When some of Long Island’s greatest authors agree to be in the same room, literary magic is bound to happen. That enchanted fairy dust will be sprinkled over Castle Gould on the Sands Point Preserve on May 31 from 1 to 5 p.m., when the first ever LitFest takes hold of Long Island.
The brilliant idea came to Claudia Gryvatz Copquin, an award-winning writer and founder/producer for the event, about a year ago. (For the full schedule, click here.)
“I’ve been a freelance journalist for over two decades, writing on Long Island for many years,” said Copquin, who has a passion for essay writing. “A couple of years ago I gathered together writer friends and colleagues and we started touring all over New York; and we read our essays out loud in front of audiences.”
Copquin wondered if an audience would enjoy a full day of readings from authors.
“The idea came to be last year. I met with the advisory committee and we had several meetings to see if it was feasible, but in January we started doing the physical work, asking authors to participate and looked for a location,” she said of the sponsor venue, which is a Long Island landmark in its own right.
LitFest will feature three reading sessions, with each session boasting its own group of authors. With a very packed schedule, each author will read one short piece of nonfiction. Guests are encouraged to come early and purchase books on site in order to have them signed by the author. The day’s fee is $20 at the door and $10 for parking.
So how exactly did Copquin manage to get Alan Zweibel, Arlene Alda, Susan Isaacs, Marcia Byalick, keynote speaker Dick Cavett and several other authors to read at LitFest?
“Alan Zweibel is one of my literary heroes. I also contacted some of my favorite authors through their publishing houses,” said Copquin. “So many of these authors are so thrilled and willing to be a part of this.”
Zweibel, an original Saturday Night Live writer, author, Emmy-award winner and current executive producer on Showtime’s documentary series Inside Comedy, grew up in Wantagh and always draws from his roots.
“To this day, in my books, plays and TV shows I always draw from Long Island,” said Zweibel. “It was the realization of the American dream. It was a great place to grow up, a new world…crab grass.”
For Zweibel, writer’s block means moving onto another piece of writing, as he always works on three or four pieces at the same time. He also hates to write sitting down, especially when expelling his thoughts isn’t going smoothly, causing an emotion every writer has experienced: frustration.
“It’s a little scary…especially when you think you’ve lost touch with what was such a great idea,” he said of writing, which he considers a love-hate relationship. “I love words and it’s a puzzle; figuring out what words to take and what to put down and what will hold people’s interest. You’re creating a world and giving life to characters they take on a life of their own and tell you what they want to do. It’s the only thing I know.”
While he has yet to make a decision, Zweibel hinted at reading from his collection of short stories and essays that were published a few years ago.
Fellow writer Arlene Alda lives on Long Island’s East End and considers it a very soothing place to write.
“The land, the light and the water are beautiful to see and calming to the spirit. But…I also like the pressure of deadlines, so go figure,” she said.
Alda’s subject matter is always drawn from her life experiences. She lives part-time on Long Island and spends the other half in Manhattan, an experience she credits to the ever-changing, interesting picture of writing.
“I like the Lao Tzu observation, ‘A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.’ Eventually the door to creativity opens, and even though it may still be a bit hard to find my way in the dark, I find the process itself exciting and encouraging.”
Alda loves to solve problems in her writing, but she said that “coming back down to earth is a downer.”
“It brings me right back to square one. It’s kind of like a board game where I’m so close to winning, but then I pick a card sending me to jail where I languish until I miraculously pick a random card to get out,” she said. “Such are the mysteries and vagaries of writing.”
One of the simple pleasures Alda takes from writing is being able to read aloud to an audience, which is why she happily agreed to appear at LitFest.
“I hope that Litfest is the beginning of a long-lasting tradition,” she said. “I’m honored to be included among the wonderful writers of Long Island.”
Alda will be reading a chapter from her latest book, Just Kids from the Bronx: Telling It the Way it Was, An Oral History.
For Marcia Byalick, Long Island is where she became a writer, so it is only fitting that it serves as her muse.
“Long Island was the most welcoming home for all of my essays and columns,” said Byalick, who was fortunate to have a monthly column.
A disciplined writer, Byalick admitted to locking her office door when she sits down to compose words, and does not allow herself to get up from her seat for at least two hours.
“The best part is feeling that the words illustrate that what I meant to say is what I do say,” said Byalick on why she loves her craft. “But I know in my heart that only practice will make it better and that only doing it consistently will get me where I’m going.”
Byalick was extremely flattered when she received the call to appear at LitFest. She considers it an honor to be among a list of writers she has so long admired, as well as a personal highlight to be included on the list.
“I haven’t selected anything to read yet. It’s tortuous,” she said of the process of going through more than 200 pieces on her computer.
Long Island has also been a muse for Susan Isaacs.
“It is my universe. Anything I want to write about is right here and is so familiar to me,” she said.
Isaacs is fascinated by suburban Long Island and feels that in Manhattan, everyone already had a work in progress.
“Everybody was either a big shot or on the road to becoming one and it’s kind of off-putting. On Long Island, there’s a laid-back normality,” said Isaacs, who was on Long Island when she started her career at a time when an enormous amount of women were home. “There wasn’t as much pressure; it wasn’t as intense and I liked that.”
Isaacs’ advice for writer’s block involves avoiding technology, which in this day and age, seems near impossible for an author. According to Isaacs, some writers have even forgone computers for typewriters.
“I don’t look at emails first. I just turn to the last thing I’ve written the day before and go from there,” she said, noting that if she needs to search for something on the Internet, she will mark a double asterisk next to it and look it up later. “With a revision, you’re rewriting because you’re looking for the right voice and every once in a while I come across something and go ‘I wrote that? Isn’t that marvelous.’”
Isaacs lives five minutes away from Sands Point and was more than happy to be on board with her literary friend Dick Cavett.
“When you think of the amount of talent that has come from here, it’s extraordinary,” she said. “I think I’ll probably be reading a blog post on my first e-book because I don’t do nonfiction.”
Isaacs is currently finishing her latest novel, Violet Hopkins. Her good friend Cavett has also been busy on the Island.
“I was lucky enough to find a great old house in Montauk years ago and have spent as much time as possible here,” said Cavett on why he enjoys Long Island. “I’ve done a lot of writing out here. It’s a pleasant place to write.”
Cavett, who is the keynote speaker for LitFest, said that the event looked very appealing.
“I am looking more than forward to it,” he said. “I have had a tough time choosing what to read, but ultimately decided to read essays from my latest book, Brief Encounters: Conversations, Magic Moments, and Assorted Hijinks.”
While the first ever LitFest has all the makings of a successful event—a beautiful location, star-studded writers and a scenic, literary Long Island backdrop—Copquin hopes to make LitFest an annual event. At the same time, she hopes to connect people with their favorite authors.
“We’re missing this link. We have festivals of all kinds, but no literary festivals,” she said. “It’s so needed and so necessary.”
Visit www.longislandlitfest.com for more information.