It is with great pleasure that we at Hidden River Arts announce Christine Whittemore’s novel, Inscription, the winner of our 2013 Eludia Award. This is the second year of the Eludia Award, and the submissions for the competition were numerous, and of very high quality. We want to congratulate not only our winner, but our finalists and semi-finalists. A sincere thank you is extended to all the wonderful women writers who shared their work with us.

A bit about our winner

Christine Whittemore was born on October 6, 1956 in England where she was brought up and educated. After college in England, she lived in Italy for five years where she taught English and did some translation. Then followed five years in New York City, twenty-two in Pennsylvania, and three in Lyon, France. Now she and her husband divide their time between Gloucestershire, England, and Pennsylvania. They have three adult children.

Christine’s poems have appeared in various American and British journals including The American Scholar, Plains Poetry Journal, Hunger Mountain, Piedmont Literary Review, The Lyric, Orbis (UK), and The Christian Century, as well as in anthologies. Her work has won several awards in the US and the UK, including a Fellowship in Literature (Poetry) in 1998 from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. Her essays have appeared in several publications including Parabola, Islands, Weekly Telegraph (UK), Christian Science Monitor, and New York Newsday. Journalism has included feature articles in various publications on the arts and local history, and a monthly essay column for the regional newspaper.

As well as having written the novel, Inscription, she has co-authored a memoir about a hidden child of the Holocaust.

Christine will receive $1000 prize money and publication of Inscription on Hidden River Publishing’s Sowilo Press imprint, which is dedicated to publishing literary fiction and non-fiction by and about women.

The Eludia Award

Our current round of the Eludia competition is still open. We will be accepting manuscripts for the 3rd annual prize. The deadline for submissions is March 30, 2014. See the guidelines for all details.

Basch, Rachel photo Wm. Van Wert 2011 winner

Rachel Basch, our most recent winner of the William Van Wert Fiction Award at Hidden River Arts, for an excerpt from her novel, The Listener, offers up answers about her winning manuscript, and about her writing practice.

1.  Rachel, can you talk a little bit about The Listener — your inspiration, the entirety of the novel, and where the project is, currently?

The inspiration for The Listener came while I was finishing up my last novel, The Passion of Reverend Nash. That book was about a Congregational minister, and while I was working on it, I attended Sunday church services as a way of steeping myself in that world, that culture. One Sunday morning I spent nearly the entire service watching a young person in the row in front of me. He was no more than 16, and he was dressed in what most of us would consider feminine attire. He did not appear to be with his family, and basically I was fascinated at the courage it took for him to be himself in that place. There was something provocative about his stance, his appearance, even his facial expression. I wondered at the challenge his parents had in embracing him. And this phrase started spinning around in my head, “loving what’s hard to love.” Often in the course of our lives we’re asked to keep ourselves open to giving and receiving love when it’s not our initial inclination, when it’s not easy.

Right now the novel is with my agent who is sending it out to editors. I’ve never spent so long writing and rewriting a book before. The book has been something of a difficult child.

2.  Can you talk a bit about your writing in a larger sense?  What are your fascinations, your focus, what kind of writing are you most attracted to?

I do think that most writers have one, if they’re lucky, two, central obsessions. My books are almost always, in some way, about the nature and extent of our responsibilities to one another. I’m fascinated by the psychodynamics of families, of couples, of friends. I’m drawn to exploring the elasticity, the expansiveness and the limits of human love. And I’m extremely interested in the ways in which we can transcend what we consider to be our limits. I’m curious about the ways in which our souls can grab the reigns from our egos.

Jonathan Franzen recently said in an interview that he was most interested in writers who had “skin in the game.” I love that. Writing that matters, that really makes a difference is writing that I’m attracted to. I want to be pushed past where I am, always. I want to be made to think deeply and feel greatly.

3.  Do you have any advice to aspiring writers?  What should they be doing to move their craft forward?….to support themselves as writers?

I think the most important advice, advice I still need to give to myself, is to take the long view. Stamina and patience, perseverance and faith are essential qualities if you want to write. You need to sustain yourself over a lifetime of writing, and you need, early on, to lose your desire for external validation. It seldom comes and when it does it’s fleeting. Enjoy the process, the making of the art – that’s the part you can control, that’s the aspect of it all that belongs to you. Surround yourself with other artists and with other kinds of art – drama, music, painting. Art begets art. Always remember that you are doing something that, at its best, will be ignored by the larger society in which we live. You will need to invent your own measure of success, something very different from the yardstick that’s used by the prevailing capitalist culture. Making art is hard, and you need to actively respect your own efforts. As for practical advice, I’m well past the middle of my life, and I’ve still not figured out an adequate way to support my habit.

