Exeter LitFest to Become Non-profit

lit fest steering cmte 2019 group shot

The “Artivists” helped the LitFest group plant seeds that blossomed into a fun and successful event for the townsfolk and beyond. Exeter LitFest is successfully launched as its own entity now –  and is in the process of taking the next step and becoming an official 501c3.

The next Exeter LitFest will take place on April 3 & 4, 2020 and will feature a fabulous keynote speaker (a woman this time), and more of our many local authors that have not yet had a chance to participate. The 2019 program featured twenty-five diverse people, and there are about twenty more the Steering Coommittee will work with in 2020. See the official info at ExeterLitFest.com soon.


Michael Cameron Ward reading America by James Monroe Whitfield 2019 LitFest

Michael Cameron Wards reads JM Whitfield’s 1853 poem “America.”

Scenes from the bookstores, library, town hall, Word Barn, and the church that was a setting in “A Prayer for Owen Meany.” …..We had a lot of fun!


Community Remembrance project: Black Exeter NH

Who writes history?

It is time to re-examine traditional narratives and do some inclusive re-writes.

For example, I would have bet money that my very “white” NH town had always been so. But I fell down a rabbit hole while looking for a white rabbit, and found also that Exeter had the highest percentage of blacks in the entire state directly after the Revolutionary War. It is unclear why. The NH blacks who fought in the war earned their freedom, pensions and then settled in my town buying homes, opening businesses and starting families.

My town was the Revolutionary War capital of NH then and home to various white military officers and their funding. Perhaps they made promises to the black soldiers? Perhaps those promises are why blacks made up 4.7% of the citizenry in 1790? It is unclear. Why is it unclear? Because those writing the town’s grand (mostly white and male) history back then did not include it. Or perhaps it was purposely excluded? Perhaps it was lost? I don’t know. But what I do know it that it is time to re-examine and redress – by including.

My town is all the poorer for not letting that community flourish. I can only imagine the interesting contributions those ladies and gentlemen would have made here. In the four or so generations that the community existed (mainly near the west bank of the Squamscott River) there were many blacks that influenced the culture of this town. For example, the following small report contains the exploits and achievements of one family as they began their uphill climb from slavery.

James Monroe Whitfield, b.April 1822 in Exeter, NH

Down in that rabbit hole I met James Monroe Whitfield, a black abolitionist poet who was born in 1822 on Whitfield’s Lane, later renamed to Elliot Street. His 1853 book America and other poems was held in the Library of Congress, but curiously, was not in any of our libraries. His name was virtually unknown in our town. But I invite you now to join me in saying… “Welcome home James”!

Below is link to the Whitfield family report, perhaps you can use it to re-write some history yourself.

black exeter nh community remembrance project 2019

ps. Gratitude to the Exeter Historical Society for assistance on this “Community Remembrance Project.”

Mural #3 “Women Writers of Exeter”

Our third and final mural is nearly done. You will be able to see it in the art show at the Exeter, NH LitFest this April 2019 but here is a sneak peek.


We came up with over 25 women from Exeters: novelists, poets, historians, children’s authors, and one screenwriter. You may have heard of some of them – hec you may even know some of them! But there are others you may want to discover. My favorite is the early feminist Tabitha Gilman Tenney, who published a female version of a Don Quixote type book in 1801. Here is a quote from the book:

Those enemies to female improvement thought a woman had no business with any book but the bible, or perhaps the art of cookery; believing that everything beyond these served only to disqualify her for the duties of domestic life.”

This was a radical statement in 1801. In her honor, I am sewing an 1801 style gown for the LitFest kick-off costume/cosplay party. What fun!!

This mural is meant to inspire the girls and women of Exeter to get to work on their own story. Seriously. If you have been waiting for a sign or a nudge, consider this IT. People want to hear your voice, and understand your perspective – so that the world may have a more complete view of society and history.

There is a little extra space on the mural for your name 🙂

New! Exeter LitFest, April 5 & 6, 2019

dandelionThe literary seeds that ripen in our town travel very far on the breeze!

Did you know that Exeter classic books include: Prayer for Owen Meany,  Seperate Peace, Real Diary of a Real Boy, Incident at Exeter, Tea & Sympathy… and the list goes on and on and on. And let’s not forget that Dan Brown of DaVinci Code fame is a hometown boy, and horror writer Joe Hill is a local.

It’s about time to celebrate our town’s incredible literary tradition, don’t you agree?

Several people thought we should have an annual literary festival and went forth to form a steering committee in early 2018 with this mission in mind:

Working Mission: “To leverage our wealth of local literary treasure, in an environmentally sustainable way, to connect both residents and tourists to the diverse literary voices and places of Exeter, NH for the benefit of children and adults, the local arts community, and local businesses.”

james-monroe-whitfield-ovalDiversity is one of the keywords here. We have been working hard to unearth some lost voices, and we came up with two very important voices from Exeter’s past: feminist Tabitha Gilman Tenney who wrote a 50-year best seller in 1801 Female Quixotism, and James Monroe Whitfield who was educated in Exeter’s public schools until age 9,  and later became an Abolishinist Poet (America and other Poems1853) and peers with Frederick Douglass and Martin Delaney. We will be celebrating their birthdays, which both fall with a week of our festival, with a scholarly lecture and some cake!

The logistics are being fine-tuned, the ExeterLitFest.com website and a GOFUNDME will launch this fall, and the programming is starting to fill in. Here are the bones of what is proposed so far (subject to change).

