SARANAC LAKE — The Adirondack Center for Writing's new home for writers and readers and storytellers in the Adirondacks is located at 15 Broadway in Saranac Lake.
“It feels like home, too,” Nathalie Thill, executive director, said.
“We asked Russell Banks to christen it by giving our first program this Friday. It was really, really charming and wonderful for him to agree to do that.”
The nationally acclaimed author will read from his new novel, “Foregone,” at the sold-out event.
“One of the things that COVID has done is that it's made it possible to do a book tour without leaving the house,” he said.
“I've done dozens of these kinds of evenings on Zoom with bookstores around the country and audiences all over. I must say it really is a very efficient way to do a book tour.
The novel's protagonist, Leonard Fife, gives his final confession on film.
“The format of the novel is that of a documentary film,” Banks said.
“He's an American, one of the 60,000 Americans who went north to avoid the Vietnam War and stayed there. He lived a long and complicated life and he's kind of heroic figure in Canada as a leftist, muckraking Canadian documentary filmmaker.
“But he has a secret history and a secret past. He's using this moment at the end of his life when his acolyte and younger ex-student comes to make the documentary film that he wants to build his career on, which is this final interview with this man.”
Fife astonishes everybody, including his wife, who is present at the time, by revealing things about himself that nobody ever suspected.
“So he turns out to be a man who was thought to be well known, but turns out to be not known at all as most of us are in some ways, even among family members,” Banks said.
A young Banks and even Banks now at 81, needs a place like the ACW to share his art and engage with his readers.
“It means a lot,” he said.
“Writers need to have a place where they can touch each other, touch and go in a way. By and large, we work alone in a room in front of a blank sheet of paper or a blank computer screen, but we are also social human beings like everybody else and we learn from each other and feel sense a community. I think in a big city that's easy to overcome. You can satisfy those needs very quickly and easily.”
Banks remembers when he was in his teens and 20s and first trying to learn how to be a writer.
“I was living in New York, Miami, Boston, cities where I could connect to other people in the same situation or find a mentor, you know an older writer that knew what she or he was doing and get along with the work,” he said.
“But it's much harder in a rural environment to put that kind of community together.”
ACW now has a stunning and beautiful space for events such as today's reading and book signing with Banks.
“For the first time, we have a space where people can actually come in and engage with us and they can actually engage with the community,” Thill said.
“Before this we always had an office space, but we did all our programs essentially as a pop-up organization. We will continue to do our programs throughout the whole regions. That's a big part of our mission. But for the first time, we will have actually a space where our name makes sense. We now have a center. It's a place where people can come in.”
Starting next week, the center will host Open Hours, Monday through Friday from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., where writers and readers can write, read and connect.
“We charge a $5 day fee or $50 gives you 12 passes," Thill said.
"We have couches and we have desks and we have comfy seats and we have tables. We've kept it very flexible, very beautiful space in order for people to come in and use it. We have workshop space.”
The building's previous tenant was the Adirondack Loon Conservancy, which moved up the street.
“The board last year had decided that finally we were going to make the move to have presence on main street, in this case, Broadway,” Thill said.
“It's the main drag in Saranac Lake. Since that time, I had been looking for appropriate spaces. I wanted a space that was not too big, not overwhelmingly big, but big enough that we could do smaller programs and workshops. I wanted it to be a flexible space, and that's what we have.”
A Teen Writing Lounge is under construction in ACW's basement.
“It's not ready yet because I still have to paint it, set it up and stuff,” Thill said.
“But it's really important to me have a space where younger writers can meet. They can have their own open mic. They can make literary magazines and journals and be in a space that's just for them. Hopefully, I will be able to open up within a month or two.”
Banks applauds Thill for first launching the organization itself and for all its different programs including Anne LaBastille Writing Residency, Howl Story Slam, Online Classes, Prison Writing Program, Raining Poetry Project and PoemVillage.
“And now finally having a physical location in Saranac Lake, it's really making it possible for young writers especially to find each other and find a mentor and also find a physical place where they feel they are not wasting their time,” Banks said.
“Most of society kind of looks at a young aspiring writer as somebody who is a smart person that is wasting her time. We get it when we're young from our parents. We get it from our teachers for the most part and the community generally. We need encouragement.”
Banks also thinks the center is very, very important and valuable addition to the region.
“It's a rural region where writers are unnaturally isolated,” he said.
“We are isolated naturally by the nature of our work, but we're unnaturally isolated geographically by the environment up here.
“That's one of the reasons from the very beginning I signed on with Nathalie to help her out when I could and act as kind of an advisor here and there along the way. I'm really delighted to be able to help celebrate the opening of this space.”
HOME AT LAST
ACW's new home gives location-location-location visibility for the organization established in 1999.
“We're just able to interact with the community,” Thill said.
“In the past we've had teachers say, 'Oh we would love to bring our class to the center so that we can show them what it really is like to be a literary organization or be surrounded by writers.'
“We could never accommodate that. So finally we're in space where they can come. They can be in the company of other writers and readers. It's a home. It's a home for writers.”
The center's accouterments include a typewriter, sleigh bed converted into a couch perched in a bay window and an antique Shearling chaise lounge.
Besides Thill, the center is staffed by newcomer Tyler Barton, communications manager and LaBastille residency alum, who replaced the recently departed assistant to the director Baylee Annis.
Barton‘s debut full-length book of fiction, “Eternal Night at the Nature Museum” is forthcoming from Sarabande Books. He’s the author of The Quiet Part Loud (2019) winner of the Turnbuckle Chapbook Contest from Split Lip Press.
“Nathalie has done such a great job,” Banks said.
“She has expanded it, and she's done it in a really intelligent way and connected it up to residencies and doing public programs.
“When I first joined up with her, it was at the very beginning and she was doing a writers workshop over at Ray Brook prison. That's where I kind of lined up with her. I thought, man, this is good. She just doesn't work with just young or wannabe writers, she also does real community work.”
A fact that is recognized by the center's board of directors: Ken Aaron, Doug Deneen, Dorothy Federman, Nancy Lester, Jerry McGovern, Pam Palumbo, Nancy Rosenthal and Gary Smith.
“One board member said ACW deserves this space,” Thill said.
“Another board member corrected them, and he said 'No, the community deserves this space.' And, it's true.
“There are so many art centers and places where musicians have homes and the dancers have homes.
“But there are very few places where writers and readers have a home. That's what this place is. It's a long time in coming, and we're really excited about it.”
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