Writers' Residency In Pittsfield Searches For New Fellows

Nov 29, 2017

A writers’ fellowship is gearing up for its second year in Pittsfield, Massachusetts in hopes of drawing attention to the city’s rich literary history. 

The Mastheads Writers Residency’s name is a nod to “Moby Dick,” which was written by Herman Melville in antebellum Pittsfield. The character was inspired by the rolling Berkshire hills, which Melville believed resembled a whale’s back and tail.

The fellowship program honored Melville and other 19th century American Renaissance writers last year including Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Henry David Thoreau and Oliver Wendell Holmes. Scholars, novelists and poets focused on their craft in studios inspired by the historic authors located around the city in July.

In the new year, founder Tessa Kelly says Mastheads is seeking new writers to add to the inaugural year of work. Fellowship applications open December 1st.

“Coming off of last year, we thought a lot about how to make this program continue to feel alive and to feel new every year,” Kelly says. “This year what we would do is to take the theme of social activism.”

Kelly says funding is complicated. Last year, Mastheads landed a $75,000 National Endowment for the Arts’ Our Town grant. The $200,000 project was also partly funded by a grant from MassDevelopment and the Feigenbaum Foundation – matched and exceeded by private funding sources.

“We are creating a Friends of the Mastheads program and hoping to get at least 10 or 20, you know, foundational gifts from the community,” Kelly says.

This year, Director of Education Sarah Trudgeon says, Mastheads is waiting for MassHumanities to review its grant application for $15,000.

“We applied under their ‘Engaging New Audiences Initative’ because the Mastheads is really trying to reach out and bring humanities programming to audiences in Pittsfield who don’t necessarily encounter it,” Trudgeon says.

Mastheads hosts a summer lecture series and offers programs in city schools year-round.

The group is also seeking funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities – those applications are due in December. Trudgeon says the rest is up to private donors.

Mastheads Scholar Jeff Lawrence reveals who the Mastheads will focus on this year.

“Catherine Maria Sedgwick is perhaps the most well-known 19th century Berkshire writer. She lived in Stockbridge. Her house became one of the major literary hubs of the period,” Lawrence says. “Next, Fanny Kemble. She was a British actress who was well-known for her Shakespearian roles, visited Catherine Maria Sedgwick in the 1830s and then she ended up becoming an avid abolitionist. John Greenleaf Whittier is a well-known fireside poet. He was friends with Oliver Wendell Holmes and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow who both had houses in Pittsfield. He visited the region a lot. And then finally W.E.B. DuBois who grew up in Great Barrington, so, he wrote about Great Barrington in his autobiographical writings.”

Writers will also study Herman Melville again. Meanwhile, Trudgeon is already looking beyond 2018.

“2019: I think we are going to look more at the Gilded Age writers and then after that we are going to do modernism particularly thinking about the connections between modernist architecture and modernist literature because this is partly an architectural project,” Trudgeon says.

The small, wooden studios will be installed around the city in June. The new writers are expected in July.