and others. Then there’s the cartoon side of me. It comes naturally for me to do illustration. I started doing cartoons about four years ago for my friends, and then did a weekly cartoon for The Millerton News for a while.

In 2014, I was featured in a video series Prudential Insurance did with The New Yorker, highlighting people who experiment with their retirement years and try new careers and ideas. I got to work with the veteran cartoonist Mort Gerber and my work was included in the Best of 2014 Cartoons.

I’m always making art and doing shows. I’ll be showing in the farm-to-table themed exhibit at the Spencertown Academy in May, and at a lot of other galleries. I also teach private students in my studio.

The political cartoons that I post on my Instagram feed I do for self preservation. I create a lot of them on my iPad, in bed! I like not having the stress of deadlines.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 04/02/17 at 11:48 AM • Permalink

The Rural We: Karen Christensen

If we — as individuals or as a country — reach a better understanding of China in the future, we may have Karen Christensen to thank for it. The Great Barrington, Mass. resident is the founder and CEO of Berkshire Publishing Group, which has recently announced that it will produce an English version of the Encyclopedia of China in collaboration with the China Publishing Group. The two companies also announced the founding of an International Editorial Center in Beijing and New York. It is just one of the many ambitious and diverse projects Christensen has worked on. “I have a mixed portfolio,” admits the author, business owner and activist. Indeed.

I grew up in the Silicon Valley, but I was always looking for wider horizons. During college — I was an English major— on an exchange visa in London, I was sent by a secretarial agency to a publishing company, and that’s where my career began. I worked at Blackwell’s, a book publisher and retailer, and lived in London through my early 30s, and started my family there.

In 1992 I worked for the widow of T.S. Eliot and got a contract to write an environmental handbook called Home Ecology. It was a surprise success, and then I was commissioned to write another book about the search for community. I came back to the states with my children, ending up in Great Barrington and started Berkshire Publishing with my husband, an anthropologist. The company published encyclopedias, and the most important was the encyclopedia of modern Asia. That took us to China and Japan, and began a whole new phase of my life; I became so interested in China. In the last ten years, post-divorce, I took over the business, and now we’re more known for books on China and sustainability than other topics. We’re also focusing more on food issues.

The Encyclopedia of China Publishing House and U.S.-based Berkshire Publishing Group announced the translation into English of ‘China Encyclopedia USA’ at this year’s London Book Fair. Celebrating here (from l. to r.): Liu Zhong, director of the International Cooperation Department of China Publishing Group; Jiang Jun, v-p of China Publishing Group; Karen Christensen, CEO of Berkshire Publishing; and Jiang Lijun, assistant president, Encyclopedia of China Publishing House. Photo: ECPH

I was just recently in London for the launch of the joint project with The Encyclopedia of China Publishing House, under the working title China Encyclopedia USA. It’s being developed in parallel with the second edition of Berkshire Publishing’s own Encyclopedia of China. We started building the relationship with this Chinese publishing group 10 years ago. It takes time!

I’m very much interested in leadership and economic development. I’ve recently formed the Barrington Institute, a local nonprofit set up to do projects with a big mission and to do good.

The tagline for both of these companies is “Knowledge for our common future.” One way we can do that is to reinstate the Dowmel Lectures that were so popular here. People really miss them. We also started the train campaign and have been working hard on that. My dream has been to develop something here with a larger footprint that would bring attention to the area through new ideas and global thinking.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 03/27/17 at 10:52 AM • Permalink

The Rural We: Gerri Griswold

Gerri Griswold is director of Administration and Development at the White Memorial Conservation Center in Litchfield, Conn. (The Center, founded in 1913 by brother and sister Alain and May White and comprised of 4,000 acres of protected land, is open all year round for hiking, swimming, kayaking and canoeing, camping, boating, biking, horseback riding, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, fishing and bird-watching.) She’s handled bats for 25 years as a wildlife rehabilitator and educator and is licensed by the state of Connecticut and the U. S. Department of Agriculture to keep and exhibit non-releasable bats and, more recently, porcupines, for education. She and her bats have appeared on the cover of “The Weekly Reader” and in a segment for “The Late Show with David Letterman.” Griswold also serves as the morning voice of traffic on WTIC AM and WZMX FM. In 2010 she launched a travel company, Krummi Travel LLC, (named after the affectionate Icelandic word for “raven,” her favorite bird) which takes small groups on trips to Iceland.

