As the year comes to an end, one can’t help but look back and take stock. 2021 was a mixed bag. It certainly was not the bright shiny new year we had hoped when 2020 came to an end. But despite some continued disappointment with COVID-19 still lingering, we have had some wins this year and found ways to adjust to our new normal.
Here at PWN, we continued our Zoom classes and expanded and evolved our organization. Adult fee-based programs such as the Screenwriting Academy and Book Inc developed and grew, while our outreach programs brought creativity and hope to our underserved communities.
As we did last year, we’ve once again asked our Project Write Now Team to tell us what captivated them throughout the year. What did they read, listen to, watch, eat, or do outside of class that kept them engaged and inspired?
Here’s what they said …
Ray Brunt, instructor and co-host of PWN’s Debut Review, said: “My latest captivation are audiobooks. I read, or should I say ‘listened to’ Julia Whelan’s novel, My Oxford Year, and was hooked. She is an award-winning narrator as well as an actress and novelist. To have her reading her own work was extra special. She will also be a guest next year during Season 2 of PWN’s Debut Review.
Jennifer Chauhan, executive director of Project Write Now, said: “I am currently obsessed with the poem ‘Fifteen Strokes of Luck,’ by Ellery Akers, from the November issue of The Sun. I have been sharing it in every workshop I teach. It is perfect for generative writing and I love the unique way it invites a reflection on gratitude. All year, really, I have been captivated by the poems that land in my inbox every day from poets.org. Some of my favorites this year: ‘Ways to Disappear,’ by Camille Rankin, ‘Ode to Kool Aid,’ by Marcus Jackson, ‘Anne,’ by CMarie Fuhrman, ‘Year of the Rat, Full Moon in Aries, and Coltrane Plays,’ by Andrea Belcas Beltran, ‘No More Grandma Poems,’ by Yolanda Wisher. I could go on and on …”
Songwriting instructor Mimi Cross said: “I’m especially captivated by and unfortunately done with this super twisty series, ‘Bajo Sospecha.’ You’ll never figure out ‘whodunnit.’ I watched the final episode of the second and last series and wow, I’ll miss my two TV boyfriends!”
Our Poetry instructor Laura Cyphers read an impressive list of poetry collections by:
– Natalie Diaz,
– Ada Limón,
– Ellen Bass,
– Donika Kelly,
– And so many more!
She also notes: “I live on cheese (any kind), multigrain crackers, berries, yogurt, pizza, tuna salad, and bean dip. Outside of class I walk my dog, read, assist a friend with her two amazing kids, cook, and sit by fires.”
PWN’s education director, Colleen Doogan, told us that she has been captivated by Christmas this year. She is …
– Listening to: “Alexa, play Christmas music!”
– Watching: “Christmas movies, even the Hallmark sappy ones!”
– Eating: “Cheese and crackers! I can’t get enough. Sometimes it’s my dinner!”
– And doing: “Family time. We made everyone put away work and drop everything on Sunday to go and walk the Asbury boardwalk and have brunch with Santa!”
Lizbeth Finn, our Screenwriting Academy program manager, had fun in 2021 playing with puppies! “This year I was totally captivated with co-parenting a pandemic puppy with my son. I already have two dogs, but I forgot how much energy and playfulness puppies bring into your life. Leo became my shadow this year, joining me on my daily walks in the woods and at the beach, sitting beside me while I worked on Zoom, and snuggling up to my belly at night. In the aftermath of having COVID, I couldn’t have asked for better medicine. Leo reminded me to smile, laugh, enjoy life, and get up off the couch and move my sluggish body.”
Our Memoir instructor Jennifer Gaites said: “For years, I’ve been an avid New York Times crossword puzzle fan (ask me about my graduate professor that took the puzzle off my desk and started filling in the answers he knew…19 years later, I still bristle at the intrusion). I complete the Daily Minis on my phone every day and I’ve recently discovered Spelling Bee, another game within the NYT crossword app. It’s a word-building game and I’m obsessed! Sometimes my family even gets involved, where we all play together and try to reach the highest category: Genius!”
