2010-07-30 / Columnists

From The Artists Studio

RAA Writers Group Up Close
Commentary by Susan Hartenstein

As promised last week, more about the RAA Writers Group and their showcase of original works by members at the July 18 “Salute to Rockaway” reception.

Liz Palombo read her clever, funny essay, “Unique Is Overrated,” about the depth and breadth of being American and the lengths to which a mother will go in the pursuit of her child’s happiness. Two humorous and tender short stories by Wave columnist Liz Guarino, a freelance writer for a dozen years, were read by Tarik Najeddine. Pamela Popeson read an excerpt from her novel “The Boundless Deep,” which was an incisive look at her adopted community of Rockaway. Dan Guarino read from the book he and wife, Liz Guarino, wrote about their community, “Broad Channel.” The volume is a pictorial history in the Acadia Publishing Company series. The photo captions and chapter introductions by the authors weave a lyric thread through the book. Unfortunately I was unable to be present at the other readings of poetry and prose and performances of short plays, but those who were there praised those works highly.

The Writers Group is a diverse assemblage of individuals whose aims and expectations for their writing vary, one from the other; whose backgrounds are different, one from the other. Not all attend each month. Not all are published. Not all desire to be published or to present their work at group public events. But all are welcomed – from professional to dabbler to those who just like to hear good writing read. They share a passion for the craft and they wish to learn from the work and the feedback of others.

I thought it would be interesting to ask several members at the event two questions: ‘Why do you write?’ and ‘Why did you join the RAA Writers Group?’

Liz Palombo’s answer to my first question was, “Because I love it.” Why RAA? She and fellow member Pamela Popeson are members of a group called Rock Writers. When they asked RAA if they could do a reading at sTudio 7, RAA said yes. She was very attracted to the welcoming, supportive, encouraging spirit of RAA and the group.

Pamela Popeson, who is the Architecture and Design Department’s Collections Preparator at the Museum of Modern Art, said she writes “because that is how I express myself best.” Why RAA? She now lives in Rockaway and loves it here and wants to be a part of the community. Echoing Palombo, she says, RAA is so inclusive and supportive – she wants to be a part of it.

Sandra Proto, who read some of her excellent poetry at the reception, moved from Rockaway to Long Island a while ago. Presently a mother of two, she had worked with both the Rockaway Theatre Company as director and assistant stage manager, and with RAA, participating in several RAA spoken word events. Why does she write? “It’s one of those things that keeps me alive, keeps me going.” RAA? “Because I missed you people. I’m trying to get back into my artist roots.”

Mary Najeddine contributed a poem and a short play to the “Salute” Writrs Group event. The former Astoria resident has been an elementary school teacher for more than 20 years. When asked why she writes, Najeddine responds, “I don’t think you have a choice. You know that, when you [realize you] have little pieces of paper around and matchbooks and napkins [on which you have written your pieces]. Why RAA? When Najeddine first suggested an RAA writers group to a few of the board members, they gave the green light. “That’s the wonderful part of RAA. Every suggestion is embraced, supported, nurtured. They believe everyone is an artist.”

Martha Killian is a retired bookkeeper who is an RAA board member and accomplished watercolorist. She adds an interesting and welcome dimension to the group. A resident of Breezy Point since childhood, her autobiographical essays and narratives are an intimate window into that community’s life in the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s. She sees her writing as “a legacy, a permanent record [that] people in future generations will read.”

New group member Alice says writing makes her feel good; and that “there is something about the energy of being with other writers.” You hear other people’s ideas. Various members talk about how important it is to have the stimulation and inspiration of hearing the work of other writers, providing the impetus to tell their own stories in their own ways. “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” Alice says. Steve Schaikowitz had just begun writing when he joined the group. He hoped to become better and get some direction. It was the positive feedback and suggestions he got from the group that gave him confidence in his work. Among the former Department of Education guidance counselor’s many interests, he cycles, gardens, plays chess, travels.

Carolyn Rushefsky contributed the article “Jenny Misses Her Favorite Husband” to Sunday’s event. Currently, she writes the NY Widowhood Examiner column for Examiner.com, an online news and lifestyle organization, interviewing widows and widowers. She also writes freelance articles for the Staten Island Advance, where she was a reporter and lifestyle writer for more than two decades. “In addition,” Rushefsky says, “I’ve written a few short stories that I’ve read at RAA writers group. Members have given me wonderful advice.”

Dan Guarino, by day, a manager for a very large customer call center, writes poetry, among other forms, because it “gives me a release for my emotions.”

The Writers Group wants to establish a ‘rolodex’ of actors/actresses who would be available and willing to either come down to monthly meetings from time to time to read and/or take part in showcase readings/performances.

The volunteers wouldn’t be expected to join the group at all their meetings. Since the works include short plays, poetry and narratives, there would be something for all different ‘types’ of actors to read. Be in on the creation of original literary works.

Contact the RAA.

Two words about RTC’s “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” SEE IT. It is utterly splendid.

RAA CONTACT INFO: Phone: 718-474-0861; Fax: 718-474- 4373; e-mail: info@raa116.org; website: www.rockawayartistsalliance.org

Fort Tilden Highlights

PRESENT EXHIBIT: “Salute to Rockaway.”
On view through Sun., Aug. 1 in
sTudio 7 Gallery, RoCA, Fort Tilden.
Gallery hrs: Sat. and Sun. 12-4 p.m.
and by appointment. See column for
more details.
Mon., Aug. 9 at 7:30 p.m. in sTudio 7
Sun., Aug. 22, 4 p.m. in sTudio7.

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