Reflections sparked by a busy time (Guest post from Emily Banner)

March 3, 2006

Usually here at Inkberry, we try to space our readings out a bit. We’ll have three or four events per season, and a season lasts four months, so we aim to spread our events over that period so as not to stretch ourselves or our audience too thin.

Well, this time we’ve got events three weeks in a row, boom boom boom. As I’m the one who books our reading series, there’s nobody to blame for this but myself.

Fortunately, they’re three incredibly diverse events, quite literally ranging from the sacred to the profane. At the more secular end of the spectrum was last week’s visit from John Dicker, journalist and author of The United States of Wal-Mart.

Thanks to generous support from a consortium of different groups at Williams College (the Lehman Council for Community Service, Students for Social Justice, the Green Party, and the college Chaplains’ Office), as well as the English Department at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, John spoke at both campuses last weekend, talking candidly about his research process, the trials and tribulations of writing about the world’s largest retailer, and most importantly, Wal-Mart itself.

With a charismatic combination of wit and analysis, John answered questions on everything from Sam Walton’s folksy legacy, to how Wal-Mart is likely to develop over the next ten or twenty years, to how (if ever) the company could be stopped – making it clear just why the Montreal Mirror reviewed his first book as “an unusually entertaining and readable account of a normally depressing subject.”

His events were a particular treat for me, since John has been a friend of mine since the late ’90s, when we met in a writing workshop back in Brooklyn. At the time we were both trying to figure out what we wanted to do with our lives; I dreamed of being a novelist, and he didn’t know if he wanted to be a writer or a labor organizer or what. Reconnecting last weekend, as I watched him talk about the future of globalism, unions, and grassroots politics – at events coordinated by the nonprofit organization I co-founded to promote the literary arts in the region I now know as home – I couldn’t have asked for a more vivid demonstration of how far we’ve all come.


An evening with Jane Yolen (Guest post from Emily Banner)

November 2, 2005

It’s always been a major perk of working with Inkberry that I get to meet and spend time with the fabulous authors we lure to town. October was no exception. A mere two days after having a delightful dinner with Phillip Lopate and his family, I got to escort Jane Yolen and her husband through her afternoon talk and evening reading on the 17th.

Co-presented with Words Are Wonderful, as part of our series of “Writing and Community Renewal” events funded by the NEA, Jane’s talk and reading took place in the auditorium of the Williamstown Elementary School. In the afternoon, Jane spoke to a group of teachers and librarians about the role of landscape in creative writing, sharing examples from her own work and others’ of descriptive passages in which landscapes came alive on the page, and advising the audience on how young writers might create that same sense in their stories. In the evening, she read to an audience of children and parents from several of her books, starting with works for the littlest kids and working her way up to material for young adults. Though the crowd was a bit squirmier than what one ordinarily sees at an Inkberry event (also noticeably shorter), they were clearly entranced, as evidenced by the stampede to the book table when Jane was finished and the books went on sale. Witnessing that stampede, in fact, may have been my favorite moment of the day; it’s not often I get to see a crowd of kids who are so excited about books that they just HAVE to get them RIGHT NOW!

Between the two events, I got to have dinner with Jane and David, her husband. Conversation flowed from the history of Inkberry (and whether Jane might teach with us one day!), and Jane and David’s travels, to folklore, the Bible, oral traditions, midrash, and the many ways we tell stories. Have I mentioned that I love the wining-and-dining-brilliant-authors part of my job?

I have high hopes that we might get Jane to teach a master class at Inkberry at some point in the future. But meanwhile, you can learn far more about her and her 200+ books at her website, www.janeyolen.com.