Faculty Member Organizes Countywide Berkshire Festival of Women Writers

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by Audrey Werth ’11

jenny-150x150.jpgAfter a decade of hosting an annual International Women's Day conference, Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez decided to branch out, organizing the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers (BFWW). Now in its third year, the BFWW is still growing and gaining support, expanding from 30 events in its inaugural year to 56 this March.

“The festival encourages women of all ages to share their perspectives and allow their voices to be heard,” de Hernandez adds. “Last year an 85-year-old woman won the essay contest with a fantastic piece revealing a depth to her writing no one had previously seen. This year young writers from Monument Mountain Regional High School read their own poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction”

She continues, "It’s a chance to learn more about people in the community who wouldn't necessarily sit down and talk to us but share with us through their writing.”

Men are of course welcome and their involvement is appreciated. In fact, two men brought this year’s International Women's Day observance to campus. It was celebrated with a screening of the documentary, Sweet Dreams of Women’s Humans Rights followed by a discussion with the filmmakers.

Because the festival strives to promote women's voices, men have primarily participated as supporters. Describing her perspective de Hernandez says “for me it's really about women using writing to make the world better. It's really as simple as that. I think the world will be richer if more women's voices are heard. That's what I'm going for.”

bfww.jpgFestival events are held at venues throughout the county, giving members an opportunity to explore local areas. The American Institute of Economic Research in Great Barrington and Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Lenox were among this year’s collaborators. Bard College at Simon's Rock, an official sponsor, hosted 12 of the 56 events, making it easy for students to participate.

Molly Ziegler '11, a science student at Simon’s Rock, describes her interest in the festival, “I thought I could learn a thing or two about effective communication with the public by attending some of the events. As a young woman, I also admire these women writers as they are strong individuals who have chosen to pursue what they love and put themselves out there. It has been entertaining and a great experience which I hope to be a part of in the future.”

As the month nears its end, festival organizers don’t get much time to revel in its success. It takes a year—and many volunteers and collaborators—to plan the festival. As soon as the festival comes to a close planning for the next year begins. “It is not a one woman process. A volunteer committee of twelve brings community members together as organizers, hosts, and collaborators, says de Hernandez. “While speakers from around the country may get involved the festival will remain very much a local grassroots based movement.”

Next year the festival will focus specifically on Women, Creativity, and the Planet. Jennifer is very passionate about this. She is currently working on a memoir which should be included in an event next March. The memoir connects her personal story to that of the planet with an emphasis on climate change.

“Students, faculty, and staff are always welcome to submit event proposals,” encourages de Hernandez. “Members of Simon's Rock who have been involved have had the opportunity to connect with the larger Berkshire community.”