We must add to our heritage or lose it. –George Orwell
The Mastheads is a public humanities project in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. We seek to connect residents to the literary history of the region, create a forum for thinking about place, and support the production of new creative work. Founded in 2016 upon the legacy of five American Renaissance authors who wrote in Pittsfield, The Mastheads is at once an urban architectural experiment, a literary research initiative, a writers’ residency, and an educational program.
Mobile Writing Studios: The physical spaces that comprise The Mastheads are five sculptural studios, each the architectural interpretation of the original structure from which one of five American Renaissance authors wrote while in Pittsfield: Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., and Henry David Thoreau. From spring to fall, the studios are installed in different locations around the Berkshires for diverse Mastheads public programming and events.
The Writers' Residency: In July, five writers are invited to Pittsfield to live and work. Residents receive a $900 stipend, travel reimbursement, a private room in a house shared with the other residents, and exclusive use of one of the Mastheads studios.
Research Initiatives: Along with select events throughout the year, we produce city-wide humanities programming to complement our July Writers' Residency, including public lectures, community conversations, and literary readings, with a new theme each summer. We assemble and publish The Mastheads Reader, a carefully curated collection of writing by Pittsfield authors, complete with an introduction and scholarly apparatus, to pair with the July programming.
Educational Programming: During the school year, The Mastheads operates its poetry-in-schools program, Fireside, in Pittsfield Public Schools. Students compose original poetry, and each ten-week course culminates in an anthology of student work and a community reading.
Publication and Design: Each summer we produce The Mastheads x The Berkshire Eagle Folds, a series of four newspaper folds that include transcripts of our lectures and community conversations, writing by our residents, as well as drawings, cartoons, poetry, and other writing by local authors and our Fireside students. We collaborate with local artists to decorate the city with the words of Pittsfield authors.
About the name "Mastheads"
Aboard the Pequod, the whaling ship in Moby Dick in which Ishmael sails, crew members take shifts climbing up high into the masthead, looking out for whales. From that new vantage point, they see the world around them from a different perspective, elevated far off the ship’s deck. At the same time, Ishmael describes the masthead—a space large enough for only one person—as an opportunity to look inward, and encounter new aspects of oneself.
Architects & Co-Founders: Tessa Kelly and Chris Parkinson
Education: Sarah Trudgeon
Research: Jeffrey Lawrence
Engagement: Aaron Thier
photos by Iwan Baan