I was born and raised in Winchester, Conn. and I live on the farm my grandfather bought in the late 1800s. I first got wanderlust in sixth grade when I saw Stonehenge in a history book. I went to the UK when I was 21, and immersed myself in all of the ancient art and archeology I could find. Luckily, I married a guy who was interested in travel, too. I’ve got a really busy life, so when I travel now I like to visit more rural, remote places where I can relax. I’m not a risky traveler, I prefer places where I can be alone or with local people. Iceland is my favorite place to travel; I’ve been there 45 times. With my travel company, I take small groups and we can get into the nooks and crannies that big tour buses can’t.

I’m a curious person and my curiosity has allowed me to have an interesting life. I have a degree in art history from NYU, and I was a professional chef for many years, but that’s an extremely physical profession. I was a full-time traffic broadcaster for what was Metro Networks, and now I record traffic reports for another company. I get up at 4 a.m. and record them in my studio here. I own a small farm, so I take care of the animals first (a bat, a porcupine, goats, a pig, a peacock, a turkey, a hamster, and a parrot that swears), then I do the radio broadcast, then I take my dog Bradley with me to work.

What first brought me to White Memorial was my work as a wildlife rehabilitator. People get an impression that this is a gigantic institution but, while it’s a big piece of property, it’s maintained by very few people. We’re the largest privately held land organization in the state and we have one of the most beautiful museums in the U.S., which includes precious dioramas painted by James Perry Wilson (whose work can be seen in the Museum of Natural History).

Alain and May White were such land junkies; beginning in the early 1900s, they began buying land and bringing it back to its natural state. They gifted 6,000 acres to the state of Connecticut, which are now some of the best state forests in the country. Alain was a published botanist, and was instrumental in the reforestation of red pines, as well as a chess master who solved German codes.

I’m the editor of the organization’s newsletters, and I arrange Saturday programming here, which is a way to selfishly bring in everything I’ve always wanted to learn about. If something interests me, I figure everyone else will be interested, too. I love extinct species — I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to learn about the dodo bird. Our whole drive is to get children out into nature. I don’t think it’s ever too early to teach kids about animals becoming extinct. It’s important to show how human greed and not being educated about this has caused the demise of species around the world.

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 03/20/17 at 11:29 AM • Permalink

The Rural We: Joan Ackermann

Originally from Cambridge, Mass., playwright Joan Ackermann now makes her home in the Berkshires where she and co-founder Gillian Seidl have run Mixed Company, a theater in Great Barrington, for the past 36 years. A special contributor to Sports Illustrated for many years, Ackerman has also written for Time, The New Yorker, The Atlantic and other magazines. She’s penned more than 20 plays, one of which she adapted into the film “Off the Map,” directed by Campbell Scott and starring Sam Elliott and Joan Allen. Her young adult novel about a teenage boy from Pittsfield, “In The Space Left Behind,” was published by Harper Collins in 2007, and she spent seven years as a head writer on HBO’s “Arli$$.” Ackermann lives in Mill River (New Marlborough), Mass. and, when not writing plays, can be found teaching a weekly Tai Chi class at Canyon Ranch in Lenox. This weekend, Friday, March 17 – Sunday, March 19, Shakespeare & Company in Lenox presents staged readings of six of her most beloved plays and, on Saturday at 4 p.m., three songs from her musical “Isabella.”

