When Marijane Meaker – also known as the famed young adult novelist ME Kerr – ran an ad in a local newspaper to see if other writers would be interested in a writing workshop in Springs, she probably didn't know what she was starting. But over 30 years later, the Ashawagh Hall Writers Workshop is still going strong, and will offer a taste of its latest creations in a reading at the East Hampton Library tonight.
"Writing is lonely work," said the group's leader, Laura Stein. "The workshop gives writers a community. When you're writing, you see everything so fully in your mind, but you don't really know what you've conveyed onto the page. The workshop enables that invaluable feedback from a supportive community."
Being published is the focus of the workshop, and well over two dozen published works found their start in the attic at Ashawagh Hall. Perhaps the most famous author to emerge is Vincent Lardo, who took over the Archy McNally detective series created by Lawrence Sanders and has penned six New York Times bestsellers. "Obviously, the series was not created in the workshop," said Stein. "But Vince was put into the running to take over the brand because of his Hamptons mysteries" -- The Hampton Affair and The Hampton Connection – "which did come out of the workshop."
Another notable book which was born in the attic is TJ Parsell's Fish: A Memoir of a Boy in a Man's Prison. Parsell was sent to an adult prison at the age of 17 for stealing a toy gun and suffered unimaginable brutality during his time there. Not only is Fish a successful book in film development, but is taught in criminal justice classes in universities around the world.
"There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that I would not have been able to write Fish were it not for Marijane Meaker and the group of fellow writers of the Ashawagh Hall Writer's Workshop," Parsell said. "It took me a lifetime to arrive at a place emotionally where I was ready to tackle the ghosts that haunted me my entire adult life. My folks at Ashawagh Hall provided the support, the guidance, and the structure I needed to stay on task and get it done." Parsell has since moved out of state but said of his writers' group, "I miss them all terribly. It was truly a life-changing experience."
After Meaker retired from the workshop in 2014, Laura Stein was elected to continue to head the program. "It was a huge adjustment that first year," she acknowledged. "I had been a member for 17 years, and suddenly I was the leader. But I love it. To see the work that comes out of the group, and the support, is inspiring."
The Ashawagh Hall Writers Workshop focuses on fiction, memoir, and young adult works – no poetry or playwriting. "We would welcome creative non-fiction as well," said Stein.
This year, rather than simply read from their works in progress at the East Hampton Library, members of the workshop will also discuss their process and what it's like to be in the workshop. "We find that the audiences get more involved than they expect," Stein said. "It's so validating to see the engagement and get the feedback."
Tonight's Ashawagh Hall Writers' Readings include Lecia Harbison, Lynn Blumenfeld, Rob Stuart, Robert Boris Riskin, and Stacey Donovan. The reading will be held from 5:30 to 7 PM. Another reading will take place on July 19 with Carol Goodale, Deborah Becker, Lisa Michne, and Richard Lawless.
All are welcome to attend the free event. The library suggests signing up by calling 631-324-0222, ext. 3, or visiting the website at www.easthamptonlibrary.org.