Coolest Islanders Write ever, August 11 and 12

The annually delightful Islanders Write (IW) conference occurs August 11 and 12 at a new venue. The sixth edition of IW features new themes supporting traditional fan faves for active and aspiring writers. A complete listing of events and schedule of times is available at

IW will be held at the Featherstone Center for the Performing Arts in Oak Bluffs. Featherstone is located at 30 Featherstone Rd., off Barnes Road. The new venue features air conditioning. For five years, IW was at the Old Ag Hall (the Grange Hall) in West Tisbury, which had a nice 19th century literary ambiance, but lacked AC, which did add a Dickensian flavor, but sometimes not in a good way. Featherstone has AC, copious seating, and room for attendant workshops, book browsing, and literary mingling, all on the same floor.

IW began as an idea at the Martha’s Vineyard Times and MV Arts & Ideas magazine in 2014. The idea was that the passion for writing and the sheer number of Islanders and visitors who write, and are literary fans, would make IW work as an event. It has worked, drawing 600 to 800 attendees every year. Summer folks and visitors have told us they plan their Island sojourn around IW. Certainly, the price is right — no admission charge — but the inventory of top-shelf writing and literary talent sharing knowledge and advice, and the opportunity to hone writing skills, are the draws.

These days, WBUR public radio, Bunch of Grapes Bookstore in Vineyard Haven, and Chilmark Coffee Co. co-sponsor IW with The Times and Arts & Ideas. Scottish Bakehouse in Tisbury provides food all day.

Author and artist Kate Feiffer, an IW founder and its major-domo, refreshes and adds to the IW menu every year. Several snappy new panels and workshops have been added. You can even test your grammatical skills at the “Grammar Table.”

“Writing America” launches IW on Sunday night at 7:30 in what will be a bittersweet moment, as literary lion David McCullough is interviewed by Nathaniel Brooks Horwitz, eldest son of author Geraldine Brooks and the late Tony Horwitz, who died unexpectedly in May, a still-stunning tragedy for the Island and larger literary communities.

The title “Writing America” references historian McCullough’s latest book, “The Pioneers”
(“How the Midwest was won,”, May 22), a wonderful “who knew” look at the late 18th century settling of the “Ohio country,” as the Midwest was called, and “Spying on the South” (, May 15), Tony Horwitz’s enthralling look at the Southern culture today. Horwitz followed Frederick Law Olmsted’s route through the South just before the Civil War, about which he wrote extensively for the New York Times. 

On Monday, the fan-favorite “Pitch Panel” returns. The panel provides several amateur writers the opportunity to present their book or book idea to a panel of professionals who provide feedback. At 1 pm on Monday, August 11, publishing exec Torrey Oberfest will lead a panel of writing and publishing pros (agent Rosemary Stimola, bigtime book editor Gretchen Young, and author John Hough Jr.) in hearing several selected pitches. Last week Oberfest shared her sense of the panel’s appeal: “I think the session is so popular because it sits at that moment when fantasy can become reality, when you have poured your heart and soul into something that has been private for so long, and you are ready to bring it out into the world. All that passion from both the writers and the panelists is felt in the room. It’s remarkable how much an author can learn in such a short period of time. The panelists share what is working and what isn’t — with the story and with the pitch — in a very constructive way. Plus, because each panelist has a different perspective (agent, editor, author), their responses are often different, but equally useful. Writers learn that the job of an aspiring author is bigger and broader than they may realize. 

“The work itself is important, but the ability to pitch it quickly and clearly is just as important, otherwise an author’s work may never be seen. The panel is invaluable for writers who aren’t pitching, because they will hear what agents and editors are looking for, what is required for a good pitch (and what is not), as well as how to pitch so your manuscript will rise to the top of the pile,” Oberfest told The Times.

Subsequent panels deal with getting your book published, and with getting Hollywood’s attention, from people who’ve been there.

There are panels for niche publishing in food and science, and about how to cover politics in our dystopian political universe. For example, panelist Walter Shapiro is covering his 11th presidential campaign. Shapiro may also be the funniest person ever to hold a White House press card. 

There are two new panels on potentially daunting subects: writing about your parents, and writing about sex. 

Alexandra Styron will navigate those familial waters with Victoria Riskon and Bliss Broyard. Styron wrote “Reading My Father,” a bestselling memoir about her dad, novelist William Styron, a literary colossus, and she knows a thing or two about the process: “It can be scary if you are doing it right. It was for me, but I’ve always said one great gift of writing a memoir about parents is getting to know them as an adult, seeing them as adults separate from you. [The process] can be an opportunity for forgiveness, and the opening of a new horizon,” she told The Times last week.

“How to Write a Sex Scene” will be exciting, but likely more for its pragmatism than titillation. Elizabeth Benedict (moderator), Jean Stone, LaShonda Katrice Barnett, and Nicole Galland offer the insights. Drawing on her book, “The Joy of Writing Sex: A Guide for Writers,” Benedict last week offered these useful, if not torrid, nuggets: “Writing fiction in which sex plays a role is no more or less difficult than writing good fiction about anything else, though sex presents its own thorny challenges. If you’re writing erotica or pornography, the point is to sexually arouse the reader. The kind of writing I’m talking about here has other ambitions,” she says. Benedict et al. will provide more food for thought in a 90-minute panel beginning at 4 pm on Monday.

IW workshops are sprinkled throughout Monday. They are very cool, fast-paced, and user-friendly events. For example, you can get fired up on Monday at 8 am as Judith Hannan helps you get your writer on, hook up with Niki Patton’s popular writing Slams, join Justin Ahren on how to get your writing going, or Jean Stone on where to get your writing going, Kelly DuMar on how to use personal photos as a prose and poetry muse (Really good idea. Would we have thought of that ourselves?), Bella Morais on navigating literary Twitter — making a statement in 280 characters — and Mathea Morais on how to style a query letter for best results.

As always, everyone invited to speak at Islanders Write has a Martha’s Vineyard connection. And as always, Islanders Write is free and open to the public. First come, first seated. 

This article by Jack Shea originally appeared on