I started writing poetry when I was a kid and wrote all through my teenage years, then I wrote for Sports Illustrated, Time, The Atlantic and others as a freelancer for many years. But I’d always liked to act when I was a kid, so when I moved to the Berkshires and met Gillian, we decided to put on a play. We never thought we’d start a theater, but we found a space and put on “Bedroom Farce” by Alan Ayckbourn. Gene Shalit said it was the best thing he’d seen in the Berkshires that summer. It was a success, so we kept going.

I’ve always loved voice and dialogue, so I wrote a play called “Don’t Ride the Clutch” and took it to the Edinburgh Festival. Then I wrote another one so we would have a play to take the next year. Someone sent it to an agent and she wanted to represent me, so then I was writing plays. Campbell Scott came to see my play “Off the Map” and wanted to make a movie out of it.

I wrote a children’s book and I wrote for television for seven years; I’ve had lots of different adventures in a lot of different genres, and now I’ve gone back to plays. This fest is a way for me to regroup and strike out again. I emptied out closets in my study so I’ve got piles and piles of manuscripts all around me. In a lot of ways, it’s like a family reunion; I’m getting reacquainted with lots of old characters. I remember the characters but also the actors who inhabited them and the entire productions. That’s been really wonderful, sort of pouring through my oeuvre.

I asked to direct all of the readings because I really wanted a chance to speak to the characters directly. I’m writing a new play for the festival called “Out of the Blue,” but haven’t quite finished it yet. I’ve spent the last 10 years caring for my parents, and in the play I roam that terrain, but it has a lightness and a humor to it that will make it accessible and enjoyable for people. After the reading, I’ll keep working on it and stage it at Mixed Company. I consider Mixed Company to be my home and Shakespeare & Company my home away from home. I love those actors and the romantic spirit and energy of the place.

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 03/14/17 at 01:06 PM • Permalink

The Rural We: Martin Lewis

Martin Lewis has been interested in photography since his college days in the U.K., shooting in black and white and spending long hours in the darkroom. He’s travelled widely and has a large oeuvre documenting his excursions. After moving to Millbrook, New York a few years ago, his work has taken inspiration from the countryside and the flora found here. Martin lives with his wife Emma Sweeney, a literary agent, and their two dogs, Christy and Maddie, at Sunset Hill Farm. An exhibit of his most recent work will be shown at Merritt Bookstore, opening with a reception for the artist on Saturday, March 11 at 4 p.m.

Photography has been a hobby of mine since my early college days; I started when I was 18. I’ve been a finance guy most of my life, but when we moved to Millbrook, and as I get closer to retirement age, it’s become even more of a hobby.

I’m Welsh and I grew up in England, then went abroad for work. I came to the U.S. in 1986 with an American bank and got transferred to NYC. I was living in Greenwich, Connecticut after divorcing in 2013, and Emma had been living in Rhinebeck, New York, when we met at one of those PEN dinners. A mutual friend, Ron Chernow, had just written the Hamilton biography on which the musical would later be based. We were married within a year, and ended up in this old 1860 Colonial, beautiful old house that needed a bit of work.

We live on a six-acre property, a former farm, and we hope to be growing fruits and vegetables within the next year. We’re both home lovers, and we love pottering around in the garden, especially Emma.

The photographs going up at the Merritt Bookstore are more recent, taken since moving to Millbrook, and are really motivated by the landscape, plants, flowers and vegetables. They range from traditional landscapes, to photographs of plants in the style of Karl Blossfeldt, a British photographer working in the 1930s and known for his detailed examination of plants. A lot of what I’ve been doing lately is photographing plants, especially when they’re decaying, because that’s when the structure really comes out.

As I travel around, I like finding the abstract in the nature. I don’t set up a re-creation, I’m a more traditional photographer in that I like to finding the anomalies and strange things that already exist in real life.