Book Inc moderator and marketer Zoë A. Gulliksen said: “In 2021, I learned a lot about storytelling from mediums other than print books—more than I ever would have anticipated. I listened to all 12 audiobooks in the Poldark series by Winston Graham and they taught me how powerful quiet moments between lovers can be. I discovered how crucial it is to weave consistent story threads when telling a mystery from Steve Martin’s incredible show ‘Only Murders in the Building.’ Most of all, I realized how fun it is to play with your characters from the internationally acclaimed Spanish TV show ‘La Casa del Papel’ (or Money Heist in America). However, my favorite lesson I learned is from my fellow Book Inc writers: to be persistent and to be indulgent in my own writing.”
Courtney Harler, PWN’s Debut Review co-host and instructor, said: “Over the past year, I’ve fallen deeply in love with audiobooks. They give my eyes a much-needed rest (from screen and printed page) and allow me to continue with my reading while I’m walking and commuting. Professional narrators are often actors, as well, and these highly talented individuals add yet another layer of pleasure to the ‘read’ with their versatile inflections, accents, and expressions. However, I also seek books narrated by the authors themselves. Here are some of my favorite author-narrated books I read last year: Song of Solomon by Toni Morrisson, Pale Colors in a Tall Field by Carl Phillips, and The Carrying by Ada Limón. We’re lucky to have these voices, and their work, recorded for posterity.”
Program coordinator and writing instructor Lisa Hartsgrove had quite a few new experiences in 2021 that she will never forget. “One of my best friends got married this year and I was one of her twelve bridesmaids. We had such a blast together! We went to Key West in July for her bachelorette party—a place wholly different from the Florida I had known before—and then we celebrated her wedding right here at Sandy Hook, New Jersey. I also attended Firefly Music Festival in Delaware this September. It was not my first music festival, but it was the first time I ever stayed over and camped through the whole event. I wish I had a less cliche word than ‘magical’ to describe it all, but that’s exactly what it’s been. A lot of 2021 felt just as hard as 2020, but I’m grateful that I got to go out and experience some beautiful things again!”
Liz Jannuzzi, our operations and communications manager, said that she too discovered audiobooks and the Audible app. “I love to read but I struggled to find the time. I’m too tired at night, or I have plans to watch a show with my family. I know that to be a writer you need to be a reader so it was a constant stress that I wasn’t reading enough. With the Audible app, I can listen to a book while driving my kids around or while grocery shopping or folding laundry. I went from reading two books a year to four books a month.”
Instructor Pamela K. Johnson said: “I found a 1985 documentary I love, ‘Bring on the Night,’ which featured Sting and a group of musicians who holed away in a French castle to prepare for a concert. What I didn’t realize at the time was that Sting was in the midst of rebranding himself as a solo act, separate from his old band The Police. I didn’t even know the concept of rebranding at the time.”
PWN co-founder and Book Inc director Greg Phelan told us: “Researching for my 1964 historical novel continues to be a fantastic excuse to watch old movies, read old Hollywood memoirs (Maureen O’Hara is the coolest), and listen to the best music. Thanks to many repeated listens to the Apple playlist, 1964 R&B/Soul Archives, I’ve discovered amazing artists like Major Lance and The Impressions. My favorite book of the year, and one of my all-time favorites, is Lonesome Dove, which really is an American War and Peace. More recently, I’ve been captivated by the documentary ‘Get Back,’ which, while it may be tedious to casual fans, is like Christmas to an obsessive Beatles nut like me. Another highly recommended masters class in the creative process is Malcolm Gladwell’s excellent interview of Paul Simon on Audible. So inspired, I learned the late albums of Paul Simon are fantastic if you give them enough listens. Nothing is better than to discover a body of work from a musician you admire so much.”
Our outreach instructor Jennifer Shields said: “Been my favorite since the onset of COVID—Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart. A great coming-of-age novel with a style infused with Roddy Doyle and Frank McCourt. For the intolerable writer’s block that takes hold, I have returned to an old favorite and find Bonnie Friedman’s Writing Past Dark to be a huge comfort. Also anything by Joan Didion.”
Instructor Eileen Whitener said: “These days, I read more children’s books than anything else! My toddler currently wants at least six books before bed. His favorites include Corduroy, Goodnight Moon, and Moo Baa La La La! (which might be my current favorite. I love Sandra Boynton’s humor!)”