The coronavirus pandemic is putting a strain on many artists and museums and creative spaces. Last week Mass MoCA explained how they are responding. It shakes me as a writer in the Berkshires. And I’ve been thinking about all the reasons why.Read article
So who’s writing these stories?
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.
So I talk with people. My job lets me hang out with Shakespeare actors and bhangra dancers. I’ve walked through fields where a young herd of free-range pigs snuffled around my knees. I’ve shaped earthenware pots for a wood-fired kiln.
And people talk with me. Women who have come here from El Salvador and Oaxaca have made me hot soup. Young spoken word poets dealing with pain have trusted me with 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?
College students often stay close to campus, but I got to know the Berkshires when I lived here in the summer after my junior year. I interned at Mass MoCA the summer it opened, in 1999. The galleries were new, and I walked through them after hours — Robert Rauschenberg collages and a horned morotcycle that ran on by the Fibbonaci sequence.
I remember offices 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. I also became communications director for Inkberry, a literary nonprofit in North Adams, and wrote freelance for the Women’s Times, a local monthly journal.
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 (and published poetry in journals including the Comstock Review, Fourth River, Intelechy International and Qarrtsiluni.)
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.