The Berkshire Festival of Women Writers is back for a sixth year, and organizers are calling all writers and fans of the written and spoken word to come out of hibernation.
Once stretching events to occur every day during the month of March, festival organizers this year have revamped the schedule into a conference-style format, offering 33 events over nine days, including two signature weekends of events, running Saturday through March 20.
During the week, most festival events, offered at various venues throughout the county, will be free and open to the public. The weekend sessions, held at Eastover Estate & Retreat in Lenox and Hotel on North in Pittsfield, respectively, will include a list of ticketed events, such as writing intensives, lunch and brunch programs with authors.
The new format is designed to allow participants to steep themselves in an atmosphere of writing culture and connectivity in a central location, according to founding festival Director Jennifer Browdy, Ph.D. She also envisions that the new style might elevate the festival as a destination event.
"My hope is that people would come for the weekend, that people could come from Boston and New York and from around the region," Browdy said. In addition to highlighting writing and literature, she said she also sees the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers as a capstone, one-of-a-kind celebration of March as Women's History Month.
"I've always seen the festival as a way of inspiring all women, not just women who are writers but all women, to tap into their own creativity, to show a real range of diversity of women who have something to say," Browdy said.
The director said that she's often asked by men if the festival is only for women; the answer is "no."
"The festival is not just for women and not just for writers," Browdy said.
Lynnette Lucy Najimy, a festival coordinator and co-producer, agreed.
"While it's true that these are women writers and women's voices leading the events," she said, "the topics, the subject matter, the lessons and all of that are really relevant and appropriate for everyone."
The 2016 festival features a wide range of pathways into word-based mediums: poetry, comedy, theater, music, prose, publishing and more. More than 60 nationally renowned and local women writers will present workshops, discussions, readings, performances, and talks. All of these events are detailed in the festival's new publication, "WOW! Women of Words," a 68-page full-color magazine.
This weekend's events will take place at Eastover, the 600-acre estate that has recently been re-branded as a sanctuary and holistic healing retreat center. Prices range from $50 per session (morning or afternoon) or $90 per day, and includes lunch. Featured presenters are young adult authors Jane Yolen and Heidi E.Y. Stemple, a mother-daughter team, with more than 350 published books between them.
Also included in the first weekend are acclaimed authors Cheryl Clarke and Breena Clarke, sister founders of the Hobart Book Village Festival of Women Writers; memoirist Mary Johnson, founder of the A Room of One's Own Foundation for women writers; and Esther Cohen, founder of the Unseen America Project.
During the weekend of March 19-20, events will be held at the Hotel on North, and will have the same ticket pricing as the previous weekend. Instead of lunch, however, the morning session will include a brunch with Ruth Reichl, former "Gourmet Magazine" editor-in-chief and celebrated food writer and restaurant critic, a resident of Spencertown, N.Y.
Writer, activist, and co-founding editor of "Ms." magazine, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, and author-editor Veronica Chambers also will be interviewed live by Anastasia Stanmeyer, editor of "Berkshire Magazine." Also, local author Sonia Pilcer will return to the festival to present the popular "Women Writers of a Certain Age" reading, featuring award-winning authors Helen Epstein, Barbara Slate, and Karen Schoemer.
Other highlights include young women writers from local high schools and a writing and spoken word workshop, "Ophelia Rising," by slam poet and recent Bard College at Simon's Rock graduate Grace Rossman.
A new one-woman show by Rachel Siegel, "Special," is directed by Tony Award-nominated actress Jayne Atkinson, and produced by Kristen van Ginhoven of WAM Theatre and will be staged at the Unicorn Theatre in Stockbridge. Singer-songwriter Kate Campbell will give a concert inspired by southern women writers like Eudora Welty and Flannery O'Connor.
The festival finale on March 20 will begin with a brunch talk at Hotel on North by journalist Sheila Weller, author of the bestselling biographies "Girls Like Us" (on Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon), and "The News Sorority" (on Christiane Amanpour, Katie Couric and Diane Sawyer).
It will close with local author and performer Alison Larkin offering a "Festive British Tea Party with the English American."
If you go ...
What: Sixth annual Berkshire Festival of Women Writers
When: From March 12-20, there are 33 events scheduled. Event times vary.
A pre-festival event, "Advanced Study Workshop in Non-Traditional Prose Workshop," led by Berkshire Community College faculty Julianna Spallholz and Nell McCabe, will be held at 3 p.m. Thursday. This free, public workshop requires an RSVP to Spallholz at email@example.com.
Where: Various locations throughout the week. The first weekend's events will be held at Eastover Estate & Retreat in Lenox. Events the second weekend will be held at Hotel on North in Pittsfield.
Cost: Most weekday events are free and open to the public. Eight weekend and featured events require the purchase of tickets.
Information: Complete schedule of events and registration information at berkshirewomenwriters.org.