Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing

Like Coming Home: Stone House Readers’ Series Celebrates One Year of Virtual Community

By Linda Mahal

 

When Troy Myers ’15 sent out a call at the end of 2020 asking if anyone wanted to hold a Stonecoast MFA alumni reading on Zoom, “the only person who wrote back,” he quipped, “was Amanda Pleau,” a fellow 2015 grad. One year later, what began in January 2021 as a way to transcend pandemic isolation has become an impressive and enduring livestreamed reading series, creating a virtual space for Stonecoast writers to share their writing.

To date, 50 Stonecoast alums, five faculty, and one additional guest have read from their published or forthcoming work during the Sunday night series. Named nostalgically for the old Stone House that once hosted the Stonecoast MFA residencies, the Stone House Readers’ Series virtually rekindles the creative sparks of the residency experiences.


Thanks to the efforts of Myers and Pleau, all Stonecoast writers—the extensively published and the soon-to-be-published—can read from their work and offer each other inspiration, motivation, and support, no matter where in the world they may be. The onscreen ambience, expertly moderated by Myers and Pleau on StreamYard, is warm, relaxed, intimate, and lively.


The series has proved to be a pivotal source of inspiration and motivation to many, including the founders. Before deciding to organize the readings, Myers’ teaching and advocacy, along with the pandemic, had taken their toll on his poetry output. “I wasn’t submitting work or even writing,” he says.

Hosting the hour-long readings helped Myers to reconnect with his own poetry, jumpstarting a year of prolific writing. He is now composing an epic poem and submitting his work to literary journals again.

“It’s the most important thing that has ever happened to my writing, since Stonecoast,” Myers says of the series. “I don’t want to ever stop it.”

Series co-founder Amanda Pleau’s writing life has also been uplifted. “I leave [the reading] every week feeling quite inspired,” she says. Pleau’s main creative platform these days is a self-published weekly email newsletter entitled Pleaushares, boasting a readership of over 200 subscribers. “It keeps me accountable,” Pleau says. “I don’t worry about the slush pile. It’s writing that brings me joy.”

One Sunday night last summer, faculty member Rick Bass—who drove over an hour on “pretty rough roads” in rural Montana to get to a good Wi-Fi signal—read from his essay “Beneath the Overstory,” which appears in the current issue of Massachusetts Review, then listened as his former fiction student Cristina Perachio ‘14 read from an unpublished short story.

Other series participants have included faculty member Aaron Hamburger, who premiered an excerpt from his forthcoming novel Hotel Cuba (Harper Perennial 2023). His reading was followed by that of one of his students, fiction writer Shannon Bowring Stride ’22.

The series has even hosted international guests. Ted and Annie Deppe, for example, former faculty hosts of the paused Stonecoast in Ireland residency, logged in one Sunday at 1:00 a.m. Irish Standard time.

Blake Love ’15, a July 2021, reader, described the feeling of the series as one of “camaraderie,” adding, “It’s like coming home. That’s the thing: to build community. You die without it.”

Amanda Johnston ‘14, who read in June 2021, expressed a similar sentiment, observing that “all of these spaces--doing what we can to still be in community—have truly saved people’s lives during this pandemic.”

Reading alongside Johnston last June, Nikki Patin ’15 affirmed the vital creative atmosphere of the Stonecoast MFA community, saying, “I think when you find writers where it’s coalition, and not competition, where it’s collaboration and love and support, it’s like steel sharpening steel.”

Myers concurs. “It really is about the readers,” he says. “No critiques. We want to hear about [the readers] and their work, and we want them to feel comfortable.”

Providing a welcoming virtual space for Stonecoast writers and their shared aspirations has been deeply satisfying for both Myers and Pleau. “On a number of occasions,” Pleau explains, “we have heard from someone who said, ‘I was in a rut, till I signed up to read.’ For some people, after leaving Stonecoast, it can be hard to keep the momentum going. Being an extension of the program and a resource for the community is something I’m really grateful for.”

 

Stone House Readers’ Series is excited to provide another year of inspiration and support to Stonecoast writers. To become a reader, contact Troy Myers and Amanda Pleau at stonehousereaders@gmail.com. Tune in to the readings most Sundays online, at 5:00 p.m. Pacific time, 8:00 p.m. Eastern time, on the Stone House Readers’ Series Facebook page. A partial video archive is available on YouTube. To subscribe to Amanda Pleau’s newsletter Pleaushares, sign up here.