12th annual Writers’ Festival is a pre-season success

The Chautauqua Writers’ Festival might be turning 13 next year, but it’s no tempestuous teenager.

For co-director Sherrie Flick, heading up the festival was nothing but fun.

“One of the participants said to me, ‘Oh, you guys must work so hard,’ ” Flick said. “And I was like, ‘Oh, yeah; I’m getting paid for this.’ You’re having a great time doing what you love with people you respect and admire — it’s just a fantastic situation.”

The 12th iteration of the festival, which was held at Chautauqua Institution from June 18 to 21 during the late pre-season, welcomed a number of acclaimed and award-winning writers to teach writing workshops, host readings and panel discussions and provide one-on-one time with student writers.

This year’s faculty included Tony Hoagland and Tim Seibles for poetry, Jane McCafferty and Aimee Parkison for fiction and Steve Almond and Lia Purpura for nonfiction. There was also a new addition this year: songwriting, with singer-songwriter Scott Minar.

Lori Jakiela, another co-director, said the process of selecting and securing workshop leaders was relaxed by having Flick and co-director Philip Terman as her partners in organizing the festival.

“All the co-directors, we’re all writers, so we all have our own sense of the community and our genres,” Jakiela said. “We all picked writers whose work we really love, that we admire and that we think are lovely people. We really want to build that sense of community and keep that going.”

Jakiela said her long-standing friendships with Terman and Flick also soothed any of the nerves she had about organizing the festival.

“I wish every day of my working life could be like the experience I had planning the festival,” she said. “We worked really well together. It was a lot of work and a lot of fun, too. A lot of laughing. Not a lot of jobs have that kind of joy.”

All three co-directors agreed that the addition of the songwriting workshop was a great one, and one that Terman hopes to continue with future versions of the festival.

Terman started the festival after a student floated the idea when he was teaching a workshop at the Chautauqua Writers’ Center. He thought Chautauqua would be the perfect place for a festival.

“Chautauqua has such a great name, recognition and history and I thought they’d be interested,” Terman said. “It turned out they were.”

The addition of the songwriting workshop also brought another boon to the festival: “the Hoots.” After readings each evening, students and faculty would go down to the Pier Building to play music and sing songs together.

“Kind of like a hootenanny,” Terman said.

Besides the Hoots, Terman, Flick and Jakiela also emphasized the atmosphere of the festival as being one of absolute positivity.

“I really feel like the experience was so positive and it was about creation, improvisation and writing instead of being about the failures of the industry,” Flick said. “It was the really positive side of it all. And I think sometimes we forget to focus on that. And I think we really did that this year.”

Certain faculty readings also gave the co-directors a way to personally reflect, especially Jakiela. She said she hadn’t heard Hoagland read for more than a decade.

“My husband and I, our first date was at a Tony Hoagland reading 15 years ago, so it was really exciting,” Jakiela said. “Tony’s one of my favorite poets, so it was exciting to get to hear him read. And he just blew the roof off the place.”