  • Friday night costume/cosplay kick off in the town hall via TEAM
  • Saturday morning book group discussion “Breakfast with Owen Meany”
  • Saturday all day programming: author talks, kids events, art, edible books, and more.
  • Saturday night finale adult party at Word Barn featuring selected poets

…in addition, there is a walking map featuring a one-mile loop of literary hot-spots in downtown Exeter!  Where did Russian exile and poet laureate Brodsky compose his “Exeter Revisted” poem? What dorm house was the inspiration for the 1953 visionary play on gender identity (then 1956 Minelli film) Tea & Sympathy? Where are those slippery marble steps that Phineas fell down? Did Plupy really attend a race of those newfangled contraptions the Velocipede inside the town hall? Who was Minty-Ann and where was the black enclave in which she lived? Was the “Passionate Spinster” Patty Rogers, who lived at Great Bridge, the inspiration for Dorcasina in the feminist-leaning book (a best seller for 50 years!) written by Tabitha Gilman Tenney in 1801? What street was named after the Whitfields?

We walk by these places every day: lets talk about them. Let’s also talk with other literary lovers, of differing political viewpoints, and see where the common ground is. Together let’s plant that new seed of humanity.

More details at ExeterLitFest.com

Continue reading “New! Exeter LitFest, April 5 & 6, 2019”

Introducing the “Persistance Players”


The Artivists voted to do performance art as their spring 2018 project! Led by playwright Bruce Menin, the team has produced a show entitled “Persistance”. The successful opening night was at the May “First Friday CoffeeHouse” at FUUSE, in Exeter.

“Persistance” is a 30-minute show consisting of three 5-minute pop-up plays, with poetry and music interspersed. Themes will include: MeToo, Taking a Knee and more. All material was written by the players themselves and the neophyte thesbians will show us ways to overcome divisiveness and create connection on current hot-button topics.

Here is a sample of one of our 5-minute pop-up plays, The Grab by RM Allen. The topic is groping and how to stop it. If you want to perform “The Grab”  in your own group you may do so, please credit the author. And let us know how it went!!

The script is here: The Grab play by RM Allen


Planning a Literary Festival

Stories inspire. Stories bring people together for discussion.

Stories create common ground.

Exeter “Artivists” will come together with people from the town (writers, booksellers, publishers, librarians, business people, historians, and more) to see about creating a town-wide literary festival and trail map. If you are interested in getting on the team, please attend the meeting on January 17th 2018, at 3:30pm. Major Blake Hotel, Front St., 4th floor. Agenda below:

***Update: The steering committee is now fully formed with 12 people, and is closed to others for this year. The 1st Annual “Exeter NH Literary Festival” (LitFest) will be held April 5-6, 2019 at the Town Hall, Exeter Public Library, Water St Bookstore, Word Barn, A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words, and more. The LitFest event is focused on homegrown Exeter literature. There will be author readings & signings, poetry slams, events for children & teens, writer’s workshops, and common-read book groups. Re-read “A Prayer for Owen Meany” now!

Official launch of new website in October 2018. Looking for a sneak peek? “Exeter Literary Walking Tour” printed guide now available at the Chamber of Commerce, Water St Bookstore, Library, and more.

Check out what our Exeter Historical Society has to say about our famous woman author and her famous book for women published in 1801. She is the subject of study by Feminists from all the waves: wave 1(Suffragettes), wave 2(Women’s Libbers), wave 3(Glass-Ceiling execs) ….and now wave 4 (social media: Women’s March & #MeToo).


lit trail agenda Jan 17

Racial Unity Mural is Here!

racial unity mural exeter nh 2017One of our Artivists obtained a grant from the NH Charitable Foundation to bring public conversations around racial unity to Exeter for the Racial Unity Team in the form of a walk, “Culture Keeper | Culture Maker” art class, and finale art show…what fun! So here we have mural #2.

So naturally a few other Artivists signed up for the 8-week diversity art class, which met twice a week. Here is what we experienced:

After two weeks of discussion, facilitated by artist Richard Haynes and Diversity expert Kristen Butterfield of UNH, each art student was taught to depict a future vision of racial unity from a historical photograph or symbol. Shown below is “Baton Rouge Goddess” whose bold double helix encourages the viewer to think about the 99% of DNA that we all share.

Artivists and other members of the community created 13 small works of art in the style of the artist Richard Haynes. One of the artworks won the popular vote to be painted by all on a 6-foot mural (below).

The public was invited to the art show at the town hall during Exeter’s third annual “Walk a Mile for Racial Unity” day.  By request of the Racial Unity Team, the town historian had identified and written about twelve notable inter-racial spots in downtown and guided tours were given to 300 walkers this year. Walkers were then invited into the olde town hall to view the art show and to join in one of several small group discussions.

Want to know more about it so you can try it in your town? Read some articles from the papers here.





Where to Find Us Next

  • Look for the exhibit at the Exeter Chamber of Commerce new Visitor Center through November 24, 2017.
  • November 29 – December 15: Catch the exhibit at the Exeter Holiday Show at the Town Hall (upstairs).
  • In January, find us at the Exeter Library.
  • In February: See us at the YMCA.

From there, the exhibit is being lined up to visit other seacoast libraries. We hope to inspire conversations about building racial unity and community.

Watch for offerings to join an upcoming Culture Keepers | Culture Makers art project!  The NH Charitable Foundation has awarded funding to a group in Durham to run another project with artist Richard Haynes for the months of February/March. It’s free! All you have to do is show up for a rewarding experience!

Meanwhile, enjoy the artwork!