Gallery of Readers helps writers hone their craft

  • Northampton writers and workshop leaders Carol Edelstein and Robin Barber have recently published their third Gallery of Readers Anthology, featuring 103 Pioneer Valley poets and writers. SUBMITTED PHOTO/ROBIN BARBER

Friday, January 13, 2017
Excerpt from ‘My Love Affair with Annabelle Banner,’ by Carol Edelstein Things I have learned about Annabelle Banner over the years: she has a son, Bobbie Banner, now well launched, quite a hunk, a caring friend, popular with the others, an athlete. He h

Northampton writer Carol Edelstein’s roots in the Pioneer Valley run deep. Edelstein lives less than a mile from where she was born, and she has committed her life’s work to the valley’s writers. A new anthology just out from Gallery of Readers Press, which Edelstein oversees with her husband, Robin Barber, highlights the poetry and prose of 103 contemporary Massachusetts writers.

Edelstein and Barber have been running writers’ workshops in their home since 1988. Based on the Amherst Artists and Writers’ model developed by Pat Schneider, the workshops are designed to encourage writers to generate new work in a safe environment.

“The writing workshop is a very safe place for people to go deep,” Edelstein says. “And it’s a real community. People look out for one another. People write together for years.”

Edelstein says that most of the people in her Thursday workshop have been in it for ten years. One person has been in the group since the workshop’s first meeting in September of 1988.

In 1990, Edelstein and Barber began holding informal potluck readings in their living room, designed to give workshop participants a chance to share their work with friends and spouses. Public readings at Northampton’s Forbes Library followed, and the name “Gallery of Readers” was given to the series.

In 1992, Bob Averitt, then chairman of the American Studies department at Smith College and the spouse of one of the workshop writers, helped Edelstein and Barber move the readings to the Neilson Library at Smith College and secured funding through the Sylvia Dlugasch Bauman Fund to underwrite the publication of the first two Gallery of Readers anthologies in 1994 and 1996.

In 2010, a donor approached Edelstein and Barber, asking them to accept an ongoing donation in order to make Gallery of Readers an organization that would live on beyond them, and provide it the funds to publish more books on a regular basis. The couple began to cast a wider net after that, inviting local writers to participate in the readings and to submit work to the anthologies.

“We realized that Gallery of Readers couldn’t be any more just a showcase for our own living room writers,” Edelstein said. “We had to make an effort to include people who weren’t writing in the little mom and pop store of Carol and Robin.”

Since its inception in 2010, Galley of Readers Press has published three anthologies, three collections of poetry, two collections of short fiction, an illustrated children’s book, and a collection of essays on child psychotherapy. Edelstein says that the press aims to publish the work of writers who don’t already have a track record and might have difficulty publishing in more commercial publishing spheres. For the most recent, and largest, anthology, 150 invitations were extended to workshop participants as well as to area writers with more established presences.

Edelstein says that Pulitzer Prize finalist Martín Espada, a professor of English at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, may be the best-known poet in the anthology. Also included are Amherst poet and Northampton gallery owner Richard Michelson, Ashfield poet Amy Dryansky and Amherst poet Karen Skolfield. Skolfield recently won the Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize from the Missouri Review, placing first out of over 3,000 entries. There are also many writers of short fiction and memoir.

“It’s just a sample of the incredible array of choices of writers that we could have included,” Edelstein said of the anthology. “We’re looking forward to casting the net wider each time we do a project.”

Edelstein’s essay in the anthology, “My Love Affair with Annabelle Banner,” tells of the humorous frustration she felt lying in the chair at the dentist, her mouth packed with instruments, while the dental hygienist talks to her about a wide-ranging array of topics. The essay aptly conveys the odd mix of intimacy and helplessness we may all have experienced in this situation.

Contact information for Carol Edelstein and Gallery of Readers is available at http://www.galleryofreaders.org or by phone at 413-584-7080. Designed to help give local writers more exposure, the website also includes listings of upcoming readings and audio files from past ones.

Trish Crapo is a writer and photographer who lives in Leyden. She is always looking for poets, writers and artists to interview for her columns. She can be reached at tcrapo@mac.com