Opportunities in Our Own Backyard

by Jody Strimling-Muchow

I love living in the Hudson Valley. It’s beautiful. It’s full of inspiration. The people are interesting and the food is fantastic. So why, when I think about submitting my work, do I not think of starting at home? Well, for one thing…maybe it’s the only thing: ignorance. I don’t know what’s up here, what’s available to me as a playwright. And maybe it’s a little about insecurity, too. Maybe it’s easier to picture rejection from some faraway theatre that I’ll probably never see anyway, than from somewhere in my own backyard. And then there’s our proximity to the epicenter of American Theatre, New York City. Everything must funnel to and from there, right?

HVPT Lobby

It turns out that that’s a common misperception. And Dominic D’Andrea is trying to do something about that. He’s the new (and first) Hudson Valley Regional Ambassador for the Dramatists Guild (DG). He has the job only because he asked the question: who represents the Hudson Valley? “You, if you want it,” was the answer. Now he’s on a mission.

D’Andrea gathered Hudson Valley playwrights, actors and dramaturgs (both DG members and non-members) in July for a four-hour convening, “…the DG’s very first endeavor to bring together the vast community of playwrights living and working in the entire Hudson Valley area, from Yonkers to the Capital Region.” On the hottest Sunday of the summer, about 40 of us gathered at the Paramount Hudson Valley Theatre in Peekskill. (Fortunately, their air conditioning was working, mostly.)

Black-Box-Theater-1-768x512After a friendly meet and greet, we got to work in a fun, innovative and ultimately very productive way. Dividing ourselves into groups based on which meal is our favorite (breakfast, obviously), we began to learn to work together. Coming up with reasons why we liked that meal the best (coffee!), then coming to a consensus on three things we all agreed made our meal awesome, within each group. These organic groupings kept going, forming and re-forming like a giant theatrical amoeba, until we were discussing what it means to be an artist in 2019, and a Hudson Valley artist, specifically. That’s where the feeling of lack of opportunity started to come up. And was countered by people who were excited about the chances to work here. That’s one of the wonderful things that started to happen, as we pooled our knowledge and experiences.

From there we got down to specifics: why some of us felt a lack of opportunity up here, where the obstacles are, who the gatekeepers to access are, what ishere, just waiting for us, and, most importantly, where we might go from here. We made a map of theaters and groups from Yonkers to Albany (I put Get Lit Beacon up there!) There is a surprising amount, especially in Poughkeepsie. Who knew?

Lark Playwright pic

I left the meeting feeling inspired. I met new writers. I learned a lot about what exists in my own back yard. And I’m excited that there is new energy being poured into my beloved Hudson Valley. There is opportunity here, and there will be even more. And we can all be a part of it. The plan is for more of these convenings. I’ll spread the word when the next one is scheduled. You should come.

Photo Credits: Paramount Hudson Valley Theatre, The Arts Center of the Capital RegionThe Lark. 

Binnacle Books: The Near-Sacred Experience of the Independent Bookstore

By Jody Strimling-Muchow

Binnacle Interior

When I moved to Beacon eight years ago, there was some great food, some killer art galleries and interesting antique stores and boutiques. But the town lacked the two things I can’t live without: a yarn shop and a bookstore. Well, good things really do come to those who keep hoping. Flash forward to 2019 and ta-da! We now have not one but two places for yarny indulgence, and our very own haven for all things literary, Binnacle Books.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Kate Ryan, one of the owners of Binnacle, recently.

GET LIT BEACON: Why ‘Binnacle’? What does your name mean?

BINNACLE BOOKS: When we were getting ready to open the store, we kicked around a lot of name ideas. We’re all book lovers (obviously) and thus word lovers, so we decided to name our store something that felt both aligned with our feelings about the role of literature in the world, and that simultaneously sparked a sense of curiosity in our fellow literary Beaconites. That’s all the information I’m giving! When customers ask the origin of the name, I tell them that one of my greatest joys in the world is learning a new word and feeling my mind reach for the metaphorical and poetic significance of it within the context in which I find it. So I leave it to you, dear readers, to follow your curiosity about the word, and to let your minds reach for the metaphorical meaning of how “binnacle” could relate to the importance of literature in the life of a reader. (Editor’s note: I took the liberty of looking it up. What do you guys think?) 

Binnacle Exterior

GLB: Beacon was so ready for a bookstore when you opened! But from a purely business perspective, it seems like a risky choice in this age of online shopping and shorter attention spans. Did it feel risky? What made you go for it?