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 03/06/17 at 10:01 AM • Permalink

The Rural We: Lisa Lansing Simont

Lisa Lansing Simont is one of those people whose careers you look at and say “whoa.” Following graduation at Mount Holyoke, she was a reporter at the Berkshire Eagle, after which she moved to Washington, D.C. There she took a position at the Congressional Quarterly, then worked for Pierre Salinger. She lived in Paris for a year and a half (where she took a course at Cordon Bleu), and earned an MBA from Boston University. There’s more: she worked at Action for Childrens’ Television, then as Joan Kennedy’s press secretary, and she held several museum jobs. But for our purposes, we asked her to tell us about her connection to Connecticut. Spoiler alert: She’s a force in Cornwall.

I came to Cornwall as a baby during the war, when my mother moved in with my grandmother since my dad was in the service. From about age 7-13 I came here to be with my grandmother every summer from our home in Providence. After that we moved to Southport, Conn., and I started sailing on the Sound, so we stopped coming. I didn’t come back until I was an adult. By then my mother had moved into my grandmother’s house. I was able to pick up my childhood friendships — we’re still around!

Really settling in Cornwall didn’t happen until 1989, after my first marriage broke up, when I came to help my parents after the devastating 1989 tornado. I had been commuting from Boston, and encountered an old friend here, Mark D. Simont. We fell in love, got married, and have been here 27 years.

I retired in 2007, and had free time to serve on nonprofit boards. One of the first ones I joined was a regional board, the NW Connecticut Arts Council. The arts are just booming, even though everything else seems to be struggling. Look at what’s happening in Torrington: the arts have moved into the empty buildings. Five Points Gallery is an absolutely terrific place, and the Warner Theatre has exploded for the whole region.

I’m on the board of the Cornwall Chronicle because of my background as a reporter. I was elected to the town’s board of finance and Cornwall Historical Society. I have a pitch to people who want to move here: The benefit of joining a nonprofit board is more than doing something for your town; it’s doing something for you, too. You can learn how to run an organization, develop a budget, do publicity. Being part of a place is joining, helping out, giving back. You have a responsibility to be part of the community. And I’ve found that the happier people are the ones who get involved.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 02/21/17 at 12:15 PM • Permalink

The Rural We: Wanda Houston

Singer, actor and vocal coach Wanda L. Houston grew up performing – acting in her father’s theater company and singing with her mother, brother and sister in the Houston Singers. After receiving her undergraduate degree in Vocal Performance (with a concentration in Opera), Houston moved from Chicago to Los Angeles to continue her work on the musical theater and concert stages, which included touring with Mary Wells, The Platters, and Martha and The Vandellas; singing in Las Vegas at the Sands Hotel in Steve Silver’s Beach Blanket Babylon; and acting in theater productions that toured the world. A stint in NYC saw her performing on and off Broadway, and singing with a Grammy-nominated gospel choir. Since 2011, Houston has lived in the RI region (most recently, she settled in Sheffield, Mass.) but that hasn’t put the brakes on her busy schedule. You can find her at venues throughout the Northeast performing with The Wanda Houston Band, as well as with the gospel group Brothers and Sisters, the HBH Band and in jazz duos and trios, and at the Goshen Congregational Church where she directs the choir.

I’m originally from Chicago but after college I moved to Los Angeles, for far longer than I ever should have. While I was there, I toured in a show that visited Germany, Austria and then went off to Australia for a year. I nearly stayed in Australia, but I’d always wanted to live in New York City. It had been my dream since I was a kid; my mom brought me there when I was 15. I was the second runner-up in Miss Teen Talented Chicago in 1975; I didn’t win, but we went to New York anyway. They were building the World Trade Center towers at the time. When I moved to NYC in 1999, I performed in an off-Broadway show and I was working in the producers’ office when the towers went down. Right after that I ran into an old friend from Chicago who had a theater in Sharon, Connecticut, and that’s when I first came up here, to do a show called The Diva at TriArts Sharon. That got me coming up here every weekend.

