The place is just as important as the characters in any given story; that’s how poet Judith Prest sees it.
“We’re shaped by the places that we live in and I think we carry all the places we’ve ever been. In a novel or a film or something, I think the place is just as strong a character as any of the people,” said Prest, who runs Spirit Wind Studio in Duanesburg.
As part of Writing the Watershed, a literary arts festival hosted by the Schoharie River Center in Esperance on Saturday, Prest will give a memoir workshop centered around the power of place.
Early on in her career, Prest trained as a clinical social worker and worked for BOCES as well as New Choices Recovery Center. Later, she studied expressive arts and creativity coaching.
“There was a 20 year period when I really left my creative self in the dust. I was busy and stressed and I didn’t do anything with it. Then in mid-life, when [I] was in my mid-40s, it hit me like a freight train and I started writing again,” Prest said.
Over the years, she’s written several poetry books, including most recently “Geography of Loss,” which was published by Finishing Line Press earlier this year and traces her family history and lessons learned from loss.
“I just think that the link between creativity and healing is profound. I’ve seen it happen in the addiction field. I’ve seen it happen with myself, healing from bad experiences,” Prest said.
She’s taught many workshops over the years and one of the most common challenges people have in them is a fear of being judged.
“I’m not an English teacher. I’m not going to come along with a red pencil and mark up your work . . . The first thing is to get it out of your head and your heart and onto the page. If you’re afraid, you can’t do that,” Prest said.
During the workshop at Schoharie River Center, she’ll give attendees writing prompts, including poetry and short prose, then direct them to write for a few minutes at a time. The goal isn’t to walk away with a finished piece but to get something started.
“Don’t worry if it’s not finished, you can work on it later but just get something out that begins your journey with this piece. Get a first draft out there . . . that’s my goal with people is to have them explore for their own experience what place means to them. In particular, what living in the Schoharie Valley means to them,” Prest said.
The Power of Place workshop runs from 10 a.m. through 11:30 a.m. on Saturday at the David Remling Science Laboratory. Tickets are $20 and pre-registration is required.
Beyond the writing workshop, Writing the Watershed will also include a conversation and concert with Sara Milonovich and Reggie Harris from 7 to 8:15 p.m. They’ll be discussing the ways that place can be an inspiration for songwriting. Milanovich is a local fiddle player and teacher and Harris is a local singer-songwriter known for interpreting the global music narrative.
Tickets are $10 for individuals and $20 for families.
Other festival highlights include:
- The Cultural Hall (2047 Burtonville Road) will feature Videos of Place, a mini film festival including works focused on place. It will run from noon to 1 p.m.
- A panel discussion with former Gazette columnist Sara Foss and geologist John Garver. Called “Science, Story, and Justice: Writing from the Field,” the discussion is slated to run from 1 to 2 p.m.
- From 2 to 3 p.m. there will be a panel discussion with Eric Ayotte of the Schoharie River Center, Hannah Degarmo (a media producer and filmmaker) and Todd DeGarmo (Director, Center for Folklife and History, Crandall Public Library) on telling stories through environmental humanities and digital media.
- At 3 p.m. there will be a curator’s presentation for the exhibit: “After the Storms: 10 Years and 36,000+ Volunteers Later” with Ellen McHale, New York Folklore and Lillian Spina-Caza, media producer.
For tickets and more information visit schoharierivercenter.org.