APRIL 2018                            NEWSLETTER 

May 1 is Valley Gives, the annual day of Pioneer Valley giving. This is the day we all say Thank You to the nonprofits that enrich our community and connect us to the world. This year is the last Valley Gives, and once again we at Straw Dog Writers Guild ask for your support.
Our goal this year is $5000. Not a huge amount of money, but it goes a long way to help us offer free or very low cost craft workshops, panels and roundtable discussions about publishing and the writing life, monthly open mics in Northampton and Ashfield, and events in support of social justice writing. Your donation helps us pay our part-time Administrative Director, offer honoraria to the writers who present programs for us, and support the work of writers in our region.
You can help by
  • making a generous donation here
  • telling your friends and family about the work we do, and asking for their support 
Thank you!
Ellen Meeropol
President, SDWG Board of Directors
Mark your calendar for Saturday morning!
This roundtable about the pros and cons of different paths to publication can help you figure out where (and where not) to place your writing. Five Straw Dog authors will briefly describe their experiences working with diverse kinds of presses – corporate, indie, hybrid, self-publishing, as well as working with an agent.

Everyone will be invited to participate in the discussion to follow. This is a great opportunity for anyone wanting to know more about the array of publishing opportunities available today.  

Moderator: Michael Goldman.

Featured Writer: Kathy Ford

Kathy Ford grew up in Rochester, New York, graduated from Hobart & William Smith Colleges in 1980 with a major in design theory, and moved to New York City to pursue a career in architecture. She received her Masters in Architecture from Harvard University in 1985 and has been practicing architecture in New York and Massachusetts for the past thirty years.
Her life as a quilter began shortly after becoming a mother in 1991.  Adding Wood To The Fire, A Quiltmaker's Way was published in December.  Her body of work can be seen at  Kathy lives with her two dogs in the hill towns of western Massachusetts. 

Doors open at 7 - with an Open Mic. If you'd like a chance to read, place your name in the hat up until 7:10. Ten names will be randomly selected. The reading starts at 7:15, and each reader will have five minutes.
Admission is free; participants are encouraged to buy a drink (alcohol and non-alcohol available) and tip well in support of the venue.  
Please join us!
Further information: Beth Filson at
Featured Reader
for June 5 - Joyce Hayden

Sunday, May 6, 2018

 Co-sponsored by:
Straw Dog Writers Guild and Nan Parati (owner, Elmer's Store and the Inn at Norton Hill)
Featured Reader: Lesléa Newman
Lesléa Newman is the author of 70 books for readers of all ages, including the short story collection, A Letter To Harvey Milk; the novel-in-verse, October Mourning: A Song For Matthew Shepard; the poetry collection, I Carry My Mother; and the children’s books, Heather Has Two Mommies, Sparkle Boy, A Sweet Passover, and Ketzel, The Cat Who Composed. Her literary awards include poetry fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Massachusetts Artists Foundation, an American Library Association Stonewall Honor, the Association of Jewish Libraries Sydney Taylor Award, and the Massachusetts Book Award. From 2008 - 2010 she served as the Poet Laureate of Northampton, MA. Her newest poetry collection, Lovelywas published in January 2018.

Here's how it works: The featured writer reads recent work and describes the journey to publication, followed by Q & A. Then the floor opens to other writers, who read for five minutes each. If you want to read, put your name in the hat before 3:15. 
Hosted by Jane Roy Brown 

Upcoming: June 3rd - Melissa Volker

Please email Jane Roy Brown at
A challenge that many writers face is how to choose artful details when writing about strong emotional content.  Some of us may shy away from expressing loss or anger, or we may produce work that’s overly sentimental.  For inspiration we will read poems that elevate personal experience by paying close attention to craft.  We’ll also engage in an exercise to discover fresh metaphors and experiment with form.  Open to poets and prose writers, this workshop will illustrate how to use poetic craft as a means of diving more deeply. 

