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One of the first events of the Kicka** Writers Festival held last Saturday was a “speed dating” meeting with the other participants of the festival. They would rotate every 5 minutes. (Business photo — Katelin Guérin)

SARANAC LAKE — Last weekend marked the first-ever Kicka** Writers Festival, a series of events for writers hosted by writers.

The events took place in a variety of different locations, from Grizle T’s Garagery to ADK ArtRise, and at least 200 people signed up to attend the festival.

“I’ve wanted to do some sort of marquee event at ACW for a very long time,” said Nathalie Thill, executive director of the Adirondack Center for Writing. “We couldn’t have done this outside of this space. It would have been more difficult and a lot of it would have been different had we not been able to have a home base to work from.

The ACW, which organized the festival, had set the date in October last year, initially planning it as a singular event but not knowing that it would turn into a festival. It wasn’t until they received a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts that they felt they could launch an entire festival.

“It’s for our operating expenses, but it gave me more confidence to do a great writing festival and I felt like we had some sort of financial cushion,” said Thill.

Last Saturday, Los Angeles-based comedian Greg Harris taught a comedy writing class during the Kicka** Writers Festival. After people created their own jokes, he brought them up to the Grizle T’s Garagery stage and shared them with the class. He then criticized them. Here, he criticizes local author Lâle Davidson. (Business photo — Katelin Guérin)

Friday’s events consisted of a meeting with local and national authors at the writing center. That same evening, people filled the seats of the Pendragon Theater to listen to readings of “Sh** Cassandra Saw” by Gwen Kirby and “The Mad Band” by Willie Perdomo. Both writers published their works through Penguin Random House, one of the nation’s leading publishing houses.

When asked what it was like to read chapters of his book aloud, Kirby said it was “gorgeous.”

“My books came out six months ago during the omicron wave, so even the things I thought I could do in person got cancelled,” she says. “It’s really exciting to read and to be with people and to be in a community of writers.”

Saturday was made up of even more activities. Peruvian-American speaker, memoirist and activist Sylvia Vasquez-Lavado hosted the first event of the day with a hike up Baker Mountain. To end the day, there was a HOWL story slam at the Waterhole.

In between were events such as “speed dating,” where people could meet other writers at the festival and take part in prepaid workshops; some of the workshops included Erasure and Nature with ACW Contributing Artist Erin Dorney, Comedy Writing, Poetry, Creative Nonfiction, and Fiction.

Sylvia Vasquez-Lavado signs copies of her memoir after her commencement speech in the Saranac Lake High School auditorium on Saturday during the Kicka** writers festival. (Business photo — Katelin Guérin)

Saranac Lake resident Baylee Annis was one of many volunteers who helped organize events and guide people to the next destination. She had worked for ACW for over six years and participated in many of the workshops they run.

“I hope people appreciate the talent that exists in such a small place,” she said, reflecting on the festival. “I also hope people appreciate that we live in an area that truly values ​​creative thinking, the arts and perspective.”

Annis added that she appreciates how ACW “brings a high level of literature” and makes it affordable for many people.

Volunteers like Annis were spread across the venues used for the Kicka** Writers Festival. At least one volunteer was present at each of the comedy, poetry, creative non-fiction and fiction workshops.

While Perdomo and Kirby taught poetry and fiction, Vermont writer and scholar Sue Halpern and Los Angeles comedian and poet Greg Harris taught creative nonfiction and comedy writing.

Kate Tooley, communications and events coordinator for The New School, came to the Kicka** Writers Festival from her home in Brooklyn. Balancing her writing with her other work, she said she came to the festival to remind herself that writing is what she does.

Tooley took the Fiction Writing Workshop with Kirby and said she loved “everyone’s different perspectives on stories and the different ways people approach it.”

“But also, I love a writing prompt that not only makes me write, but also makes me look at myself while I write,” she added.

This was precisely the goal Kirby was aiming for as she said she valued “empathy” when it comes to creating characters. One of the prompts she asked her class to follow was to think of someone they stereotype and create a deeper story for them.

“I think stereotypes in fiction and in our culture can be so incredibly harmful and can be so internalized by all of us,” said Kirby. “I think as writers we have a very important moral responsibility to push that aside and think with empathy and complexity about our characters.”

Kirby also said that “Writing can seem confined to academia,” but have a festival like this “removes that perception and gives people the chance to meet others in their community with the same passions and enthusiasm as they do.”

Thill expressed a similar sentiment, referring to the ” kick ** “ title of the festival as an open invitation to all, of all skills and backgrounds, to attend. She said the name was both “funny but also intentionally crazy.”

“I want people to feel welcome” said Thill. “I never use the word literary because it’s so alienating to our own community. It’s very elitist. The craziest thing in the world is that there are no words for what we do.

Vasquez-Lavado, who published his book, “In the Shadow of the Mountain: Memoirs of Courage” this year, via Macmillan editions, was the main speaker of the festival. The memoirs cover both her completion as the first openly lesbian woman to climb the Seven Summits as a means of processing and healing the traumas of her life.

Vasquez-Lavado said the process of writing his memoir was one that “surprised” she on “how raw it was, how vulnerable it was to bring a lot of painful stories to life.”

“But the reason I wanted to do it was to show other people who were struggling in silence that they weren’t alone,” she says. “In order for me to be able to do this, I had to be this open, this raw, and it was very difficult. I mean, this journey has been one of the most fulfilling but difficult that I have ever been on, with oxygen.

As part of her commencement speech at Saranac Lake High School, she read chapters from her memoir. She talked about everything from her trip to America from Peru to her celebration of four years of sobriety. She also talked about one of the hikes she did through her non-profit organization “Brave Girls” in which she walks with girls in San Francisco and Nepal to help them heal from sexual violence.

One of the messages she said she wanted people to take away from being in Saranac Lake was that “everything and anything is possible. It only takes one step, especially when it comes from the heart. I think we can accomplish anything.

Thill and ACW communications manager Tyler Barton said they hope people have made meaningful connections with other writers during the festival, as writing is often seen as a “isolated” practice.

“Everyone knows that writing is very lonely and isolating but, for me, that only works if you also go out after writing your pages and meet other writers, go to readings, have a workshop or you have a friend who you swap work with even if they live across the country and you just commit to writing and communicating in some way,” Barton said.

Thill added that she hopes this festival will bring out the writing and storytelling communities of the Adirondacks due to the lack of visibility.

“There are theaters, museums, other art forms that have a lot of awareness in the Adirondack ecosystem,” she says. “Having literature take a firmer place in this is really important.”

Thill and Barton plan to hold another Kicka** writers festival. They just don’t know if it will be annual or biannual. However, Thill is certain that they will organize it earlier this summer so that they can organize other events they have in mind.

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