WordFest, Wharton and a Weekend in the Berkshires

by Amanda Festa  

Although the heat does not seem to be going anywhere anytime soon, as Labor Day inches its way closer, it is clear that summer is slowly winding to a lazy sun-drenched close.  The teachers and students among us are ticking down the days until school starts up once again and the rest of the population is busy lamenting the limited number of beach days left.  But just because summer is saying sayonara doesn’t mean there is not plenty on the horizon.

After all, there is nothing quite like autumn inNew England.  With the leaves changing color, a drive down the interstate becomes a trip to nature’s art museum.  While there is no shortage ofNew England destinations that are worth the trip, for the literary traveler, the Berkshires in western Massachusetts are the place to be this September, offering up a formidable mix of art, culture and history cast against a gorgeous natural setting.

Located in Lenox, a town at the heart of the Berkshires, is Edith Wharton’s turn of the century residence, The Mount.  Not only did the eminent writer live there, but she also designed the house and surrounding gardens herself according to the principles she laid out in her 1897 work, The Decoration of Houses. The Mount is one of the few sites on the National Register of Historic Places that is devoted to a woman, so when in the Berkshires, be sure to mix relaxation with literary exploration and pay homage to Wharton and her talent for both writing and home design.

This September 14-16th, The Mount will host WordFest, a literary-themed weekend now in its third year.  According to its website, “WordFest brings together acclaimed writers and passionate readers for talks, readings, conversations, and discovery. By presenting contemporary writers in a historical context, The Mount seeks to honor the living legacy of Edith Wharton and the many other authors who have made the Berkshires their home.”  Indeed, Wharton’s literary legacy is quite unique.  While best known for her fiction, her name now synonymous with turn of the century tales of New York high society, she also wrote poetry, memoir, ghost stories, non-fiction and books on interior design. Therefore, it is only proper that the event is as multifaceted as Wharton herself, with readings from a variety of authors and genres, along with panels, interviews and other recreational events that allow for lively literary discussion.  Among the writers in attendance will be one-time Pulitzer Prize nominee John Berendt (Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil), poet Mary Jo Salter, The New Yorker staff writer, Adam Gopnik, novelist, Matthew Pearl (The Dante Club), and author and comedian, Alison Larkin (The English American), among many others.

If you would like to expand your exploration of the Berkshires, visit the home of Herman Melville, Arrowhead, where he penned Moby Dick, take in any number of museums, do a bit of antiquing, enjoy a picturesque hike or attend another of the diverse festivals that take place in the area.  One weekend will hardly be enough to experience all that the Berkshires have to offer, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try.  So once Labor Day has come and gone, put away those white shoes, and find your way to an unmatched fall getaway.

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