Gail Thomas
has published four books of poetry, Odd Mercy (2016), Waving Back (2015), No Simple Wilderness: An Elegy for Swift River Valley (2001) and Finding the Bear (1997).
Odd Mercy was chosen by Ellen Bass for the Charlotte Mew Prize of Headmistress Press, and its “Little Mommy Sonnets” won Honorable Mention for the Tom Howard/ Margaret Prize for Traditional Verse. Also, Waving Back was named a Must Read for 2016 by the Massachusetts Center for the Book and Honorable Mention in the New England Book Festival. 
Thomas’s work has appeared in many journals and anthologies including The Beloit Poetry Journal, Calyx, The North American Review, Hanging Loose, and Valparaiso Poetry Review.  Individual poems have won the Naugatuck Review’s Narrative Poetry Prize and the Pat Schneider Poetry Prize.  She was awarded residencies at The McDowell Colony and Ucross.
Her book, No Simple Wilderness, about the creation of the Quabbin Reservoir in the 1930’s, has been taught in college courses. As one of the original teaching artists for the Massachusetts Cultural Council’s Elder Arts Initiative, Thomas led workshops and collaborated with dancers, musicians and storytellers in schools, nursing homes, hospitals and libraries across the State.
Thomas teaches, speaks at conferences and poetry festivals, and reads her work widely in community and academic settings.

Our New Publication
This is a book about a place. A book of poems about a place. That place is the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts, once a prehistoric lake later dubbed Lake Hitchcock. Where the Connecticut River now meanders. A place where dinosaurs once roamed in the shale. Where Native American tribal people once lived, and white incomers clashed with them. Where farmers and trappers, and then mills became the norm. Where escaped slaves found freedom. Where the first witchcraft accusation was hurled in the New World and the first book was banned. Where a university grew out of an agricultural school, and a number of colleges (several of them of them just for women) were established. Plus stores, museums, music halls. A place where artists and artisans discovered inspiration. Where writers made a living. And poets. A whole lot of poets. Hundreds of them over the years. So, in the tradition of those poets, who sang about this place, and the other poets who hang around this place, we offer a book of 62 contemporary Valley poets and over a hundred new poems. Use it as a map to take you to the compass points of our Valley. Enjoy the poetry and the scenery together. Explore the Valley’s lyrical history. Past and present.

Jane Yolen, editor                                                available Levellers Press
We invite you to readings from Compass Roads
featuring different contributors all around the Valley.  

May 10, 2018
7:00 pm - 8:30 pm
Montague Bookmill
440 Old Greenfield Rd. 
May 16, 2018
7:00 pm - 8:30 pm
The Odyssey Bookshop 
9 College St. 
South Hadley
May 24, 2018
7:00 pm - 8:30 pm
Jones Library, Amherst 
43 Amity Street 

A list of those reading at each event is on our Events page.


Monday, June 4, 2018 at 7 pm
Forbes Library Coolidge Museum
A Straw Dog Writers Guild Social Justice Writing Event

Short Readings * Music
If you would like to read a short piece (under 4 minutes) that addresses social justice/injustice, please send an email with your name to before April 29th. 
We will pick names for half the slots from those who contact us. The other slots will be chosen, also randomly, the evening of the event on June 4.   You are invited to read something you wrote, or a published piece you admire.


