Two women are talking together, their voices are confident and clear and touched with laughter. The elder woman repeats the word for blue heron in Apsáalooke. I have come to Wendy Red Star’s exhibit many times now, and this is the first time I have heard her language aloud — I have to thank Shaun Leonardo.Read article
My name is Kate — Katherine Osborn Abbott — and I am a freelance writer in the Berkshires. I have lived here for 20 years, with a short break on the New Hampshire coast, and I have written about this place all that time in newspapers and magazines, fiction and poems.
For some eight years I was the editor of Berkshires Week, a weekly arts and culture magazine in the Berkshire Eagle, the county’s daily newspaper. The magazine became a hub, a place where people who wanted to get out for some fresh air and color and laughter could see what was going on around us.
Now I also write for the Boston Globe, Berkshire Magazine, Hill Country Observer and others. The conversation is expanding, and the Berkshires is still my beat.
Working as a journalist in local newsrooms has shaped the way I think about how to find and tell a story. It has given me the chance to come behind the scenes, to ask people what matters to them and listen.
And people talk with me. Women who have come here from El Salvador and Oaxaca have made me hot soup and told me about places and people they have left behind. Young spoken word poets dealing with pain have trusted me with their stories. I’ve learned the Berkshires from people who have lived here for generations, working on the land and in the mills — and from people who lived here for thousands of years — and from young artists building a new community.
How did I come to the Berkshires?
Williams College brought me here.
I’ve always been a writer in New England. I grew up on the Connecticut coast, and I have roots in an inland farm and a cabin in Maine. I learned to bake bread, play reels on recorder, ride a horse mostly without falling off, drive a tractor and love the poetry of Richard Wilbur, Martin Espada, Nikki Giovanni …
In the fall of 1996 I unpacked in a dorm room with the bright red-orange bedspread my mother had taken to her own, and my room-mate said we’d be able to steer by it in the dark. Sharing a room with Karelle Aiken, I got to know the all-out energy of college life here — poetry with Louise Glück, the view from Berlin Mountain at dawn, all-night trivia at the radio station, playing Joshua with the marching band at full blast in the library …
How did I fall for the Berkshires?
I lived here for the summer after my junior year. I was interning at Mass MoCA in its first season open, in 1999. The wide brick halls were new then, and I walked through the art after hours — Robert Rauschenberg collages and a horned morotcycle that ran on by the Fibbonaci sequence.
I remember working with the staff in a cheerful jumble above the gatehouse and looking out over the courtyards at a thunderstorm sky. As one of my favorite writers says (Dorothy Sayers in Gaudy Night), there was something electric in the atmosphere.
I didn’t know it, but the Berkshires were changing then, and I was in the middle of it. The mills that drove North Adams and Pittsfield had wound down in the late 1980s and 1990s, and I came out of college here as the county was starting to turn into a new creative channel.
How did I become a writer?
The Berkshire Advocate took me on, and I became one of two people in it’s Southern Berkshire office. It’s a now-vanished free weekly newspaper; in those days it covered all of Berkshire county and into southern Vermont with a newsroom of some 15 people. My editor and I covered half the county between us — theater, black ash baskets, select boards, town meetings and all. By the end of four years I had become associate editor in charge of the small southern bureau.
Then I left for three years at the University of New Hampshire to earn an MFA in fiction, to live by the Oyster River in a room with white pines outside the window. I had the great good luck to study with Alex Parsons and Charles Simic, while I drafted a novel set in a town suspiciously like Williamstown.
In January 2008, the Berkshire Eagle took me on as editor of Berkshires Week, a weekly arts and culture magazine that had covered the scene for decades, and I ran the magazine until I went freelance in summer 2015, covering art and theater and music, farms and local restaurants and walks in the woods — anything people can do here.
So for many years these hills have been my beat. It has been my job to know these mountains inside and out. And here I hope to share them with a wider world.