This weekend: Woodstock Writers Festival comes to town -- and to your living room

Above: Filmmaker Dennis O'Clair offers a sneak peek at what's in store at the fourth annual Woodstock Writers Festival. 

The fourth annual Woodstock Writers Festival takes as its mission “bringing the hottest names in literature to the coolest town in the world" -- and just as when a warm and cold front collide on high, expect sonic booms and pyrotechnics.

Martha Frankel, the festival's executive director, says Woodstock is the perfect scene for all these literary goings-on.

“There’s the laid-back thing,” Frankel said. “And Woodstock is very small -- there’s no getting away from things. If you want to come and meet writers you’ll meet them; there’s nowhere for them to hide…Planning this is like playing with a chemistry set; sometimes things ignite and you never know what will happen."

There's a matchmaking element to the festival, too.

"Sometimes writers have writer crushes. Andre Dubus is so eager to meet Cheryl Strayed that I can’t wait for the moment of introducing those two,” Frankel said.

Things will kick off on Thursday, April 18 with a story slam presented by the TMI Project, “Fifty Shades of Tie Dye,” and continue all through the weekend.

On Friday, lucky festival-goers will spend an evening with Philippe Petit, a high-wire artist famed around the world for his breathakingly illegal 1974 tightrope walk between the Twin Towers, and increasingly making a name for himself as an author as well. Petit's latest book -- Why Knot? How to Tie More Than Sixty Ingenious, Useful, Beautiful, Lifesaving, and Secure Knots! -- is fresh off the press, and may come in handy if you find yourself suspended in midair above downtown Manhattan.

Many of the boldface names participating have Woodstock ties, like historical novelist and playwright Carey Harrison, who comes of British theatrical royalty and currently serves as artistic director of the Woodstock Players. Harrison says he’ll be at your disposal.

“I have a lot to say on behalf of the process of writing historical fiction if people want to hear it, and anecdotes if they want those," Harrison said. "I once went to East Germany just to hear for myself the sound of a footstep on a particular frozen lake. Complete insanity, but I needed to do it.”

Another local yokel is Tad Richards, a writer who grew up in Saugerties, and is also the artistic director of local landmark Opus 40.

“At our panel you’ll get a feeling for what writers do and care about," said Richards, who will join Harrison, Charley Rosen and Ann Hood on Sunday afternoon for a panel on historical fiction. "Odd things. Discovery comes in strange ways. There’s a huge difference between creating historical fiction and doing standard historical research."

Rondout Valley resident Rosen blends his passions for basketball and history to “sneak up on people and culture through a game," as he puts it.  Sports Illustrated once posed the question “Is Charley Rosen Crazy?” -- a distinction of which Rosen is proud.

"Writing (The House of Moses) All Stars, I got so lost in it I was dreaming my characters and waking up wondering, ‘Where am I and what year is it?’ I had to take a six month break,” said Rosen. 

All told, the weekend will feature over a dozen events, jam-packed with glitterati. A comedy panel on Saturday afternoon brings together Emmy-winning writers from Jimmy Fallon, David Letterman, and the Colbert Report, moderated by J.R. Havlan from the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Other panels will delve into memoir, poetry, and short story forms. Saturday night’s headliner, featuring memoirist Cheryl Strayed, has already sold out the house.

In a new twist this year, the entire festival will be broadcast live over the Internet via streaming video, with replays available for 30 days for attendees who buy tickets to the virtual fest.

“The webcasting is a huge new tweak,” said Frankel. “You don’t have be there, we can bring the party to your couch -- sit at home on Saturday night watching Cheryl. And you can questions on Twitter or Facebook, we’ll try to get them answered.” 

Along with the performances, panels and workshops, which are filling up fast, Frankel has scheduled elbow-rubbing sessions over drinks at Photosensualis Art Gallery, “just a stone’s throw” from the Kleinert/James Center for the Arts on Tinker Street where the bulk of the action takes place.

For the complete lineup and ticket purchasing information, visit the festival web page.