2008-04-25 / Columnists

The Rockaway Irregular

What's The Big Idea?
Commentary by Stuart W. Mirsky

"No politics, no social commentary! What gives?" asked a friend of mine recently, referring to my bi-weekly column which appears (more or less regularly) in this paper. "People want to read about the issues," he told me gravely. "They want to hear your opinions, so they can agree or argue with them. They don't need all this non-controversial, local color stuff!"

Well, I agreed he might have a point, but hastened to explain that from now until the beginning of June my first obligation is to let people know about our upcoming Rockaway Literary Arts & Film Festival. Why? Well, first of all, I'm on the organizing committee (being something of a writer myself) and I'd be remiss if I didn't do all I could to get the word out. But, second, it's rather a big event and we want people in this community to turn out and enjoy all the things we've built into it. As they say, what if you threw a party and nobody came?

So what have we got planned? The June 7 and 8 event at Ft. Tilden in Gateway will include two evenings of films by local and metropolitan area filmmakers (Saturday, June 7 and Sunday, June 8) and a full day of writers coming together to discuss their work and the literary life, that Sunday. Included among the writers will be Belle Harbor-based author Tom O'Callaghan (who writes the Lieutenant Driscoll thriller series). His latest is The Screaming Room (Pinnacle Press). Tom's been laid up with the flu, lately, as he struggles to meet his latest deadline for the third book in his series (No One Will Hear You), but he's eager to get back on his feet so he can join us for the suspense writers' panel which he's put together for us.

Also featured with Tom are Jill Eisenstadt, who grew up in Rockaway and authored two coming-of-age novels (including From Rockaway, Knopf), and Breezy Point author Kenneth Hogan, who has written a series of nonfiction books on baseball (including The 1969 Seattle Pilots: Major League Baseball's One-Year Team, McFarland & Co.). The day's roster will also bring in the Broad Channel-based writing team of Dan and Liz Guarino (Broad Channel: Images of America, Arcadia). The Guarinos will appear with Ken Hogan along with Brooklyn writer Ben Gibberd (New York Waters, Globe Pequot) and New Jersey-based writer and photographer Brian Yarvin (Farms and Foods of the Garden State, Hippocrene) to talk about the challenges of combining words and images in their work. Liz Guarino, a Wave columnist, too, will also appear separately on a panel discussing the opportunities and challenges of local journalism which will include Wave editor Howie Schwach, Rockway Point News editor, Noreen Schram, and Wave columnists Beverly Baxter, Robert Sarnoff and Steve Yaeger. They'll be joined by freelance reporter for the Queens Times- Ledger Arlene McKanic.

Dan Guarino, a photographer, musician and poet in his own right (who is also on the event organizing team with me), has put together a fascinating program for the day, to run concurrently with the author discussions. Presented on the Rockway Artists Alliance outdoor Moon Stage, this progarm will include live music performed by local groups, poetry readings by local poets and dramatic excerpts from the work of local writers, including Maureen McNellis (also a member of the event organizing committee). Highlighting the musical performances, Dan's brought in disc jockey and Rockaway resident Pete Fornatale (WNEW-FM and WFUV-FM) who recently completed and published his own book (Simon and Garfunkel's Bookends, Rodale).

But with nine panel discussions, covering historical, suspense and literary fiction, as well as a discussion by local Holocaust survivors of their own stories and a workshop on getting published and another on understanding copyright law, I've still only scratched the surface here. Another one of our featured guests will be Irish writer Tom Phelan whose latest novel, The Canal Bridge, has been praised in the Irish Echo as, "An incredibly moving story of love and friendship . . . recounting childhood experiences in rural Ireland . . ." and in The Irish Independent as, "an ambitious, accomplished and deeply moving contribution to Ireland's formidable corpus of fiction about the Great War." We also have a surprise guest, if all goes well, who, unfortunately, I'm not yet at liberty to reveal.

And, as they say in the trade, that's not all! Food and drinks will be offered throughout the day by the new Rockaway Seafood restaurant at Beach 129 Street, at a tented open-air dining area, and another area of Ft. Tilden will be set aside for children's entertainment, including storybook readings and arts and crafts (with donut "holes" provided courtesy of Dunkin Donuts at Beach 129 Street). Books, of course, will be offered for sale throughout the day by Manhattan-based bookseller Mobile Libris, and authors will be available to talk about and sign copies of their work. There will also be an area for used book sales and a table manned by literary memorabilia collector and local Rockaway resident Paul Gropper. If I've left anything out, it's not for want of trying to do otherwise!

So, I asked my friend, what else could he expect of me during this next month? While I love arguing the serious stuff, there's also a time for fun - and nothing, to my way of thinking, is more fun than books and writing and bringing a bunch of writers and readers together to share their insights. If one of the big things we've been missing in Rockaway all these years is access to a local bookstore, then for one day of the year at least, we can correct that, thanks to the folks at Gateway National Recreation Area's Ft. Tilden and the Rockaway Music and Arts Council. Indeed, we can correct it in spades.

What makes this all even better is that this year we've put it all together with the first ever Rockaway Film Festival. If this combined event catches fire, and I see no reason why it shouldn't, there's nothing to stop us from challenging the Sundance Film Festival or even Cannes in future years, let alone the London and Frankfurt Book Fairs! So I hope my friend understands and won't hold my temporary shift here to lighter fare against me. I hope other readers won't either. rockirreg@aol.com

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