BB: We are so lucky and honored to be Beacon’s independent bookstore. We love being on “book row” with the library and the wonderful Beacon Reads library book sale. We had all spent time in Beacon for years before opening the store and knew that it was the right community for our particular kind of literary bookshop to flourish, and we’re happy to say that the community has embraced us with open arms. Business-wise, independent bookstores are doing great, thanks to the dedicated support of readers. We bet on opening an independent bookstore because bookstores are so important to each of us individually, and because we knew that after the rise (and fall) of big bland chain shops and the supremacy of Amazon, readers have whole-heartedly returned to independent bookstores: for a feeling of belonging in a literary community, for the always-surprising and engaging interactions between booksellers and readers, for readings and events, and for a space to be among a curated collection of literature that always presents new ideas and paths to discovery. Endless choice can be exhausting—and small local shops are a great antidote to that. We bet on Beacon as a town full of readers who wanted to share all those near-sacred experiences with us at Binnacle, and we couldn’t be happier with how it’s turning out.

Printed In Beacon

GLB: Your website states that Binnacle “is a collaborative endeavor by four partners, who have collectively been writers, editors, musicians, producers, organizers, teachers, filmmakers, and booksellers.” Can you talk a little more about that?

BB: The partners at Binnacle are, in some ways, an unlikely group of collaborators. We have many things in common, of course, but you wouldn’t necessarily know that if you were considering our respective backgrounds individually. We’d each managed to be booksellers at one point or another, but we’d also done many other things along the way. It’s all additive — everyone brings something different to the project of running the store. And now we are lucky enough to have fantastic employees that contribute their own strengths and perspectives as well.

Binnacle Reading

GLB: What’s coming up at Binnacle?

BB: We’re co-hosting Story Time in the Garden, an outdoor storytime for kids, this summer with our lovely friends at the One Nature garden center (also located at 321 Main St). We’ll be hosting several more literary readings in the evenings this summer (follow us on Instagram and Facebook and get on our mailing list to keep up!), and a special children’s book release party and dance party in the garden in early September. Additionally, we’re partnering with the Spring Street Reading Series to sell books at their readings at Atlas Studios in Newburgh, and we’re happy to be partnering with Get Lit Beacon on many of your events as well.

GLB: Thank you, Kate! Like you say above, it’s a wonderful thing to have a relationship with a bookstore, for so many reasons. Thank you for letting us get to know you a little better.

Binnacle Books is located at 321 Main St., Beacon NY

Fall ’18 2nd Prize Winner: I Am the Symphony of Beacon by Jennifer Rossa

My composer, a what-do-you-call-it – transplanted citiot? – thinks Beacon needs a symphony that showcases its spirit. Now, she might just not know what she’s talking about. But. Aaron Copland lived in Cortland Manor and Ossining. George Gershwin, in Ossining. John Cage, in Stony Point. Ferde Grofe’s The Hudson River Suite makes reference to Albany and, via Rip van Winkle, various other Hudson River towns. As for Beacon, it has an unquestionably strong folk music tradition. But classical music?

Therefore. Think of me as Cage’s 4’33”, but specifically adapted for Beacon.


Movement One. I start slow, adagio, very quiet, pianissimo. I am the steam of the Hudson River in the summer, fogging up your commute, and the frozen-on-top crackle of the Hudson River in the winter, fogging up your breath. I am the whistle of the approaching Metro-North train, the cry of a circling hawk, the chirp of a cricket lost in your kitchen, the mutterings of a midnight drunk near the VFW.

Now just a little bit louder, but still very slow. I am a bucking deer on 9D who has caused you to slam on your brakes. Yowling neighborhood stray cats who have caused you to slam on your brakes. Slouching raccoons who have just crawled out of the gutter, glared at you and, yes, caused you to slam on your brakes. Tourists jaywalking who, you guessed it.

Sudden emphasis, sforzando! I am the sound of the smell of a skunk. I am not sure what the smell of a skunk sounds like, but nonetheless I am that sound.

Movement Two. A little faster now, andante please, a walking pace. I am the crunching of glass underfoot in abandoned hat factories, the hushed tones of visitors at Dia:Beacon, gravel dislodged by grunting hikers in sensible shoes on Mount Beacon. I am the dudes hanging out behind Kennedy’s shooting the breeze. I would be the sound of you mowing your rain forest of a Hudson Valley yard, but you haven’t mowed because it’s too rainy. I am the united grumbling of all of Beacon as a light breeze shuts down the power grid.

Movement Three, allegro now, quickly, louder. I am the drill of construction all day long but at least it’s only four-story buildings amIright? I am the scrape of steel plates and road work and the braaap of dirt bikes on Mount Beacon. I am the inappropriately late blare of Billy Joe’s Ribworks from across the river. (While actually that is part of the Symphony of Newburgh, we decided to collaborate for one movement, sort of like the local breweries. Speaking of which, I am dogs panting in the 100% summer humidity outside a certain brewery that has banned them.)


