With Pen in Hand: Writing Workshop at the Albany Public Library, Howe Branch

By Karlie Flood

“With Pen in Hand” could’ve meant anything: a calligraphy class, a note-taking skill seminar, or an Office Depot advertisement. However, on Monday afternoons from 1:30 – 3:30 pm, at the Albany Public Library – Howe Branch, it refers to a weekly writing workshop! The description for the event on the Albany NY Library events calendar states: “learn how to express yourself clearly and imaginatively, share your work, and respond to the stories of others. Attend any or all sessions.” I wasn’t quite sure what this meant or what the workshop would be like, but I did not expect to find a hidden literary community full of light, talent, and passion in the South End of Albany.

Paul Lamar, a retired Saint Rose professor and South End writer, led the workshop. He began with a rule I had not heard before: after they read, the author could not respond to the responses or criticism about their story. “If it’s not there and someone is confused, then that information should be in the piece,” Lamar stated.

There were 20 writers, sitting in the shape of a square that participated in the workshop. Most of the group was familiar with each other, but Lamar made sure to introduce the new writers joining the group, including me, an outsider with a purpose (this review). Despite being a newcomer, I was warmly welcomed and accepted into the folds of this literary community.

Everyone who wanted to share their writing printed out 20 copies of their piece and passed them around (if you don’t have 20 copies on hand, the library will provide them for the group at no cost). Then, the author of the piece reads their work. After the piece was read aloud twice, we spent five minutes writing down our thoughts. Anyone who had a response or suggestive criticism to improve the piece responded to the author aloud. Almost everyone had something encouraging to say about each writer’s piece. I found this to be a very different atmosphere than my college classroom, where it feels as though crickets could be heard when students are asked to respond to their classmate’s writing. At the end of the session we each returned our copies with our comments to the author allowing them to review a variety of perspectives on their writing.

Most of the writing in this workshop consisted of poems. The poems varied in topic from lost love to the current state of American politics. Another poem balanced between the choice of wearing your heart on your sleeve or sealing it shut. We also read a memoir and a play during which we each read different roles.

By the end of the session, first-timers who admitted being nervous were openly critiquing and expressing their ideas, including me. Everyone respected one another, and many expressed admiration and awe of the work that was read. “With Pen in Hand” reminded me how talented and experienced the local writers in Albany are, but most importantly the passion instilled in them. They weren’t writing for profit, like most franchised writers. They were writing because they had a raw and honest love for the craft.

The Howe Branch is just one of seven branches of Albany Public Library, and each branch has their own calendar of free events. The Howe Branch will be hosting a Screenwriting Workshop every Monday night from 6 – 8 pm beginning November 12th, hosted by David B Easton, a writer, producer, and educator. Registration is required and can be done online or by calling (518) 472-9485.