'Revelatory' work by CATA writers

LENOX — When the Community Access to the Arts Writers' Workshop made its debut at The Mount, Edith Wharton's home, last year, no one knew what to expect, including the writers, the organizers and the audience.

It couldn't have gone better.

"Last year was just such a lovely event," said Abbie Wilson, public programs coordinator for The Mount. "A lot of our audience members were not incredibly familiar with CATA and we were all really surprised and touched how lovely and strong the poetry and writing was."

The second annual CATA Poetry Reading at The Mount is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 14. For Community Access to the Arts (CATA) this event is also the first in a year-long series of events celebrating the organization's 25th anniversary in engaging the community at large with the fields of art and disability.

"It went so well last year that it was like, of course we'll have them back," said Wilson of last year's debut of CATA writers at The Mount. "Plus, it's so nice to do a writing event that lets local writers showcase their work in the Berkshires at a place that honors the legacy of one of our great American Authors."

Such a response is more than CATA and its Executive Director Margaret Keller could have hoped for.

The Writers' Workshop has been in existence since 2005, but used to be showcased only as a part of CATA's annual summer "I Am a Part of Art" showcases. Held between the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts in Pittsfield at The Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, the events largely included visual artworks, sculpture and crafts. The organization also has unique events to showcase their dance and performing artists.

"But we decided, after several years of thinking, that we really wanted to give our writers a chance to shine on their own," Keller said. "We were so enamored of the writers and their work and how they've grown so much. This partnership is such a gift for us to be able to showcase the work of our writers at the home of Edith Wharton."

Thursday's poetry reading at The Mount will again be held in the estate's stable auditorium, the same venue for The Mount's popular lecture series. Admission is free, but an RSVP to CATA at 413-528-5485 is requested for seating purposes.

The 10 to 12 writers who participate at any given time vary in age, background and ability, and join together in weekly writing workshops held in CATA's Great Barrington studio space.

Keller said that while the event is billed as a poetry reading, it will also highlight writers' work with the genres of haiku, autobiography, short stories and journalistic interviews. This current group has been working with CATA faculty members Janet Reich Elsbach, Emily Rechnitz and Anamyn Turowski, all Berkshire-based writers and artists, who conduct writing exercises and offer writing prompts to help get the creativity and words flowing.

As needed, the writers are also assigned scribes, who play an integral role in the process.

"It's a really interesting dimension of the program, born of necessity, as some of our writers are unable to physically write, or because the pace of their thinking and imagination makes it hard for their physical writing to keep pace with that idea generation. The scribes free them of the burden of having to transcribe their thoughts while also thinking about them," Keller said.

The scribes, she said, may ask a follow up question while working with the writers, but their primary role is to be a channel for whatever the CATA writers would like to express. "They're not co-writers," Keller said of the scribes.

Much of the writing presented on Thursday will fall under the umbrella of the theme of "Everyday People," and what this means to the writers.

Most of the work itself will be read through performing artist Rachel Siegel, who regularly works with and is a parent of a child with a disability. But the group of writers will also be in the audience, and on hand during the post-show reception to interact and answer question from audience members.

Said Keller of the performer, "Rachel has an incredible ability to inhabit different characters and voices. I can't wait to hear how she captures the range of emotions and images reflected in our writers' work. I know there will be moments that are deeply funny, and others that are incredibly thought-provoking."

Keller continued to call the writers work "revelatory." She said, "This is art at its most revelatory, giving people a chance to hear a perspective that we don't always get a chance to hear: a range of artistic voices; a sense of deep longing; those incredibly funny moments, fears or worries that would resonate for any other human being, as well as what it's like to have seizures or what it's like being blind."

Said Wilson, "This is a nice way to end the summer season and focus on giving something to the community, and in turn, these writers are giving so much to us."

Learn more: edithwharton.org or cataarts.org.


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