Meeting of the scribes
Adirondack Center for Writing hosts first Kicka** Writers Festival
SARANAC LAKE — This past weekend marked the first ever Kicka** Writers Festival, a series of events for writers hosted by writers.
Events spanned across a variety of different venues from Grizle T’s Garagery to ADK ArtRise, and at least 200 people were registered to participate to the festival.
“I have wanted to do a sort of marquee event at the ACW for a very long time,” Adirondack Center for Writing Executive Director Nathalie Thill said. “We wouldn’t have been able to do that outside of this space. It would have been harder and a big element of it would have been different if we couldn’t have had a home base from which to work.”
The ACW, which organized the festival, had set the date in October of last year, initially planning it as a singular event but not knowing it would turn into a festival. It wasn’t until they received a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts that they felt they could kick off an entire festival.
“It’s for our operating expenses but it did make me feel more confident to do a big writing festival and feeling like we had a sort of financial cushion,” Thill said.
Friday’s events consisted of a meet and greet with local and national authors at the center for writing. That same night, people packed the Pendragon Theatre seats to listen to readings of “Sh** Cassandra Saw” by Gwen Kirby and “The Crazy Bunch” by Willie Perdomo. Both writers have published their works through Penguin Random House, one of the leading publishing houses in the nation.
When asked how it felt to read chapters of her book aloud, Kirby said it felt “wonderful.”
“My books came out six months ago during the omicron surge so even the things I thought I was going to get to do in person got canceled,” she said. “It’s just really thrilling to read and be with people and be in a community of writers.”
Saturday consisted of even more activities. Peruvian-American keynote speaker, memoirist and activist Sylvia Vasquez-Lavado hosted the first event of the day with a hike up Baker Mountain. To end the day was a HOWL story slam at the Waterhole.
In between were events like “speed dating, where people could meet fellow writers at the festival and take pre-paid workshops; some of the workshops included Erasure and Nature with ACW collaborating artist, Erin Dorney, comedy writing, poetry, creative nonfiction and fiction.
Saranac Lake resident Baylee Annis was one of many volunteers who helped run events and guide people on where to go next. She had worked for ACW for over six years and attended many of the workshops they host.
“I hope people appreciate the sheer talent that exists in such a small place,” she said when reflecting on the festival. “I also hope people appreciate that we live in an area that does really value creative thinking, arts and perspective.”
Annis added that she appreciates how ACW “brings a high-brow of literature” and makes it affordable for many people.
Volunteers like Annis were spread throughout the venues utilized for the Kicka** Writers Festival. At least one volunteer was at each of the workshops which were comedy, poetry, creative nonfiction and fiction.
While Perdomo and Kirby taught poetry and fiction, Vermont writer and scholar Sue Halpern and Los Angeles comedian and poet Greg Harris taught creative nonfiction and comedy writing.
Kate Tooley, a communications and events coordinator for The New School, came to the Kicka** Writers Festival from her home in Brooklyn. Balancing her writing with her other job, she said she came to the festival to remind herself that writing is what she does.
Tooley took the fiction writing workshop with Kirby and said she loved “everyone’s different perspectives on stories and different ways people approach it.”
“But also, I love a writing prompt that doesn’t just get me writing but also makes me look at myself as I’m writing,” she added.
That was precisely the goal that Kirby was going for as she said she values “empathy” when it comes to creating characters. One of the prompts she asked her class to complete was to think of someone they stereotyped and create a deeper story for them.
“I think stereotypes in fiction and in our culture can be so incredibly harmful and can be so internalized by all of us,” said Kirby. “I think as writers, we have a really important moral responsibility to push back on that and to think empathetically and with complexity about our characters.”
Kirby also said that “writing can seem like its confined to academia,” but having a festival like this “takes that perception away and gives people the chance to meet other people in their community with the same passions and excitement that they do.”
Thill expressed a similar sentiment, referring to the “kicka**” title of the festival as being an open invitation for everyone of every skill set and background to attend. She said the naming was both “funny but also crazy intentional.”
“I want people to feel welcome,” said Thill. “I never use the word literary because it’s so alienating to our own community. It’s very elitist. The craziest thing in the world is that there is no word for what we do.”
Vasquez-Lavado, who published her book, “In the Shadow of the Mountain: A Memoir of Courage” this year via Macmillan publishing was the festival’s keynote speaker. The memoir covers both her completion as the first openly lesbian woman to climb the Seven Summits as a means of processing and healing from trauma in her life.
Vasquez-Lavado said that the process of writing her memoir was one that “surprised” her on “how raw, how vulnerable it was to bring a lot of the painful stories to life.”
“But the reason I wanted to do it was to show other people who were struggling in silence that they were not alone,” she said. “In order for me to do that, I needed to just be as open, as raw, and that was very hard. I mean this journey has been one of the most fulfilling yet hardest that I’ve ever experienced, with oxygen.”
As part of her keynote speech at Saranac Lake High School, she read from chapters of her memoir. She discussed everything from her journey to America from Peru to her celebration of four years of sobriety. She also spoke of one of the hiking trips she took via her nonprofit “Courageous Girls,” in which she hikes with girls from San Francisco and Nepali to help them heal from sexual violence.
One of the messages she said she wanted people to take away from her being in Saranac Lake was that “everything and anything is possible. It only takes one step, especially when it comes from the heart. I think we can achieve anything.”
Both Thill and ACW Communications Manager Tyler Barton said they hope people made significant connections with fellow writers during the festival because writing is often seen as an “isolated” practice.
“Everyone knows that writing is very lonely and isolating but, for me, it only works if you also go outside after you’ve written your pages and meet with other writers, go to readings, you have a workshop or you have a friend who you exchange your work with even if they live halfway across the country and just engage in writing and communicating in some way,” Barton said.
Thill added that she hopes having this festival brings to surface the writing and storytelling communities of the Adirondacks because of the lack of visibility.
“There are theaters, museums, other artforms that have a lot of consciousness in the ecosystem in the Adirondacks,” she said. “Having literature take a firmer place in that is really important.”
Thill and Barton do plan on hosting another Kicka** Writers Festival. They just aren’t sure whether it will be annually or biannually. However, Thill is certain they will host it earlier in the summer so they can run other events they have in mind.