In another invitational writers group, Riggs shares her own evolving novel with a group of six writers, including journalists and scholars, who meet on Sunday evenings in the living room of the 250-year-old Cleaveland House. This family home has been a gathering place for intellectuals and artists since Riggs’s mother, the late poet and author, Dionis Coffin Riggs, lived there. In addition to critiquing the dialogue and character development in Riggs’ new mystery, the Cleaveland House writers mull over the latest excerpts from each other’s manuscripts. The pieces range from Elissa Lash’s entertaining novel about stripping, to Paul Magid’s biography of George Crook, a general in the Civil and Indian Wars, which was recently accepted for publication by the University of Oklahoma Press.
“I really make an effort to bring something each week,” says Susanna Sturgis of West Tisbury, a former Martha’s Vineyard Times editor and author of The Mud of the Place, a Vineyard novel. “It’s given me space to develop.” Michael Ditchfield of Edgartown, a writer of fiction, says he enjoys the immediate feedback of the writing-group process. “It’s the reading it out loud to other people. You can tell what works very quickly,” he says.
Over the past 13 years, many year-round and seasonal islanders have honed their writing with Howes House Writers, which meets every Tuesday morning in the library of the Up-Island Council on Aging in West Tisbury. Also founded by Cynthia Riggs, the group is open to anyone who would like to offer and receive feedback on an essay, story, poetry, or other works in progress. Edward Houseman of Edgartown, who has been coming to the group for two years says, “It’s pretty wild. We get to know each other well.” Among other projects, Houseman is compiling the latest edition of the collected works of the Howes House Writers.
On an island with few secrets, the human condition is as exposed as the rugged, windswept landscape. The pastoral fields, the sweeping vistas of Aquinnah, and the island’s close-knit communities are enough to awaken the muse in any prospective writer. And with typical island openness, it’s easy to find the right group to nurture that deep passion for words.