This year’s Autumn Equinox brought us almost immediately to vistas of red, gold, orange…the annual transformation and celebration that draws so many people to our area to marvel at “peak foliage” and beyond. As spectacular as it is, each and every year, it is only one of many such transformations that make life on our little hill so generative and exciting. We have an evolving naturescape of sounds, sights, smells that radically reconfigure each season. And we have an evolving artistscape of people that radically reconfigure each month. One of the things that absolutely makes working at The Millay Colony engaging and wonderful, is the constant flux and change, the surprises and delights.
This year has been no different. What a spectacular range of people, creative work, personalities, sensibilities, dinners, pies, board games, movies, walks, talks, sunsets, sunrises, photos, concerts, readings, open studios…and how lucky all of us at Millay are to see the amazing artists come in and out each month.
I write this note from a foggy morning in San Francisco, where we just had a party at the home of our dear alumni-writer Chad Lange, co-hosted by Board members extraordinaire Stacy Flood and Whitney Lawson. It was so great to see Bay area alumni and friends. We sampled local wines, with particular thanks to Dogpatch and Bluxome Wineries for contributing incredibly delicious wines, and keeping us all oohing and aahing. We snacked and created a “debate corner” so guests could watch as much of the 2nd presidential debate as they dared, and then share notes with the rest of us in the big, bright kitchen. We snacked on pizza and raised many a glass to the year of (fill in your year at Millay). We finally tore ourselves away at nearly 10 PM, after hours of talking and laughing and celebrating and debate-analyzing. Millay Colony West Coast, we love you.
It is extra thrilling to us that this gathering comes on the golden-slipper heels of our best fundraising event to date, a marvelous party at the apartment of beloved Board member Whitney Lawson and her husband George McCullough. Rubens de la Corte performed his magically delightful music to a backdrop of New York City views, Monkey47 donated the best gin I have ever tasted and Whitney made a blueberry-thyme syrup to add to it, thereby changing mixology forever with the advent of “The Edna.” The night was a triumph all-around. Grandest thanks to the outstandingly generous local companies who donated to our rather extraordinary party bags: Hudson Skin Care, The Millay Society at Steepletop, Olana, Solaris and Verdigris Tea & Chocolate Bar. And to Bread Alone for their yummy cakes.
I wish I could welcome you, dear reader, right now, to one of our parties. I wish you could experience for yourself the warmth and good humor and camaraderie that make them wonderful. In the meantime, there is the regular and ongoing celebration of art, artists, and spectacular natural bounty that makes every day at Millay deliciously riotous with celebration. Come visit, reader. You are welcome. We are waiting for you. We have tea, we have foliage, we have the most amazing studios overflowing with work. And we have the warm welcome that unties all these things in community.
Fall 2016, we adore you immensely.
xox, Caroline Crumpacker, Executive Director
Notes from the Field
On one of the first mornings during my days at the Millay Colony, a bird pooped on my arm. I was finishing a cup of coffee, enjoying the clouds moving across the hills in the distance, and writing a list of my goals for the day. The bird poop made me hopeful that I would accomplish all of the tasks I had just written out. Twenty minute later, I was at my desk in Edna’s barn reviewing the film I had brought with me. It was of the lunch my mom and I hosted for the women who’d hand-sewed my bio-prosthetic heart valve; I’d come to Millay to begin writing about our relationship, the immigrant experience they shared with my mom, and my own congenital heart defect.
I watched my footage in real-time and measured each moment against the narrative I’d already recorded as a memory of this event. On this particular morning, with my goals laid out on the desk, I worked slowly while a ladybug slowly moved across a small window above my desk until it stopped moving. It was still until I left for lunch, and when I returned it had died, and its body had fallen onto my notebook. That afternoon I took a break from my footage to write a poem for the ladybug.
Time at Millay is an expansive retreat, undoubtedly in part because it is a colony that is so far removed from daily life chores and stresses, and undoubtedly because it sits inside an inviting, inspiring wilderness that Millay wrote about.
In high school I encountered her name and her poem,“Renascence.” I’d attended a Catholic all-girl’s school that placed an emphasis on reading works by strong women, yet because my education was also conservative, my teachers had omitted much of Millay’s life from their teaching of her poem. At the colony I learned that Millay was openly bisexual, and that she and her husband had an open marriage. I learned that she sold out the Hollywood Bowl—an ampitheatre not twenty miles from my childhood home—twice in her career. Thinking about Millay’s life while living on her grounds, walking to her tennis court at dusk to watch the stars come out, lying on my back with my friends and fellow residents on her hill to watch the perseid meteor shower from her sky, or to listen to and see the work of my fellow residents in the new home build on her property enabled me to make a major development in the way I could imagine the reaches of my own project.
I had come to the Millay Colony to begin writing about the women who had manufactured my heart valve, but I left with a new question about what it means to be a first-generation American writer; I left beginning to explore how my work will often respond to the erasures of my identities, and the identities of the people who share my experience. For three weeks of Edna’s inspiration, for my conversations with my fellow residents, for the all of the stars in the sky I could see, for the bird poop and ladybug, I will be forever grateful.
