On The Beach
Commentary By Beverly Baxter
Got Talent? Express It At The Rockaway Literary Arts Festival
Joe Rothenberg, who was honored at the RAA's fundraiser (we'll have to get to that later as reams could be written about that event!), articulated it best when he described, from an artist's point of view, his early impressions of Rockaway as a vast desert; a blank page to the writer or a vast untouched canvas to the painter. In those days there was neither the camaraderie of an alliance to spur creativity nor the display of a healthy thriving community alive with energy. What beckoned the artist to make the exodus from the city to the bucolic Rockaways was an unspoiled coastline, natural light and vast open spaces where one's imagination could stretch out and flourish.
I imagine Rockaway is now becoming very much like what the Hamptons were to the Bohemian Artists during the Tile Club years at the turn-of-the century, when artistic pioneers like Edward Steichen, Edward Weston and Winslow Homer were first seduced by its natural setting; or when artists and writers of the 40s, 50s and 60s, like John Steinbeck, Joseph Heller, E.L. Doctorow, Kurt Vonnegut, Jackson Pollock, Saul Steinberg, Willem de Kooning and Frank O'Hara, the renowned former Curator of the MoMA, first gathered in unheated barns to give birth to a movement and an identity for the Hamptons as a haven for the arts.
Rockaway is also evolving as a sea-caressed Mecca for the fine, performing, and now, literary arts. Our unique geography, seascape and access to the wonderland of Fort Tilden are a natural breeding ground to spur an artists' colony. We have within our midst such talented people who are cropping up from every nook and cranny throughout the peninsula; who have created organizations like the Rockaway Music and Arts Council, The Rockaway Artists Alliance, The Rockaway Theatre Company; and now, the first-ever Rockaway Literary Arts Festival!
The Rockaway Literary Arts Festival will host authors and filmmakers from our area (Kevin Breslin, Kevin Boyle, Bob Sarnoff, Thomas O'Callaghan, Stuart Mirsky and Yisroel Lifschutz, to name merely a few); as well as filmmakers and writers from outside our immediate area, and from as far away as Canada and California. Award-winning directors like Brett Margin (The Kid Stays In The Picture) and an esteemed roster of others will descend upon Rockaway to share their experiences and expertise. The festival will offer aspiring writers a chance to meet with accomplished authors who will host panel discussions featuring their work, attend screenings with directors and screenwriters, and even have unpublished work critiqued by professional literary agents and editors. These meetings must be arranged in advance with festival organizers by calling 718-945-6700.
The festival will take place on Sunday, April 22 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and will encompass the art galleries of the RAA and the Post Theatre, virtually turning Fort Tilden into a campus of creativity.
The Literary Arts festival, a truly welcomed groundbreaking event that is sure to build upon its fast momentum and take on an annual life of its own, has inspired so many people; but it has emanated from a very special lady named Barbara Eisenstadt, who has dedicated many years of her life to bringing the arts to Rockaway. It is Eisenstadt's vision and energy that flows through the festival, along with her collaboration with author Stuart Mirsky, whom she graciously concedes "has done the lion's share of the work," and many others who have rendered their time and talent to this event.
A prominent component of the festival will be the school-based writing contest and workshop, where aspiring young writers from throughout the peninsula's public and parochial schools will have a unique opportunity to submit their own written work and be judged by professionals in the field. Interested students are encouraged to contact local teachers, Rosemary Curley, Myra Berger and Bernice Myers or log on to Rockaway musicandarts.org. The four genres for the competition are Short Fiction, Short Nonfiction (memoirs, narrative), Poetry and Short Plays. There will be winners selected from each category at an awards ceremony to be from 4 to 5 p.m. Entries will be judged by Jill Eisenstadt, a former Rockaway resident and novelist/journalist who graduated from P.S. 114, M.S. 180 and B.C.H.S.; Michael Drinkard, a novelist; and Neil Gordon, a novelist and dean of the writing program at the New School's Eugene Lang College. Winners of the competition will be awarded a certificate plus a free one year subscription to Writer's Digest magazine. Their work will also be included in an anthology of festival writing to be published by RMAC, in collaboration with iUniverse and Xlibris, two well-known self-publishing companies who will discuss the use of digital print technology and how it enables and provides access to self-publishing and distribution. Both iUniverse and Xlibris have pledged to provide publishing packages to the schools of the winning entrants.
Jill Eisenstadt will be inviting children to explore the fun of poetry in The Writing Room, where kids can wander in and out to create some Found Poetry and Amalia Hoffman will do some storybook readings for smaller kids. The workshop is scheduled to happen between 1:30 and 4 p.m., followed by the awards ceremony.
Despite the vast and frenetic building that continues to turn Rockaway into a concrete jungle, it cannot obliterate our natural setting, the sound of the ocean nor those who seek and derive inspiration from living here. It is the main character in all of our stories. It will not be through the builders, but through the artists and writers who will take the rest of us along to a new chapter in our collective book. This is where we get to the good part in our community's story.
Thank you Barbara Eisenstadt for the gift of this festival and the gift that is you!