The next round of submissions for The William Van Wert Fiction Award, which provides $1000 to the winning manuscript, deadlines June 30, 2013 at midnight. Please see our guidelines on this site for further details.


Our most recent winner of the Hidden River Arts Playwrighting Award, Michael Tooher, was kind enough to sit down and talk about his winning play, The Perfect Sameness of Our Days which received a reading in Philadelphia this past April, as part of being the winning manuscript. Michael also received $1000.

His play, which addresses the suffering of a veteran with PTSD, was very well-received, and our audience was quick to discuss, during talk back time, how powerful the subject matter was, how sensitively the subject was handled.

1. The Perfect Sameness of Our Days addresses some very serious issues regarding returning vets in the United States, and the difficulties they experience. It focuses specifically on PTSD. Can you talk a bit about your inspiration for this play, and your hopes for it?

It was a combination of thoughts and images, mostly from television and the Internet that were the start of the inspiration.I remember being appalled at the images of the casual brutality against the citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan. At one point we had a general state that they didn’t keep statistics about citizens killed because “it wasn’t our job.” That, coupled with the neglect and abandonment of our returning soldiers by the very individuals and organizations that are supposed to care for them made me realize a terrible truth. No matter what side they are on, they are all victims. Days is the story of what happens when two of them meet. And because all intimate relationships are opaque to outsiders, you don’t learn the truth about the characters until the end. And even then it may or may not be the truth because they are hopelessly lost.

It strikes me that war, combat and conflict is not a normal state for human beings to find themselves in. So the only surprise here is that PTSD isn’t more prevalent. Ot perhaps it is and we have just chosen to employ magical thinking to deny to ourselves the horrible cost of our actions on warriors and civilians alike. This is tragedy in its purest form and Days, to me, reflects that. It’s a brief retelling of a terrible incident in an ugly place and there is absolutely no laughter or joy in it.

2. How would you describe yourself as a playwright? What are some of your primary interests and themes?

I like to think of myself as a wordsmith. It’s a job I like to do. I come from the technical end of the performing arts so the idea of crafting words has great appeal for me.

I’ve been writing for about 6 years now and what themes I’ve been able to identify are few because of the way I work. Almost everything I write is an experiment in form and style and I never know how it will turn out. That said it seems to me that dramatists have one universal truth,, that emotion is the language of mankind. I believe the more you can get on the page the better the play will be. As for themes, it seems to me that loneliness is the number one disease affecting humans. Also the terrible unknowable future of our planet, our society and in the end, ourselves, seem like fertile ground for drama.

Also, for some odd reason, I am completely obsessed with trees and doors. They keep popping up in my work and I haven’t a clue why. The Perfect Sameness of Our Days has a magical apricot tree in it that is a hallucination of a dimly remembered yet happier past.

3. Can you talk a little bit about the opportunities and the theatre community in your home area? What opportunities have you had to develop and produce locally?

Portland, Maine is a rocking theatre town. Not only are the professional theatres very active, there is a huge amount of constantly changing production activity. Informal groups come together all the time to produce work in storefronts, art galleries and the smaller theatre spaces. In June we have Portfringe, which this year is 50 performances in 7 days all over the city. I’ve been fortunate that my work has been featured in the Maine Playwrights Festival for the last 5 years and has won prizes and readings in other local festivals. On the production end, almost all of my full length productions and readings have been out of town. I’m not sure why, it’s really just the way it has worked out so far.

4. Do you have any advice to other playwrights, especially emerging playwrights?

Free advice is worth what you pay for it. This is what works for me. Your mileage may vary.

A) Treat writing like any other job. When you aren’t doing your day gig, write. Set a modest goal, say a page a day. You will quickly discover that you exceed your goal and very soon after that you will have a play.

B) If you start something, finish it.

C) Don’t edit while you write. Ever. Finish your first draft, put it to bed for 2 weeks then look at it with fresh eyes.

D) There is no such thing as writer’s block, you just need to go fill up your life experience tank. The inspiration will come in it’s own time and place. Like stagehands or cats, it can’t be controlled, just received.

E) Pinter said that “Acting informs playwrighting.” Try it, It’s fun and terrifying at the same time.

F) Trust your process. What works for you is what’s right.

G) Believe in yourself like a sickness. The theatre world is very competitive and some cope with their anxiety with smack talk. Ignore it, especially if it’s directed toward you.

5. Is there anything else you would like to share?

I would just like to take this moment to thank Hidden River Arts for the award. But what I am most grateful for was the extraordinary reading during
AprilFest at the Shublin Theatre. Days was very much a drawer play for me, Personally my favorite but I had real doubts as to it’s playability considering it’s subject matter and unrelenting grimness.
But the reading changed my perception of the play, The amazing response of the audience at the talkback, where they ignored the artists completely and proceeded to have
a conversation among themselves for an hour about the issues the play raises, will be forever etched in my memory.

