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Mariam Rahmani read some of her work at the launch. Rahmani is one of the five residents spending the summer in Pittsfield.

First Annual 'Mastheads' Writers Residency Kicks Off In Pittsfield

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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Chris Parkinson and Tessa Kelly headed the project.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Mastheads have launched.
 
Five writers will be spending the month of July working out of small studios placed throughout the city. The studios are all inspired by 19th-century authors as part of an art, history, and architectural project headed by Tessa Kelly and Christopher Parkinson.
 
The program, funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, is in its inaugural year and on Monday the architects, the authors, and the community launched the program at Hotel on North.
 
"Our project became a means to find common ground with other thinkers in the Berkshires, many of whom are here and who share an interest in exploring ways that the Berkshires can develop, be explored in new ways, and be part of our future. We see Pittsfield as a laboratory, a place that is seeking a vision, welcoming to new ideas, open to experimentation and encouraging of action," Kelly told close to 50 people who were at the hotel to meet the writers and celebrate the launch.
 
The idea came from the city's rich literary history and five historic authors — Herman Melville, Henry David Thoreau, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Nathaniel Hawthorne — had all had a presence in the city. From there, Parkinson and Kelly used local places they had written for inspiration. They then built five unique and mobile writer's studios.
 
"We were young architects finishing graduate school and wondered what we could do for a small city like Pittsfield, that didn't have the economic vibrancy but had such a rich heritage and history. We thought about how to turn that history into something productive," Parkinson said.
 
The studios are an effort to "build on what we have and make it better," Parkinson said. It takes the city's history of literacy and adds to it by bringing more authors to have similar experiences. By placing the studios in public places, it also engages residents to think about the city's past and the work of those historic authors. Two of the studios are located at Arrowhead, two others at Canoe Meadows, one at Springside Park.
 
The studios are now all in place and over the weekend the authors chosen began the month-long residency. At the end, they'll all produce work for publication. The concept was funded by a $75,000 grant.
 
"In 2014, we received an 'Our Town' grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to support the project known as the Mastheads. Believing that new, meaningful architecture could come to be in our city and could allow residents and visitors to understand place and experience local history in a new way," Kelly said. 
 
Over the last three years, the project grew with more and more organizations joining the project. It became more than an art or an architecture project, it became a community project. 
 
Sarah Trudgeon was one of those partners to join the effort. She's a poet who moved to the Berkshires from Miami, where she was involved in a fun and vibrant writing scene. Moving to the Berkshires, she wondered if she'd still have that.
 
"I wondered if we would have the same kind of community here. And we might not have if it weren't for Chris and Tessa. They are artists and whatever they do, they build community," Trudgeon said.
 

This is one of the five studios built by the couple.
"They created the Mastheads as a way to highlight and build on the literary history of Pittsfield by bringing in writers from around the country to work here, but they also bring the people who already are here together."
 
Trudgeon has signed on to the project to head a new program working with the city schools. That started with Morningside Community School this spring and brings writing workshops and lessons to the students.
 
Jeffrey Lawrence joined on to put together a companion book featuring the work of the 19th-century authors, which will serve as somewhat of a suggested reading for the community throughout the project. The month also features a number of roundtable discussions and readings throughout the month. 
 
It all grew out of Kelly's effort to "think differently about things we've seen and known our entire lives."
 
"To see this brought to life through the will and mind of one person that brought this all together is really amazing," Parkinson said.
 
It all started on Monday night and following the introduction from Parkinson and Kelly, the program feature readings from the residents Mariam Rahmani; Justin Boening; Maria Pinto; Greg Allendorf and John Babbott.
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