At the Millay Colony, I was fortunate to have the time and space needed to complete Dohree, my new 15-minute composition for flute, viola and harp, which was recently premiered by the phenomenal Debussy Trio in Long Beach, California. Having graduated from the Juilliard School in New York this past May, my residency at the house of Edna just a few months later could not have arrived at a better time. As the lone composer living with a talented and genuinely curious group of professional artists, I constantly felt stimulated by my colleagues’ collective optimistic outlook on the arts and how similar our seemingly disparate fields really are. While the natural scenic beauty surrounding the colony was truly breathtaking, the inspiration for my work here came from the creative energy exuded by my fellow artists: three poets from the east coast, a visual artist from Michigan, and a filmmaker from Brazil. There were several memorable nights during our one month stay, from huddling altogether during a major thunderstorm (definitely the most intense one I’ve ever sat through!), to lying on the cool grass watching a glistening sky filled with meteor showers, and venturing out to Edna’s famous ‘tennis court’ to gaze at the full moon. We hosted barbecues, dived into each others’ past (and current) work, and enjoyed a constant diet of s’mores, brownies, wine, and gin, among many other goodies that we all probably wouldn’t have indulged as much in if we were in the company of our own friends and family! I will always cherish my time at the house of Edna. It’s the place where I finished my first work as a ‘non-student’ composer. Where I felt like I belonged and that what I was doing was meaningful. And where I was privileged to get to know five other spirited artists that are sure to continue to have a positive impact in the arts today and beyond.
The Millay Colony and Cave Canem hosted its second annual reading of fellows in DUMBO in September. This year we were treated to poetry performances by Keith S. Wilson and Malika Booker. The Millay Colony for the Arts initiated its relationship with Cave Canem in 2010 in an effort to extend its support for diversity in the arts. Cave Canem is a renowned literary organization dedicated to promoting the careers of African American poets. The Colony dedicates a residency spot each season for a Cave Canem fellow chosen through the rigorous jury process. This year the collaboration was further supported by the involvement of NYU’s Contemporary Literature Series Lab. In addition to bringing students to the Cave Canem reading in DUMBO, this sponsorship brought both fellows to NYU for a reading and workshopping session with students. NYU CLS is facilitated by NYU Professor and Millay Board Member Nicholas Boggs.
At the DUMBO reading, Keith Wilson took the mic first. Millay Program Manager Cara Benson introduced his work by calling it a “a prayer, an accusation, and a love letter.” To my mind, she could not have been more accurate. The first poem he read, “The Way I Hold my Hands,” was a beautiful account of Wilson’s difficulty navigating his personal relationship with his father. Wilson then prepared us for the next few poems, lightheartedly saying, “[My poems are] always sad love poems, so get ready for that.” He closed his reading by confronting racism in America via his poem “Prayer to the Small God of Misnomers.” In it he addressed his apparent racial ambiguity and others’ attempts to place him by calling him “Pedro” or “Mohammed.” The clear way Wilson speaks about his subjects—from the ordinariness of love versus the extraordinariness of it, to the systemic racism in America—enabled us to see an issue from a completely new perspective.
Following Keith was Malika Booker, a British writer with Guyanese and Grenadian roots. In her introduction, Benson described Booker’s poems as “an assertion of presence and survival.” In her first piece, “Pepper Sauce,” she illustrated a harsh image of domestic abuse between a grandmother and her granddaughter. The combination of scathing imagery and Booker’s emphasis and projection of voice resounded throughout the room, leaving traces of pulse surging in us all. Shifting tones, Booker mentioned one of her friends who once told her that none of her poems are “funny.” “[My friend tells me] I’m funny in person, but that my poems are dark.” Viewing this comment as a challenge, Booker composed “Nine Nights,” a hilarious account of a hypothetical incident in which a Caribbean community prepares what is seen as “the makings of a good funeral” only to witness the intended buried rise up from the dead! The last of Booker’s pieces was fairly new and a still unpublished gem we were fortunate enough to hear. In it, she discussed the many sorrows her mother has expressed over the years, especially in regards to the independence of her children and what that means for her identity as a mother. Each time Booker shared a poignant line her mother had once spoken to her, she invited the audience to respond by shouting the words “pain.” We did.
The readers cast a spell on the audience, and for the students at NYU we knew the experience had more to come. That Thursday we got to spend the afternoon with both poets and have their comment on our work. We were all grateful to have had the opportunity to experience these poets and their work so intimately.
Each month at Joe’s Pub, Women of Letters invites some of the best and brightest women: writers, artists, performers and politicians, and asks them to read a letter they have written especially for the evening. WOL takes pride in showcasing the diverse and powerful voices of women. And celebrating the beautiful and lost art of letter-writing.
The Millay Colony is delighted to collaborate with WOL on three performances at Joe’s Pub each year. Programs have already featured Millay Colony alumni and friends including Diana Cage Rachel Eliza Griffiths, Abeer Hoque, and Tracie Morris.
Today, WOL and Millay are looking to collaborate on Upstate programs. We are talking about launching a salon series in Hudson, New York (not far from Millay) and developing a mentorship program uniting our incredible writer-performers with teenage girls in the Hudson Schools, one of the State’s most underserved school districts. Onward!
In case you haven’t noticed, our School Programs have been growing! We have been working in regional schools for over six years now to bring our artists and writers into the classrooms so students can experience the arts with working professionals. We’ve been so pleased to partner with Chatham High School, Hudson Jr. and Sr. High Schools, Taconic Hills High School, and Germantown High School. This year we are expanding our programs into Albany with a pilot program in the HS Art Department. We have so much to offer upstate Schools, we decided to host an evening on November 9 showcasing the various programs that are available to educators in the area. For more information contact Cara Benson at email@example.com.