Thank you.

And thank YOU, Michael, for your generous answers. Our actors were honored to take part in the play, and as they told you after the performance, it was something that struck very close to home for several of them. We had several actors who were also veterans performing during the reading, and for them, your play was nothing short of a miraculous way to express the struggles that they saw personally, among their brethren.

The 2013 Hidden River Playwrighting Award submission deadline is June 30, 2013 at midnight.
We are always looking for provocative, powerful plays, and welcome your submissions.

“What is an artist? A provincial who finds himself somewhere between a physical reality and a metaphysical one…. It’s this in-between that I’m calling a province, this frontier country between the tangible world and the intangible one—which is really the realm of the artist.” — Federico Fellini

Questions about creativity, art, the creative process, the artistic life — however you phrase it, the curiosity is based on one thing: the fact that those who do not experience their own creativity are incapable of understanding those who dwell within theirs.

Fellini is right that the artist lives in a liminal world, between dream and manifestation. But so do we all.  The biggest difference is that the artist recognizes that world of liminality; others aren’t aware of the fact that a part of them lives in that place of dreams all the time.

The best way for anyone to understand creativity is for them to be introduced to their own creative energies.

We live in a world that has systematically devalued and destroyed opportunities to experience our creativity.  Standardized testing, rote teaching, drilling and killing — that is too often how our children are “taught”, and with that kind of numbing out, adults rarely have ever felt their own creative energy.  And to live a life without ever having felt your own creative energy surging through your mind and body — well, that’s not living at all.

Pedagogical theorists are, finally, realizing how under-developed our students are when they are denied time to explore creativity.  But after reading mountains of educational theory on “teaching creativity”, I’ve come to the conclusion that none of them know what they are talking about.  Unless you are an artist, you cannot introduce someone to art.  I saw this in the years when I was a residency artist in the state arts council programs.  I remember one day, walking down the hall of a public school in New Jersey, overhearing a kindergarten teacher giving instruction to the children:

“We’ll be drawing pictures of apples today.  And what colors are apples?  They are red, green, yellow.  There are NO purple apples.  No blue apples.  So, let’s be sure that we use the right colors, everybody!”

I wanted to scream.  I wanted to rush into the room and push her out of the way, and tell the children, “YES there are purple apples!  There are blue apples!  There are polka dot and striped apples!  And where are they?  In your imagination!  So draw whatever kind of apples you can imagine!”

It is impossible for a non-artist to teach creativity.  There, I’ve said it.

So what we need is an avalanche of artists, a flood of artists, entering all levels of the population — interacting with the youngest children and the oldest seniors — inviting them to see their own purple apples, to imagine their flavor, to smell their perfume.

Our society needs its artists now more than ever.  They are the shamans who will lead the way into that liminal province, that is the place where all is possible, pre-manifest and yet real.

So how does one begin to experience their own creativity?  Here’s how:

Go find the artists.   Turn off the TV, the computer and the smart phone.  Surround yourself with live art, if only a little bit, each and every day.  Go to an art museum, listen to all kinds of music (not just the kind you are most used to!), learn about the theatres in your area, and buy tickets — or better yet, go to their preview nights, when audience is often invited to view for free.  Watch live dance performance. Go to poetry and literary readings. Attend open mics in your neighborhood.  Read books – all kinds, but especially literary works and poetry.

Carry a notebook in which you can sketch and write.  Consider taking music or singing lessons.  Try acting.  Draw.  Take a pottery class.  Dance — even if it is only in your living room when nobody is watching.   Invest in some inexpensive art supplies – a sketchbook, some pencils, maybe some water color.  Buy a cheap camera and start taking pictures.  Buy a box or two of those magnetic word poetry kits and play with word combinations on your refrigerator each morning, as you wait for your tea or coffee to be finished.

Buy yourself a copy of THE ARTIST’S WAY by Julia Cameron and read it.  Do the exercises.  Follow her guidance.

Hang out with artists.  Get to know some of the people in your community who are involved in the arts, and spend time with them.  Get involved with what they do.  Your life will begin to change.  It will widen, and suddenly feel more infused with energy.

YOU will feel more alive.  You’ll realize that artists are all around you, and that the world is filled with creative wonder.  You’ll begin to feel the flow of that creative energy moving  around and through you.  You’ll never need to ask again, “What is creativity?”  You will know for yourself, and it will feel wonderful.

We are a few months behind in getting our semi-finalists, finalists and winners announced, but are now happy to name our semi-finalists in the William Van Wert Award for fiction.  This is an award for previously unpublished fiction, either a short story or a novel excerpt of up to 25 pages.  This year’s offerings were exceptionally strong, and we are grateful for the many writers who have entrusted us with their work.  It is always a humbling experience to be confronted with such talent.  So thank you, everyone, for submitting your writing to us.  We will continue to work, reviewing the manuscripts, and will name our finalists and winner shortly.

