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Exploring Narrative, Truth, and the Power of Storytelling at the Authors Guild’s 2023 WIT: Words, Ideas, and Thinkers Festival

Lenox, MA—How do stories shape our understanding of ourselves and the world around us? This critical question was explored at the Authors Guild Foundation’s 2023 WIT: Words, Ideas, and Thinkers Festival, during three days of thought-provoking talks, readings, and discussions with leading writers and thinkers.

Hundreds of local and out-of-state attendees participated in the festival held at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, MA, September 21–23. This year’s festival brought together two dozen acclaimed authors including poets, journalists, novelists, scholars, and memoirists to examine the complex role of narrative in both spreading misinformation and fostering greater truth, empathy, and social change. All sessions were recorded and will be shared on the Authors Guild website, newsletter, and social media channels once available.

The festival kicked off with “Politics and Prose”: Pulitzer Prize-winner Jane Smiley discussed her adaptations of literary classics into contemporary settings with Jennie Kassanoff. Margaret Verble and Oscar Hokeah followed with a provocative session titled “Who are NDNs Anyway? And Why Does it Matter?” in which they spoke about the current state of Native American literature and its implications for issues facing their communities. “The relationship between tribes and the United States is a nation-to-nation relationship. There’s a lot of infringement,” said Verble. “It’s about writing about an entire community, not just one individual,” added Hokeah.

During “The End of Reality: AI, Crypto, and the Metaverse,” Steven Levy, tech reporter and editor-at-large for Wired, and Mary Rasenberger, CEO of the Authors Guild and Authors Guild Foundation, explored how new technologies are impacting truth, democracy, and the creative professions. “Maybe we shouldn’t have let these companies get so big,” mused Rasenberger on the risks involved.

Authors Guild president Maya Shanbhag Lang and author Emma Straub followed with a discussion about how their families inspired their writing in an intimate session called “Parents on Paper.” “Writing This Time Tomorrow let me be as openly loving to him as I had always been,” Straub said of portraying her father, the late Peter Straub.

Other highlights included former Poet Laureate Rita Dove reading from her latest poetry collection Playlist for the Apocalypse and reflecting on her prolific career with André Bernard, and Michael Cunningham and Roxana Robinson revisiting the lasting resonance of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway on its 98th anniversary.

In “Memoir and Memory,” memoirists Saeed Jones and Isaac Fitzgerald spoke candidly about making sense of one’s past. “Writing poetry, I feel such freedom,” said Jones. “The truth is like a block of wood. Everyone carves a very different structure,” reflected Fitzgerald on the choices he made in his writing process. Investigative journalists Patrick Radden Keefe and Daniel Zalewski also discussed their work uncovering secrets and mysteries in “The Cult of Secrecy.” Introducing the session, Shanbhag Lang aptly noted, “We at the Authors Guild do not back down from big fights.”

The festival concluded with biographer Stacy Schiff and Martin Baron, former executive editor of The Washington Post, exploring the craft of writing about history and current events in “The Present, the Past, and the Historical Record.”

“Our goal was to send people home with new insights, inspiration, and a deeper appreciation for the written word,” said festival director Lynn Boulger. By all accounts, this year’s WIT Festival succeeded in fostering community and fresh literary perspectives.

The 2023 WIT Festival was made possible through the support of festival sponsors: Cromwell Harbor Foundation, Hunter K. Runnette & Mark P. VandenBosch, Joanne Leonhardt Cassullo, Carol Haythone, Taryn & Mark Leavitt, Hans & Kate Morris, Diana Rowan Rockefeller, Amy Davidson Sorkin & David Sorkin, and Wendy Strothman; festival partners: The Berkshire Eagle, Berkshire Magazine, The Bookstore, Joe Wheaton Sculpture, Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, Norman Rockwell Museum, The Red Lion Inn, Stonover Farm, Whistler’s Inn, and Wine & Spirits Magazine; and the support of the local community including the WIT Festival volunteers and everyone at Shakespeare & Company.

About the Authors Guild and Authors Guild Foundation

With almost 14,000 members, the Authors Guild is the nation’s oldest and largest professional organization for published writers. It advocates on behalf of working writers to protect free speech, freedom of expression, and authors’ copyrights; fights for fair contracts and authors ability to earn a livable wage; and provides a welcoming community for writers and translators of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and journalism. Through its educational and charitable arm the Authors Guild Foundation, it also offers free programming to teach working writers about the business of writing, as well as organizing public events that highlight the importance of a rich, diverse American literary culture and the authors who contribute to it.

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