I moved here full time in 2011, which was when I moved everything, including my piano. I’ve had it since I was 7 years old and I always say, “If my piano’s there, I’m home.” When I was younger, we’d take camping trips – we were probably the only black family doing this in the ‘60s – and I always wanted to live in one of those places we’d visit. And now, it’s incredible to be able to live in one of the most beautiful and peaceful parts of the country. I’ve lived up here for 10 and years and I still turn the corner and think “how beautiful.”

I’m really fortunate to have met musicians here in the Berkshires that I get to work with. There’s so much talent in this area, it’s mind-boggling. They’re just as good or better than musicians in the city.

My parents were both in the business and also raised a family, though it was tough for them to do both. For me, it was too much to also have a family. But there’s something beautiful about what performers get to do; we get to meet people and share their lives in a way that other people don’t. The arts help people experience other ways of life. We’re in rough times right now politically and we need each other more than ever. Some people say we shouldn’t talk about religion and politics, but we should talk about that because that’s life. And art helps us do that in good times and bad; we turn to it to make sense of it all.

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 02/13/17 at 11:18 PM • Permalink

The Rural We: Maria Nation

Photo: Andre Baranowski of MDN.

Maria Nation is a prolific screenwriter who lives in Ashley Falls, Mass. Born and raised in California, she moved to New York in 1984, where she first started selling scripts. She moved to the Berkshires in 1997, and has been able to sustain her career without living in LA. “It’s very weird that I’ve done my entire career in the wrong city,” she says. This week and next, the Berkshire International Film Festival’s Reel Friends Film Society is holding special screening events of “A Street Cat Named Bob,” for which Nation was the screenwriter. The events (last night and next Thursday, Feb. 16) are co-sponsored by Mountainside Treatment Center in Canaan, Conn. and Berkshire Humane Purradise.

I don’t think anybody really knows what I do. In LA I’m a dime a dozen, but unusual here. I love that “the industry” isn’t out here.

I mainly write TV movies, but that business has shrunk to almost nothing over the years. I’m often called upon to be a script doctor for European films, which is how I initially got involved with “A Street Cat Named Bob.” The director, Roger Spottiswood, who is well-known in the business, is someone I’ve worked with on various projects for 15 years. He called me out of the blue on this one. The original script suffered from a problem; it was a mix of genres. Is it a silly cat movie? Or a dark movie about a heroin addict? It’s actually both, and trying to establish the tone of these two disparate elements was a challenge.

I had three weeks to rewrite the whole script. The roles were not well written for the women characters (one of whom is played by Joanne Froggatt of “Downton Abbley” fame). I was actually writing while Roger was shooting.

Maria Nation with producer Adam Rolston at the NYC premiere of the film.

Mountainside Treatment Center has come in as a partner to show the film. They realized the element of connection is so important in dealing with heroin addiction, which is the theme of this story. If addiction is stigmatized, that just makes the road to success worse. This is trying to turn that around. I wanted to have that aspect in the film so it’s socially relevant and experientially accurate.

Sony Pictures released the film in Europe at a royal opening in London. Theatrical releases are so expensive, and the distributor in the U.S. is very small, so there was a small opening in New York.

I just delivered a movie that Andie MacDowell will star in called “The Beach House,” and I’ve got a couple of projects planned again with Roger. So many of the projects come in in the summer. In the last three years I haven’t had a summer because I’ve been working, which is a shame in the Berkshires. I hope to get a summer back!

My partner Robert Flores and I have touched or gardened every one of the eight acres of our property. We cleared invasives along the river, so now we have a river walk. Our garden has been on the Lenox Garden Club and on the Open Days garden tour many times. The garden used to be an extreme riot of color and very exuberant. Then two things happened: I realized it was killing me to do all of it, and that it owned me. Over the years I changed from the perennials and bulbs to boxwoods. It’s very calming, very serene — the antithesis of exuberance.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 02/06/17 at 12:21 PM • Permalink