The Mastheads is a public humanities project in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. We seek to connect residents to the literary history of the region, create a forum for thinking about place, and support the production of new creative work. Founded in 2016 upon the legacy of five American Renaissance authors who wrote in Pittsfield, The Mastheads is at once an urban architectural experiment, a literary research initiative, a writers’ residency, and an educational program. Our projects include:
Mobile Writing Studios: The physical spaces that comprise The Mastheads are five sculptural studios, each the architectural interpretation of the original structure from which one of five American Renaissance authors wrote while in Pittsfield: Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., and Henry David Thoreau. From spring to fall, the studios are installed in different locations around the Berkshires for diverse Mastheads public programming and events.
Writers' Residency: In July, five writers are invited to Pittsfield to live and work. Residents receive a $900 stipend, travel reimbursement, a private room in a house shared with the other residents, and exclusive use of one of the Mastheads studios.
Lecture Series: Along with select events throughout the year, we produce city-wide humanities programming to complement our July Writers' Residency—including public lectures, community conversations, and literary readings—with a new theme each summer.
Educational Programming: During the school year, The Mastheads operates its poetry-in-schools program, Fireside, in Pittsfield Public Schools. Students compose original poetry, and each ten-week course culminates in an anthology of student work and a community reading.
Publication and Design: Each year we assemble and publish The Mastheads Reader, a carefully curated collection of writing by Pittsfield authors, complete with an introduction and scholarly apparatus, to pair with the July programming. In the summer, we produce The Mastheads x The Berkshire Eagle Folds, a series of four newspaper folds that include transcripts of our lectures and community conversations, writing by our residents, as well as drawings, cartoons, poetry, and other writing by local authors and our Fireside students. We also collaborate with local artists to decorate the city with the words of Pittsfield authors.
The residency runs for the month of July in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Five writers across disciplines (poetry, fiction, non-fiction, translation, comics) are awarded residencies.
Residents receive a $900 stipend, travel reimbursement, a room in a communal house shared with the other residents, and exclusive use of one of the Mastheads studios, which are located at a new site throughout the Berkshires each summer. On weekdays, we provide on-call transportation to the studios. For other transportation needs, residents may use the bikes provided, their own cars, taxis, or Lyft.
The studios are rustic and open-air.
They include a built-in desk, bench, and chair, and are each equipped with a rechargeable, portable electric outlet. Each studio is located within 100 feet of an accessible restroom. The studios may be installed in either downtown or rural locations, and applicants should be comfortable working in either environment. Our goal is to both inspire residents and give them the time and space they need to create.
Public programming during the residency includes weekly lectures and community conversations with scholars and experts across disciplines.
In 2019, our five focus authors from the Pittsfield area will include Herman Melville, Edith Wharton, Edna St. Vincent Millay, James Weldon Johnson, and James Van Der Zee.
In 2017 and 2018, focus authors W.E.B. Du Bois, Fanny Kemble, Catharine Maria Sedgwick, William Cullen Bryant, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Oliver Wendell Holmes were discussed by guest lecturers Dolores Hayden, Jaswinder Bolina, Meredith McGill, Neil Roberts, David L. Smith, Tess Chakkalakal, and Lawrence Buell.
Events are held weekly at locations such as Melville's Arrowhead and the Samuel Harrison House. Dinner for the guest speaker and residents is provided after each event, as these gatherings are an integral part of The Mastheads' commitment to building literary community and sharing ideas. In addition, at least once during their stay, residents will give a reading of their work, when we will offer their books or chapbooks for sale to the community.
At the end of The Mastheads residency, we ask each resident to submit a minimum of 1,000 words or 2 to 5 poems to publish in the The Berkshire Eagle and to preserve in an ongoing Pittsfield Anthology.