Mastheads brings writers to Pittsfield

“Like the giddy time I met and danced with my wife-to-be at that roof-deck party with a full moon rising above us, and I was amazed I could have that much fun sober. …”

In the wake of a hurricane a paramedic is riding an ambulance back to the hospital. He has been working a long shift with people scored by rubble and mud and broken buildings. In a daze of exhaustion, he finds a woman naked and stranded by the road and tries to help

Maria Pinto makes the damage of the storm as real as the warm, insistent life of a man who lived through it, in her short story ‘Earth comes Down’ in the online journal Flapperhouse. She is a Jamaican-American writer known for her short fiction. And this summer, she is writing here. She joins four more emerging writers in the first summer of Mastheads, a new writers’ residency program in Pittsfield.

They will come for a month of writing, weekly roundtables and events with WordxWord poets in July. Mariam Rahmahi is writing a novel about two close friends, Iranian American women growing up in an orthodox Muslim community in Ohio, and she will gather with writers from the Midwest to the West Coast: fiction writer John Babbott and poets Justin Boening and Greg Allendorf.

While they are here, they will write in five studios designed by Mastheads founders Tessa Kelly and Chris Parkinson, in honor of five writers who knew these hills in the 19th century. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s in-laws once had a house where Pittsfield High School now stands, and he wrote The Old Clock on the Stairs about a timepiece there.

Henry David Thoreau climbed Mount Greylock before he began his experiment on Walden Pond, and the high-stilted studio in his name will stand at Springside House in Springside Park.

Nathaniel Hawthorne lived and wrote in Lenox, bringing the place into his Tanglewood tales, and his studio is at Arrowhead, at the home of a friend who dedicated a novel to him — Herman Melville wrote Moby-Dick here, in the study of his Pittsfield farm.

And up the road named for him, Oliver Wendell Holmes used to walk the land that is now Canoe Meadows, a Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuary along the Housatonic River.

Every Monday evening this month, Mastheads is hosting a roundtable at the Hotel on North — on July 24,  Professor Tess Chakkalakal of Bowdoin College will ask ‘Why save authors’ houses?’ and reflect on her experience with the Harriet Beecher Stowe house at Bowdoin and the importance of preserving physical ties to a literary past.

She has  has written widely on 19th-century African American and American literature — in Novel Bondage: Slavery, Marriage, and Freedom in Nineteenth-Century America she explores marriage, slavery and freedom in 19th-century novels and short stories by black and white writers, at a time when U.S. law did not recognize marriages among people who were enslaved, and the men and women who took these vows lived with the fear that they would lose each other and their families.

In the photo at the top: Mastheads brings writers to places in Pittsfield connected with 19th-century novelists and essayists, including Herman Melville’s Arrowhead, where a young visitor makes a fairy house above. (Photo by Susan Geller)

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