It’s finally snowing in Massachusetts! My afternoon meetings were cancelled, and I can settle in by the fire and enjoy the peaceful quiet that always descends when we hunker down under a good New England snowfall.
This gives me a welcome chance to share something positive for a change with my blog readers.
Tomorrow is the opening of the 2012 Berkshire Festival of Women Writers, a month-long celebration of the talents of local and regional women writers, taking place at venues from one end of Berkshire County to the other, with nearly 100 women participating.
I’ve been working over the past year with a dedicated local committee on planning and organizing this event, which is sponsored by Bard College at Simon’s Rock with the generous support of 11 Local Cultural Councils and many other donors, businesses and individuals, all listed on our website under “sponsors.”
This will be our second annual Festival, but it’s an event that grows out of the decade of annual conferences I organized at Bard College at Simon’s Rock in observance of International Women’s Day, co-sponsored by Berkshire Women for Women Worldwide, the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts, the Women’s Interfaith Institute and many other collaborators.
I’ve been at this a while.
Organizing events like these takes an extraordinary amount of energy, focus and commitment. If you’ve ever organized a wedding, you have some idea of what’s involved–although for our conferences and Festivals, we’ve also had to do a fair amount of fundraising, which hopefully is not the case for wedding planners!
There always comes a point in the process where I bury my face in my hands and feel like crying, out of sheer exhaustion, “Why am I doing this to myself?!!”
After all, no one ever asked me to take on this extra commitment, year after year.
And sometimes I wonder whether anyone would notice if I stopped.
But then that low point passes, the brochure or Program comes back from the printers and starts to make its way in the world, the press inquiries pick up and I start hearing the oohs and ahhs of appreciation from participants and audience members, and I remember what it’s all about.
For women writers, in particular, it can be hard to find opportunities to come together and share our talents and achievements with each other and the larger world.
This weekend is the big AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) conference in Chicago, and many women writers will be in attendance there, including one of our Festival organizers and participants, Orion Magazine editor Hannah Fries. But that is a big, competitive event, which can be overwhelming for writers who are just starting out, or who just write for the personal satisfaction of it.
The Berkshire Festival of Women Writers is purposefully low-key and non-competitive. We organizers wanted to create a broad, inclusive platform for all kinds of women writers, of all ages, backgrounds, and stages in their writing careers. If you browse the Festival listings, you’ll see a few names you’ll probably recognize, like Francine Prose and Ruth Reichl, but many more whose fresh, innovative voices might not be heard publicly this year without the space provided by our Festival.
I also sometimes ask myself why I continue to focus on women writers in my classes, events organizing and in my own writing.
Lately I have been moving from a longstanding focus on global women’s rights to a broader human rights perspective, still with a strong interest in gendered human rights issues. Although the goal for any social justice activist is to put herself out of business, it still seems important to me to draw attention to voices who might not otherwise be heard–and the 50% of us who are women are disproportionately represented among those quieter voices.
The participants and audiences who will be gathering at the 40 Festival events scheduled daily throughout the month of March will together generate a host of collaborative creative sparks that will go shooting out like fireworks, energizing all of us and giving us new strength and determination to meet the challenges of the coming year, whether at our writing desks or in other areas of our lives.
I certainly hope that just as women always turn out to listen to and learn from writers who happen to be men, men will also be among the audiences at all of our Festival events.
In these sobering times, we need all the chances we can get to come together and fan the flames of our community and our creativity. Let the Festival begin!