Writers in the spotlight at Saugatuck StoryFest
WESTPORT — In the spirit of its ever-evolving mission, The Westport Library took literature off the bookshelves this weekend and brought it to life when it hosted the second nnual Saugatuck StoryFest.
Around 60 authors from all walks of literary life, including renowned children’s book horror maven R.L. Stine, who was the keynote speaker on Saturday afternoon, took part in the four-day event.
“Nearly all of these events are free and open to the public,” said Executive Director Bill Harmer, with several activities taking place at the Westport Center for Senior Activities as well.
“We’re super excited,” said Alex Giannini, manager of experiential learning. “We have an unbelievable group of writers this year.”
“It started just as a partnership between The Westport Library and the public school system,” he explained. He and Cody Daigle-Orians, program events specialist, with whom he formed the WestportWrites program at the library, partnered with two Staples High School English teachers — Kim Herzog and Rebecca Marsick — to begin this event last year.
“WestportWrites is an initiative that we have designed to support our local authors and writers in the community,” Harmer said, fostering opportunities for experience, networking and publishing.
“Westport is a writer’s town,” Giannini said. “And we saw through a year of writing programs that there are a lot of people who love to write.”
Among the activities that were happening this weekend, on Friday evening the group Fairfield Scribes presented an ensemble reading of a piece called “All Mind—The Influencers” by one of its members: Corrine “Mitzy Sky” Taylor of Stamford.
“We’re just doing this for fun,” said Alison McBain, founder and lead editor of the group, who also led a panel discussion over the weekend.
“It’s always great energy have a lot of writers together,” she said, “feeding off of each other’s enthusiasm and just creating something beautiful.”
Friday night’s keynote speaker, Mallory O’Meara, is a horror film enthusiast who stumbled into authoring her first nonfiction book simply through pursuing her interest in a subject dear to her heart.
“I wanted to know her story so badly,” she said of a little-known Hollywood special effects designer named Milicent Patrick, who created the design for Universal Studio’s Creature from the Black Lagoon.
Author of “The Lady from the Black Lagoon,” O’Meara spoke passionately about this 1950s-era woman pioneer who had previously been virtually forgotten, despite her important role in cinema.
“She became my hero,” O’Meara said, recounting the struggles Patrick faced in terms of equity, which made a monumental impression on her as she ultimately went to Hollywood to produce horror films herself.
“Now I know as a published author that nobody knows how to write a book,” she joked.
“Her life was just so incredible and I just couldn’t believe all this stuff was just lying around,” she said of her subject, crediting archives and libraries in particular with helping discover Patrick’s untold story.
Further, O’Meara stressed the lessons of Patrick’s life in terms of equity for women, minorities and other often marginalized groups.
“What happened to Milicent Patrick is still happening today,” she said. “I know because it’s happened to me. ... This is an active problem that happens every day.”
“The state of women in film is absolutely dismal,” she said. “In 2019 do we still need to be blazing trails?”
“That’s why Milicent Patrick’s story is so, so important,” O’Meara said, noting a vital message for women in particular to persevere. “It’s so, so important to know that you can do things.”
She described the importance of the horror genre, as it speaks to the anxieties facing a society, as well as the fears that face marginalized individuals.
“Marginalized voices are the most important part of horror because we’re the ones it happens to,” she said. “We’re the ones who have to fight it.”
Harmer commended O’Meara’s voice, calling her a friend of the library, and acknowledged the strength of this year’s StoryFest programs in general.
“We want to continue to build on these successes,” he said.