In an earlier article, I wrote about the crazy number of writers in the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts. Just saying like that; “Crazy number of writers,” doesn’t do justice to the incredible concentration of literary minds here.
Here are a few examples of the sort of literary fervor that is stirred up in this place— but first, an idea of the geography here and how everything fits together…
The valley is made up of 8 cities, 35 towns and many farms, lakes and forests. It is a beautiful mix of town and country. The biggest of these centers is Springfield MA, the birthplace of basketball, Dr Seuss, the first American English Dictionary, and, of course, a lot of Massachusettians (Is that what you call them?). Boston is East of here, a one and three quarter hour road trip away. New York is South West of the Valley, three and a half hours away by road.
Here’s the list:
The Eric Carle Museum is here
The author of the famous children’s book The Very Hungry Caterpillar himself and his wife lived here, in Northampton, until 2018. The museum, in South Amherst, is a tribute to children’s picture books. My wife and I have taken our four year old there, twice, and she loves it.
Emily Dickinson lived here
The famous American poet was born here, in Amherst, in 1830. Her place of birth and family home is now the Emily Dickinson Museum. The one thing that strikes me about her story, especially in this time when we can write stuff and share it instantly, is that Emily’s poetry was only published after she died.
The writings of W.E.B. Du Bois are a short bus ride from home
The main library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst is named after the prolific writer W.E.B Du Bois, who was one of the luminaries of American civil rights. The library houses the W.E.B. Du Bois center which is home to many of his papers and other writings. When I first heard about Du Bois, a number of years ago, it was in relation to his theory of the talented tenth.
Ocean Vuong teaches here
The author of the bestselling novel, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, is a professor at Umass Amherst.
There are so many book stores I’ve lost count
Amherst Books, Barnes & Nobel, The Montague Book Mill, Raven Used Books, Broadside Bookshop, Grey Matter Books, Gabriel Books, Odyssey Book Shop, Bookends, White Square Fine Books & Art, Tim’s Used Books, Red Brick Books, Book Moon, Federal Street Books, The Bookstore, Quaboag Bookshop, Brattleboro Books, Roundabout Books, Booklink Booksellers…
There seems to be a library around every corner
For most of last year, my daughter only could only get into three days of daycare a week. That meant my wife and I had to find ways of keeping her busy on the other two days. Over the summer it was the whole week that we had to keep her occupied- affordably. For the days that I spent with her, I discovered firstly that there were many libraries in the area (Jones Library, Forbes, Lilly, Goodwin Memorial, South Hadley…). Most of them have play areas in the children’s section and many hold storytime for children on different days of the week so I figured out a schedule to keep it interesting for her – and for me. I joined our local library and realized that it gave me access to books at over 150 libraries in Western Massachusetts, along with online access to audiobooks, magazines, etc, but that’s a topic for another day. For now, I’d like you to think of the miracle of having 150 functional libraries in Central and Western Massachusetts alone.
The Amherst Writers Method started here
The Amherst Writers Method for workshop facilitation started right here in, er, Amherst. It is now taught and practiced around the world.
There are writing workshops going on ALL the time
All year round, there are writing workshops taking place that cover every aspect of writing craft. Check out these four organisations for an idea of what I’m talking about.
- Pioneer Valley Writers Workshop
- Writers in Progress
- Amherst Writers & Artists
- Straw Dog Writers Guild
Writing Conferences, discussions and meetings
The annual WriteAngles Conference takes place in South Hadley, MA. The Boston Book Festival is two hours away by road. Various bookshops and initiatives also hold author talks and discussions ALL THE TIME.
30 poems in November has it’s home here
Last year I took part in the 30 Poems in November initiative which has its home right here, in Northampton.
Winning Writers is based here
I first came across Winning Writers a few years ago only to discover, once I moved here, that it was based in MA. The website is a great resource for free and paid literary contests. It has been voted one of the top 101 websites for writers by Writer’s Digest.
Guess where Merriam-Webster is located?
The dictionary and reference book publishers have their headquarters in Springfield, MA. They have been there since 1831. Here’s their website.
There are five colleges in the area
Smith College offers an MFA in playwriting. UMass has a very competitive MFA for poets and writers. Mt Holyoke offers a number of creative writing courses. Amherst College has a creative writing center which, among other things hosts an impressive reading series featuring writers and poets from across America. Hampshire College has a strong emphasis on writing.
And of course, when you have lots of writers you need lots of coffee shops…
There are many. Share Coffee, Iconica, Hay Market, Starbucks, Lady Killgrew, Freedom Cafe, Northampton Coffee, Esselon, Shelburne Falls… and I haven’t even started…
PICTURE: Montague Book Mill, Montague, MA
is a favorite writing place for many | FungaiFoto.