What the March Medley Workshops Did For Me
by Carla Cooke

I enjoyed participating in all four of the Straw Dog Writers Guild’s 2018 March Medley Workshops.  The collaboration between SDWG and the Northampton Center for the Arts allowed me to affordably experience four excellent local workshop leaders’ offerings—voice-finding, collaging, playwriting, and songwriting.
I jumped at the chance to participate in Dori Ostermiller's workshop on March 4.  Her review of technical elements like perspective, using specific examples, transitioned smoothly into a discussion of developing one's voice as a writer.  Her handouts were helpful in explaining the components of voice and the power it can wield in telling a story.  The writing exercises made me think differently about point-of-view and ways to explore writing outside of the “this is who I am” box.  At one point, she had us write about a single event from two different points of view.  She suggested journaling and paying attention to “what you love in writers you love.”
About six years ago, I took a workshop with Becky Jones that led to starting my own writing group, so I knew her and was already familiar with her collage process.  On March 11, she brought participants into a meditative space, suggested we let a question or issue come to us, and then encouraged us to look through several tables of collage materials, including old magazines, calendars, and clippings of all kinds.  She said, “Let the images pick you.”  Participants worked quietly, choosing images, text, and colors to create brilliant and unique pieces; the only sounds in the room were the shuffling of paper and scissors slicing through it.  Becky’s gentle yet profound writing prompts led us into deep reflective writing, which we read in small groups.  As the workshop ended, we briefly shared impressions of the beautiful and inspiring collages.
It was a privilege to be in the classroom with Meryl Cohn on March 18 and learn about the elements of playwriting.  Short plays, she explained, are “heightened moments”: characters, motivations, and conflicts must become clear quickly.  During the workshop, a short play was read aloud and discussed; a handout on writing ten-minute plays provided cautions about “keeping it simple” (e.g., setting, cast size, lighting, props).  A brief writing exercise explored desires and obstacles that might be faced by a character of our own.  “Showing not telling” and eschewing exposition are particular challenges of playwriting; this workshop was a terrific introduction, and provided great ideas for developing character, plot, suspense, etc., in any writing. 
Before March 25, I had never attempted songwriting.  During her workshop, Pamela Means explained basic components of songwriting and her own process, and performed two of her songs.  She referred to Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones as helpful in getting started, saying “you can’t edit a blank page.”  Participants ranged from musicians quite familiar with songwriting techniques to many for whom this was completely new.  Pamela suggested a simple chord progression and then let us loose to make music.  I was able to draft a poem; there wasn't time to apply Pamela's advice about rhyming, but I began to understand how that could be done.  In the last moments of the session, guitar and ukulele players performed their new songs, and others read what they had written.  I was the last to read—a wonderful way to end the rewarding, pleasurable, and challenging March Medley!
Since the workshop series, I have felt a shift in my own writing and in the groups I facilitate:  a willingness to experiment with different points of view, to be bolder with dialogue, to notice and employ alliteration, assonance, and rhyme, to offer fresh prompts to the writers in my circles.  I am grateful to all the workshop leaders, Macci Schmidt, Laura Stone, the Straw Dog Writers Guild, the Northampton Center for the Arts, Eli Daniel Nemetz Todd, and everyone who made these offerings possible, as well as to my fellow participants for their creativity, generosity, and courage.



Readings and Events

7 Women Writers Read

Friday, April 20, 7–9 p.m.
St. John’s Episcopal Church 
6 South Street, Ashfield, MA

Women Writers is a writing group from The Heart of Story,
a suite of workshops led by Jane Roy Brown.

Free and open to the public

The Gallery of Readers Series Presents
Bonnie Atkins & Meryl Cohn
Reading from their Recent Work

Sunday, April 22, 4 PM
Seelye Hall 106
Smith College
Northampton, Massachusetts
Poet, memoirist and fiction writer Bonnie Atkins lives with her wife and child in Easthampton at the foot of a mountain.  She works as a social worker and loves the sound of a fountain pen against paper.
Meryl Cohn is a playwright and author who recently started writing fiction. She studied psychology at Smith College and earned an MFA in Dramatic Writing at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She is the author of the best-selling humor book Do What I Say: Ms. Behavior’s Guide to Gay and Lesbian Etiquette. She lives with her wife, novelist MB Caschetta, in Massachusetts.

Book Launch & Reading with Marion VanArsdell

Tuesday, April 24, 7 pm, at the Florence Civic Center.
Join us for a book launch and reading with author Marion VanArsdell,


A poetry reading,especially for people who don’t drive after dark, or go out at night much. 

Mary Clare Powell will read from her latest book of poems, Everyday Ecstasy, on Thursday, April 26, at 3 pm at the Charlemont Federated Church, right on the Mohawk Trail.

Everyday Ecstasyis a collection of poems about aging, but it is not gloomy. Of course, aging brings with it loss, but these poems celebrate things like hanging out laundry on the line, swimming in the river, making up what Dear Abby would advise about growing old, conversing with the GPS on a long car trip, etc. The poems are whimsical, and have been described as “praise songs of the ordinary.”
Vi Walker, will be playing the musical saw before the reading, and to accompany several of the poems. There will be friends, tea and cookies, poems to hear and good cheer. All are welcome!


Spring Weekly Writing Workshops at Patchwork Farm
with Patricia Lee Lewis.  - Just a few spots still open!