2011 William Van Wert Award in Fiction Semi-Finalists

Amshalem, Jeff, Glory Be (excerpt)

Basch, Rachel, excerpt The Listener

Bierhause, Jed, “Alaska”

Bridwell, Tim, (excerpt) Sephronia L.

Cunninham, Laine, (excerpt) Buy Light and Purple Blooms

Cusick, Greg, “”A Sensitive Dependence on Initial Conditions”

De Pisa, Diana, “Winter Kill,” excerpt from The Devil’s Darning Needle

DeSimone, Joanne, excerpt, Blackie and The Little Flower

Gerry, Susan, “Dreams,” excerpt of Carnival Mirrors

Gupta, Rajni (excerpt) The Uneven Road

Harlow, Enid, excerpt, Good to Her

Jamir,Nahal Suzanne, “Stories My Mother Told Me”

Kushner, Carol Scarvalone, excerpt Leaving the World

Lindstrom, Ann-Marie “April Showers” (excerpt)

Linfield, Richard Leon, excerpt Paradise Regained

Loselle, Gregory “Lint, Dust & Hair”

Martin, Chet, “A Summer’s Worth of Death”

Mawle, Carmel, “Jamila”

Reilly, Edward, excerpt, Nullis

Rile, Karen, “The Other Fathers”

Peckinpaugh, Jennifer, excerpt, Hellbent

Sadler, Lynne Veach, “Trying /Trying Not To Be A Mother”

Scanlon, Seamus, “A Corrupt Belfast Passover”

Schnabel, Jennifer, “A Star-Spangled Scandal”

Seed, Anthony Hall, “Somewhat Difficult to Put Into Words”

Skillings, Rogert, excerpt Each in His Own Way

Van Arsdale, Sarah, “Just Like That,” excerpt from Grand Isle

Hidden River Arts is the independent literary and performing arts organization based in suburban Philadelphia, dedicated to the service, support and celebration of all artists. Named after the Schuylkill (Dutch for “Hidden River”) which winds its way through the region, Hidden River™Arts is committed to nurturing the artistic community by providing varied and supportive services to creative writers, and artists of all genres.

Hidden River™Arts is committed to the “Outsider Artist” —  living up to our name — in the on-going search for creative talent and creative activities.  While we would never exclude any artist, we are dedicated to finding the artists who exist outside of the expected places: those creative people developing their craft and finding their voices outside of the MFA programs, those independent writers’ or artists’ groups not affiliated with a university or any funding institution. We will search for the writers who are finishing their novels while working as Emergency Room nurses, sculptures working as steam-fitters, song-writing dairy farmers or choreographer cowboys. We want to reach out to all creative talent, including that which is grown, nurtured, matured in the kiln of “real” life experience. We will endeavor to present information about independent arts groups and support organizations. It is our belief that many, many talented people go unheard because they labor in obscurity or isolation. Many are dispersed throughout the non-academic population with little or no support for the practice of their art. Since it is our position that college campuses should not be seen as the sole training ground for creative talent and skill, Hidden River Arts will always strive to reach out and encourage those more far-flung voices, to aid and support them in their efforts to be heard.
Another of Hidden River Art’s objectives is to offer support and guidance in the form of arts education through outreach and workshop programs for all ages groups. Through our education program, we hope to provide support in all disciplines of the arts. Currently, we have an extensive program called Hidden River Writers, where we offer a variety of workshops, tutorials, on-line teaching or manuscript review, residencies and classes which address the needs of all those aspiring creative writers among us, ages 5 to adult, who want to learn more about the art of creative writing. We are excited to offer support to our very youngest writers. Just as children are given private lessons in dance, or music, or the visual arts, Hidden River Writers believes that lessons in creative writing should be available. Similar outreach and private supports are offered for the teen and adult populations, and we offer private classes, workshops and programs in all kinds of places, including private, public and parochial schools, homeschool populations, Veteran’s Hospitals, Retirement Homes, Clubs (or Communes!) It should also be noted that in all of our creative writing programs, Hidden River is happy to work with individuals or groups with special needs. We are always willing to work with adapted processes, needs for technical support, differentiated instruction. We believe that the study and creation of art should be accessible to everyone.

Our outreach programs now include something we call Hidden River Live. We will be working with venues throughout Philadelphia to create community outreach open mic opportunities for musicians, poets, writers and performers, as well as chances to display for visual artists.

We are always interested in hearing from artists. Let us know how we can better support you and your creative process. And for those independent arts groups out there: please let us hear from you — we would love to partner with others who support the independent artist, in every discipline and genre.  Email us at hiddenriverarts@gmail.com

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