Movement Four. Presto, very, very, fast, fortissimo, very loud. I am strife and dissonance. I am trolls in the Beacon Facebook group. I am large groups of people yucking it up in the quiet car. I am Jeep owners and hikers fighting over the right of way on Mount Beacon. I am people who want a gun shop on Main Street versus people who want a zero-waste food store. I am the Trump hot dog stand across the street from the Islamic teaching center. I am local kids joyriding their bikes on Main Street and adults yelling at them. And repeat, and repeat, and…wait.

Coda. Back to andante, walking pace, gradually quieter, diminuendo. Now, I know I’m just a symphony and I’m not supposed to have opinions, but look here. At least these kids are outside and not playing video games or hacking the government or whatever it is kids do online these days. And while I’m at this common sense stuff, I am a Jeep owner offering a hiker with a sprained ankle a ride down the mountain. I am gun owners shopping at a zero-waste food store. I am the Trump hot dog guy bothering to learn a little about Islam. I am commuters giving other commuters a ride home after a storm grounds Metro-North. I am an echo of a memory of Pete Seeger, singing “This land is made for you and me.”

I am new Beacon. I am old Beacon. I am the Symphony of Beacon.


Interview with Author Diane Lapis: Hot on the Trail of Cocktails Across America

by Julie Chibbaro


We recently hosted author Diane Lapis who, with her writing partner Anne Peck-Davis, just published an unusual book that offers a unique overview of midcentury cocktail culture, featuring both recipes, and reproductions of the postcards used to advertise popular lounges and bars of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. But it’s more than a mere compendium of recipes and pictures. In Cocktails Across America, Lapis and Peck-Davis tease out the stories behind each postcard, revealing some mighty strange history in these United States. I cornered Diane to ask a few questions about how she wrote the book, working with a co-author, and her unusual (yet serendipitous!) path to finding not only a great publisher, but a great agent too.

GLB: At Get Lit Beacon, you read to us a story about an Atomic cocktail. Is that really true? Can you tell us how you dug that story up?

Diane: The stories in Cocktails Across America use postcards as a starting point. My coauthor Anne Peck-Davis and I used a variety of materials to learn about the origins of the cocktail, or the bar or city in which the drink was first introduced. Vintage cocktail books and menus, newspaper and journal articles and advertisements, books, and websites were our go-to resources. For certain stories, we contacted historical societies, postcard clubs, and specialty libraries.


Two postcards depicting views of atomic blasts were featured in the Atomic Cocktail story: Benny Binion’s Horseshoe Club, and Vegas Vic’s Pioneer Club. I gathered information from the Nevada National Security Site, the Nevada Historical Society Quarterly Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, and various websites and books about popular culture in Nevada. Then I pieced together how the hospitality industry capitalized on the atomic blasts as a form of entertainment. Finding old photos of beauty queens sporting the atomic bomb style hairdo, convinced me that this story had to be told.

GLB: You also mentioned you decided to find an agent for the book once you’d written it, even though you’d already found a publisher. Can you say why you made that decision?

Diane: Anne and I were thrilled that Countryman Press (a division of W.W. Norton) was interested in our manuscript. Before signing the contract, I serendipitously met the CEO of the Curtis Brown Literary Agency. He took an interest in our project and suggested that we consider using his agency to help with the business side of publishing. I was reluctant, as we already had a publisher… what could we possibly need an agent for??? Everyone that we knew in the publishing industry highly recommended engaging the services of an agent. Anne and I then interviewed one of Curtis Brown’s agents and liked his attitude and personality. He was well versed in the field and patiently answered our long list of questions. We are so thankful that we signed with Curtis Brown! Our agent was helpful in negotiating the complicated contract and added value to it as well.

GLB: How did you work together with your writing partner? Can you share a story of when it didn’t work so well?

Diane: Working with a creative collaborator was a gratifying experience. Anne and I shared similar interests in postcards and 20th century cultural history. We readily agreed on content and the design of the book, thereby making it easy to achieve our goals. We were ready to jump into something new and bold, and delighted in stretching our horizons. We split the workload, edited each other’s writing, suggested pathways to follow, and discovered and shared new resources.

However, our biggest challenge was finding time to work together. We were free during opposite times of the day and live about a 45-minute drive from each other. Therefore, we had to carefully plan our meetings. We prepared agendas that kept us focused and ensured that we discussed specific and time-sensitive items. Sometimes we met at a bookstore or traveled to each other’s homes. We sent hundreds (possibly thousands) of emails and had many lengthy phone conversations. Scheduling telephone conferences with our editor and agent required additional planning. Anne and I both loved working on this project, so we found positive ways to deal with our time challenge.