Tuesdays or Thursdays beginning the first week of May
.  Watch spring turn into summer from the vantage of Patricia's little mountain in Westhampton.  Walk the trails, meet fellow writers and make progress on your writing project. Experienced and beginning writers alike meet weekly for meditation, guided writing sessions, and inspiring exercises. Individual consultations are included.

The weekly workshop is a wonderful way to take time out and allow the deeper levels of your own creative self to emerge onto the page. Besides all of this, we have fun.  MORE

Research and Backstory: Two Trouble Spots
with Jacqueline Sheehan

Research and Backstory are essential ingredients in fiction–they bring authority, authenticity and depth to a story. But making all those fascinating facts work for you and not against you is tricky. Research can lead down a rabbit hole of evermore-tantalizing tidbits of information, bogging down process and product. Backstory is research’s evil twin, occasionally turning into an information dump that can overshadow plot. In this workshop, we discuss the best sources and practices for research, and how to distill just enough into our stories to lend authenticity without making them dull. A terrific workshop!


Saturday, May 5th, 9:30 am – 4:30 pm ($150)  
Arts & Industry at 221 Pine St.  #100 in Florence, MA

Register Here

Jacqueline Sheehan, Ph.D. is the New York Times bestselling author of The Comet’s Tale, Lost & Found, Now & Then, Picture This, The Center of the World, and The Tiger in the House. She writes NPR commentaries, travel articles, and essays including the New York Times column, “Modern Love.” She edited the anthology, Women Writing in Prison. Jacqueline teaches workshops at Grub Street in Boston and around the world. More

Stories for Justice Writing Workshop

Stories invite us into a dramatic situation, one where something important is at stake. They can offer an experience of injustice, perhaps through an unexpected perspective, enticing us to consider the world in fresh ways. This is a writing workshop, designed for people who may never have written fiction but want to tell stories about injustice/justice. We will play with ways to move beyond headlines and slogans, to create characters, and write a short scene about something that matters. Note: Workshop participants should bring pen and paper, or a laptop.

Led by Ellen Meeropol
Saturday, June 2, 2018, 2:00 PM – 4:00 PM
Nueva Esperanza, Holyoke. 

This workshop is offered by the Sojourner Truth School.
Free, but registration is required here.


Casting Characters for Memorable Fiction
with Cindy Littlefield

Protagonist, antagonist, mentor, minion, and foil—each and every character plays a necessary role in your stories!  In this one-day workshop, we will delve deep into the psyche of primary and secondary character types, mining for those buried secrets, dicey dynamics, and ulterior motives that make all good stories a must-read. Through a series of fun, imaginative exercises, characters will be put to the test, navigating unexpected challenges and making impossible choices. We’ll also explore the amazing things that can happen when a character goes off script, or when a brand new character makes an unexpected appearance. Workshop participants will leave with a fully fleshed cast ready to take stage plus plenty of inspiration for several brand new scenes!  Register Now  

Saturday, April 21, 9:30 am – 4:30 pm ($150)  
Arts & Industry at 221 Pine St.  #100 in Florence, MA

Cindy Littlefield’s fiction has appeared in Litro, Dogzplot, and the Rose & Thorn Journal, and she was a former finalist in the Glimmer Train’s Short Story Award for New Writers. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Southern New Hampshire University and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Michigan State University.  Find out more

Writing the Personal Essay
with Sarah Buttenwieser

We all have powerful stories, and the personal essay is a great way to tell them. But what makes a personal essay work? It turns out there are a few guidelines that can really help you master the form. This daylong workshop is for anyone who wants to write personal essays and is looking for concrete tips on how to do it well. We’ll go over some key elements of successful personal narratives. We’ll read a few essays, brainstorm topics, give and receive feedback on our essay ideas—and then, with some scaffolding in place, we’ll write. You will leave this workshop with a rough draft of your own personal essay. If that sounds impossible, trust me—I know you can do it!

Saturday, April 28, 9:30 am– 4:30 pm ($150) Register Now
Arts & Industry at 221 Pine St.  #100 in Florence, MA


Sarah Buttenwieser’s essays appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Paste Magazine, Full Grown Peopleand many others. A freelance journalist, she’s also at work on a middle grade novel. She’s taught blogging workshops at WIP. She earned her MFA in fiction at Warren Wilson College.

