WordFest at The Mount

Opening Night of Biannual Event

By: - Sep 15, 2012

Last night the biannual WordFest, the second such, opened on a comic note in The Stables of the Edith Wharton estate The Mount in Lenox.

Hoping to make WordFest eventually into an annual gathering Mount director, Susan Wissler, introduced two local authors Kevin O’Hara and Alison Larkin who read from their books to the delight of an audience that near to filled a spacious room. This was followed by a wine and cheese reception.

For this second WordFest the event has wisely been shifted from the intensely competitive high season to a more relaxed mid September weekend. While the tourists have mostly packed and returned home with its emphasis on Berkshire based authors and poets, replete with celebrity authors, the event is geared to drawing upon the local literati.

On the porch of The Mount there will be day long marathons of Berkshire poets through Sunday. There are also panel discussions and interviews with renowned authors staged simultaneously.

It seems The Word is out for The Mount in just the kind of programming that Wharton would have found perfectly delightful.

Kicking off the weekend the Irish flavored tales of O’Hara selected from his books The Lucky Irish Lad and The Last of the Donkey Pilgrims warmed our hearts. In 2012 he won the John Fitzgerald Kennedy National Award.

An immigrant from Ireland as a lad of four the adult O’Hara in his 30s, accompanied by a donkey and cart, got to know the Old Sod through a 1,600 miles trek which led to a richly inflected, lilting, whimsical book. He progressed at the rate of about ten miles a day ending with two pints of Guinness.

His second tale, about getting snookered out of three, borrowed, twenty pound notes by a young, red headed, scruffy, street urchin was just hilarious. All too true and deeply felt.

The ending joke about what do you call a hole that a donkey falls into, however, was a bit too crude to repeat.

The sprawling, comic, chaotic delivery of Alison Larkin confused me but amused the audience. As a kind of multiple personality disorder we were exposed to several personas simultaneously. She is adopted, the base of much of her commentary, a successful author of The English American, stand up comic, Great Barrington based soccer mom, Broadway and Off Broadway performer.

Oh yes, and her book is about to be made into a movie.

The rambling, frenetic, manic delivery swung wildly between comic and serious. It revolved around the red tape involved in trying to track down her birth parents with apparently mixed results. The eventual contact revealed a genetic disorder that literally saved her infant son. It is indeed a complex issue with so many adopted children, not only  denied knowledge of their parents, but also family medical histories.

We were thus amused by her humorous prancing about delivery as well as struck by this sobering note.

During the reception that followed we found our friend Jonas Doyvdenas, a former board member of The Mount, conversing with another early board member Lila Berle. She has recently rejoined the board as its chair.

We asked her about a recent donation of $300,000 that retired a $425,000 debt to the person who loaned money to buy Wharton’s library of books.

With delight Berle described how Wissler struck a bargain of cash to the lender to retire the debt with a saving of some $125,000. We commented that she got a lot of bang for the buck.

“The interest on the loan was some $7,000 a month” Berle commented. “You can’t sustain a non profit with that kind of debt hanging over you.”

We mingled among guests including the media and VIPs.

Now we are racing back to Lenox for more intoxicating literary delights.