Bestselling author Cheryl Strayed, National Book Award winner Norman Rush and MacArthur Genius fellow Lydia Davis are among the notable writers appearing at the fourth annual Woodstock Writers Festival, which kicks off Thursday. The four-day event will feature a variety of panels, events and workshops that should satisfy bibliophiles of every kind.
Started in 2010, the event began as a way to promote Woodstock's local bookstore, The Golden Notebook, and to draw visitors to the town. In a short time, it has expanded into an eclectic literary event that's expected to draw close to 1,000 people this year.
Martha Frankel, the festival's executive director, said the festival's success is due to a "confluence of luck and luck." An example of this is how Frankel was able to secure as a guest Strayed, the popular, in-demand author of "Wild," the memoir that was a selection on Oprah Winfrey's influential Book Club.
Last fall, when author Jane Smiley was visiting Frankel at her Woodstock home, the two saw a tweet from Strayed in Frankel's Twitter feed. Smiley told Frankel to say hello to the author on her behalf.
"And I said, well, Twitter doesn't really work that way, but let's try it," Frankel said.
Strayed responded positively to Frankel's tweet about Smiley, so Frankel decided to take a chance and invite Strayed to the Woodstock festival, an invitation that she accepted.
"I still can't believe that happened," Frankel said. "A lot of things have been like that. That's what I mean when I say lucky."
Strayed's event, a Saturday evening conversation with WAMC radio's Joe Donahue, is already sold out, but interested fans still will be able to see her speak via live streaming on the Web. (Only the workshops and Story Slam will not be webcast.)
"We're going to take live questions on Twitter and Facebook and try to get the webcast audience involved with us in that way," Frankel said.
Frankel also believes the webcast option will allow virtual attendees to get an idea of Woodstock's laid-back sensibility.
"I think the people who're watching it are going to get a real Woodstock feeling," she said. "I get letters from authors saying, 'What should I wear?' And I say, 'This is Woodstock, honey. People wear shorts to weddings' ... I think people who watch it on the Web are going to be really excited by it."
In addition to Strayed, the festival also will feature high-wire artist Philippe Petit -- who will be discussing his book "Why Knot?" -- and celebrated fiction author Andre Dubus III, who will be on hand to talk about his new memoir "Townie." And although the festival has fiction, memoir and poetry panels, there are also several events that extend beyond these genres, including a comedy writers' panel featuring scribes from "The Daily Show" and events centering on music journalism and spiritual writing.
Aspiring writers can even hone their skills in writing workshops staged at private homes and have the chance to read publicly at the fest's sold-out "50 Shades of Grey"-themed Story Slam.
Although part of the fest's original mission was to champion The Golden Notebook, the result is that many of the town's local businesses have benefited from the annual festival, with Frankel noting that "a lot of the businesses tell me it's one of the best weekends of the year."
She added that the community has been enthusiastic in supporting the festival, with local residents hosting writing workshops in their homes and area restaurants donating food for the cocktail parties.
"There's a lot of generosity," Frankel said. "It's such a generous town."
IF YOU GO
What: Fourth annual Woodstock Writers Festival
When: Thursday, April 18, to Sunday, April 21
Info: Writing panels will be offered at Kleinert/James Center for the Arts, 36 Tinker St., Woodstock; for the locations of additional events, visit woodstockwritersfestival.com
Cost: Full festival passes are $222 (but are sold out). Panel discussions and cocktail parties vary in price from $15 to $25 per person. Writing workshops will take place Friday, April 19, and are $225 per person (includes lunch).
More: The festival will be streaming nine events online, beginning April 19 at 7:30 p.m. The full festival pass to access all webcast events is $50. "All Tied Up with Philippe Petit" and "Go Wild! with Cheryl Strayed" cost $12 to watch online, and the other events are $7. All events will be available streaming live or on demand for 30 days.