Above: The Hobart Festival of Women Writers enters its third year. Photo via hobartfestivalofwomenwriters.com.
For a few days each fall, the Delaware County town of Hobart is ground zero for the Festival of Women Writers, a weekend dedicated to female poets, novelists, memoirists and more from the surrounding region and beyond.
Hobart is already steeped in literature: With only about 400 residents, the self-styled Book Village is home to an impressive six bookstores.
That population is expected to nearly double in size this weekend, when dozens of writers and hundreds of attendees will pour into the tiny town for three days of workshops, readings and events.
Now in its third year, the festival is the brainchild of two literary sisters—poet Cheryl Clarke and novelist Breena Clarke. They started the FWW in 2013 with the idea of bringing female writers together from across the Catskills, and from Delaware County specifically.
“There are a lot of serious writers in this area, and we wanted to find a way to connect them to more published writers so they can find ways to get their work out,” explains Cheryl Clarke. A retired Rutgers University professor and the author of four poetry books, she co-runs Blenheim Hill Books in Hobart with her partner, Barbara J. Balliet.
This year’s festival sees the return of many local writers as well as some fresh faces, offering a combination of readings and writing workshops. The roster is diverse, encompassing women from varying ages and backgrounds writing in a variety of genres.
Of the many workshops on offer, highlights include “Facing the Blank Page: A Conversation with Fear,” taught by area poet/novelist Mermer Blakeslee; “In Want an Desire: Writing the Body in Fiction” from short-story scribe Mecca Jamilah Sullivan; and “Finding the Poet Inside You: The Poetry of Memory and Place” from poet Maria Mazziotti Gillan.
While most workshops last for two hours, the FWW is offering a few intensive workshops, which are spread into two four-hour sessions over two days. Many of the shorter seminars still have open spots; participants can register online up until the night before the festival, or in person the day of if there are still spaces.
If you’d prefer to just listen, the festival also includes readings by writers including bilingual poet Bessy Reyna; JP Howard, who curates a poetry salon in New York City; and more. On Saturday, you can catch a table read of Lambda-Award-winning novelist and activist Jewelle Gomez 'snew work-in-progress play about blues singer Alberta Hunter.
Clarke views the festival as a way to create a community for both established writers and those who are just starting out—as well as a way to bring business to the booksellers of Hobart. And so far, it’s worked like a charm. Clarke and her sister were surprised by the festival’s success in 2013, and they’ve only expanded their reach since.
“We want to create an opportunity for women writers inside and outside of this region to share their work with each other and the audiences here, with the Catskills as a beautiful backdrop,” she says.