They come from all over the country, staying for one or two weeks or up to a full month. They explore Edgartown from their home base at the former Point Way Inn. Some of them work in their rooms, others find a nesting spot in one of the many elegant downstairs parlors. For dinner they might bring home scallops from the Net Result, ingredients for a pasta Siciliana, and share the meal pot-luck style in the formal dining room, which is two stories high and lit up like a stage set.
What they all share is a huge talent for writing and a need to get away from their regular lives in order to dive deeper into the creative process. They are here as part of the Martha’s Vineyard Writers Residency, which each spring and fall allows for up to nine writers at a time to live at the inn for $200 a week.
Justen Ahren, a poet, musician and landscaper living in West Tisbury, is the director of the Martha’s Vineyard Writers Residency. Each year, since 2007, he reads through the applications and chooses the final cut.
“It doesn’t matter to me if a writer has nine published books,” he said. “I’m simply drawn in by the talent in the writing sample.”
One of the current writers asked him kiddingly, “But if Salman Rushdie wanted to attend, yet his sample wasn’t an easy read, would you take him?”
Mr. Ahren flashed a “point well-taken” smile. “I’d let Salman Rushdie enroll. Any time.”
Two weeks ago, three new writers arrived on the scene and, after stowing their bags in their assigned rooms, they assembled in the kitchen where they met up with two writers who had been staying at the inn already.
Laura Lepik has been working on a non-fiction work called Jazz, Labs and Galileo, which details the journey of a mother of four who loses custody of her children. Ms. Lepik has studied writing at Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center and the Iowa Workshop.
Jack Sonni is a professional musician currently working on a memoir called Rock n’ Rolled, which chronicles his nomadic music journey from the clubs of New York to playing in Live Aid and on MTV with the band Dire Straits. Mr. Sonni gives the impression of being devoted one hundred per cent to writing now. When he leaves the Vineyard, though, he’ll be heading back to his music career, playing in Rome and Verona.
In the kitchen, Mr. Ahren steamed an enormous batch of mussels while Mr. Sonni, who had already prepared a Chicago-style thick pizza from scratch, sautÃ©d a mound of thinly-sliced beef. Both men collaborated on an arugula salad with a deliciously tart lemon dressing as well as a quinoa salad, snappy with veggies and raisins.
Mr. Sonni remarked in passing, “I don’t know what it is about musicians, but a lot of us can really cook.”
The newcomers were Anna Sequoia of Glen Cove, New York, Julia Dahl of Brooklyn, and Anne Bauleke of Minneapolis. This is Ms. Sequoia’s second residency on the Vineyard. She is the author of 10 non-fiction books, primarily humor-related, including the best-selling The Official J.A.P. Handbook. Ms. Sequoia remarked during dinner that she had never before developed the self-confidence to write fiction.
“But now that I’m older, I don’t care anymore what people think,” she said. “I’m writing a novel and that’s that!”
Ms. Dahl has written articles for national publications including Salon, the Boston Globe, Oprah Magazine and The New York Post. Her first novel, The Stringer, is forthcoming from Minotaur Press. Her second book for Minotaur is due in ten months. Ms. Dahl has pledged to work hard during her residency.
Ms. Bauleke’s niche has been sports writing, in particular articles about major league baseball for regional magazines and arts weeklies in her hometown. She has also published two biographies for young readers, Ricky Henderson: Record Stealer (Lerner, 1991), and Kirby Puckett: Fan Favorite (Lerner, 1993). Freshly installed at the inn, she’ll be working on a series of personal essays.
Two more residents were due any day.
Francine Kelly, formerly the director of the Featherstone Center For The Arts, lives on the premises as manager. Mr. Ahren said he relies on Ms. Kelly for her experience in the nonprofit world. The writers quickly embraced her as their den mother.
During their stay on the Island, the writers are invited to give readings at any number of settings. Last Sunday, they read at the Bunch of Grapes Bookstore in Vineyard Haven.
Ms. Dahl read from her new mystery novel which takes place among the Hasidic Jewish community in Brooklyn.
Professor Stephanie Smith of Gainesville, Florida, who arrived a day after the dinner on Wednesday, had just returned from a semester at Oxford teaching 19th century American literature. She read from the her novel of an intended trilogy entitled War Paint. The scene involved three female artists of varying ages, the oldest is 90, gathered at MOMA for an exhibition of one of their works.
Ms. Sequoia read from a scene in her first novel, as yet untitled, that involved an Auntie Mame-type character named Magnolia who whisks the female protagonist away from an over-wrought bar mitzvah. Magnolia takes the young woman home to show off a palatial basement stocked with bespoke gowns and an endless collection of fur coats. “Her diamond ring is known as The Flashlight,” the narrator reports, describing how it continuously sparkles as Magnolia’s hands explore the gowns and her own curvaceous body.
Ms. Bauleke was the last to read. She shared one of her essays entitled Spinsters, which followed the course of eight interrelated pieces inspired by the narrator’s response to a spider in her sink.
For more information and to apply, visit writersresidency.com.