How to Pitch (and Write!) That Freelance Article 
with Kenneth R. Rosen


Getting published in a magazine takes perseverance, insight, advanced planning, and above all: patience. From Front-of-Book columns to Back-of-Book essays and all the long-form feature articles sandwiched between, this half-day workshop will cover how to pre-report a story, how to conceive and write a magazine pitch, and how to figure out whom to pitch. Writers need not bring anything other than a desire to learn and explore magazine publishing but feel free to bring 1-2 pre-written pitches if you have them for workshopping.

June 16th, 9 am -12 pm ($75)  Register Now
Arts & Industry at 221 Pine St.  #100 in Florence, MA

Kenneth R. Rosen is a senior news assistant at The New York Times and an independent journalist covering conflict and vice around the world. He is a Livingston Award finalist in international reporting for his coverage of the Battle of Mosul in Iraq. A contributing writer at Pacific Standard magazine, he has written for Harper’s, WIRED, and The Atlantic, among other print and web publications.


Writers and Artists Retreat in Ireland

June 30-July 28
County Galway/Kinvara

Share a beautiful 5 bedroom home in the west of Ireland. Double and single rooms available. One week minimum. Shared kitchen, walking distance to town, 30 minutes from Shannon Airport. Master class in Hybrid Writing will be offered. July 16-29 is the Galway Arts Festival, an extravaganza of art, music, writing, and theater. Galway City is 30 minutes away. $400 for a double room per week (double bed) and $350 for a single room (twin bed) for a week. Literary gathering once a week—otherwise you are free to write or do your art. There are ferries to the Aran Islands from Galway and the Burren, Flaggy Shore, and the Cliffs of Moher are nearby. The small harbor town of Kinvara has traditional music and good restaurants. Shopping is about 15 minutes away though there are grocery shops in town and a wonderful Farmer’s Market once a week.
For information, contact Lisa C. Taylor  


Green Fire Writers

  • Do you care passionately about our world? 
  • Do you want to use writing or other forms of creative expression to make a difference?
  • If so, you should contribute to Fired Up!
Editors Jana Laiz and Jennifer Browdy seek writing in any genre, along with photography, short videos or podcasts that express positive, forward-thinking perspectives on where we are now as individuals and as a society and envision the better world we hope to create.

We accept submissions on a rolling basis and will publish a new online edition once a month. 
Check out our submission guidelines HERE



Paperbark Literary Magazine

Paperbark Literary Magazine is an expression of the intellectual and artistic currents working to shape collective consciousness about issues of sustainability in the information age. Born in New England, Paperbark draws on the unique heritage and culture of the region to support and stimulate creative engagement with progressive ideas. Rooted in themes of stewardship, innovation, and possibility, Paperbark strives to illuminate the impacts of human society while nurturing our intrinsic capacity to catalyze positive change.
Paperbark was developed by a visionary group of faculty, staff, graduate students, and alumni of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and is a collaboration between the School of Earth and Sustainability, the College of Humanities and Fine Arts, and the UMass Libraries. 
For more information and guidelines for submissions, please visit 


Fate and Choices: No Regrets - A New Memoir

New Straw Dog member - Reda Migeed has a new memoir titled Fate and Choices: No Regrets,self-published on Amazon. Reda was featured last month on the front page of the Wilbraham/Hampden Times talking about his journey from a childhood in Egypt to 30 years in Hampden. 


In response to the overwhelming interest in peer-led critique groups expressed at the Annual Meeting, Straw Dog Writers Guild is offering a service to help writers create these groups.
Although SDWG cannot sponsor the groups, we offer:

•a web page with guidelines for starting and maintaining supportive and constructive critique groups
•a new writing group directory, to help writers find potential group members in their genre and/or geographical area, which can be accessed after reading the guidelines
•an experienced critique writer to attend the first meeting of new groups to offer suggestions and support. 
This directory is open to both members and nonmembers in order to join and connect writers and create new peer led writing groups.

Copyright © 2018 Straw Dog Writers Guild, All rights reserved.

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