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Searching for utopia, creating gardens at the Deep Water Literary Festival

Posted 6/12/24

NARROWSBURG, NY — “It’s about putting authors and artists into conversation,” said Aaron Hicklin about the Deep Water Literary Festival, taking place this year from Friday …

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Where story matters

Searching for utopia, creating gardens at the Deep Water Literary Festival


NARROWSBURG, NY — “It’s about putting authors and artists into conversation,” said Aaron Hicklin about the Deep Water Literary Festival, taking place this year from Friday through Sunday, June 21-23 throughout the hamlet. 

Those ideas range far and wide, and they always have. In years past, Deep Water celebrated Mary Shelley and contemplated monsters, examined dystopias and George Orwell, sailed with Odysseus and scrutinized fairy tales. 

Now Hicklin and co-director Lucy Taylor are turning to utopias and gardens. Titled “Another Eden,” the 2024 festival offers three days of performances, music and—of course—conversation. About the Garden of Eden. About what utopia means for Black people, for Indigenous people. Does the garden, do the woods, provide a haven? For whom?

Planning it out

Hicklin might be best known for One Grand Books in Narrowsburg and Livingston Manor. But he spearheaded the festival, which began in 2018.

Taylor is an actor and producer. She was born in the U.K. and grew up in Australia, and in her work with Deep Water has kept in mind the literary festivals with which she grew up, she said.

Past work in education has encouraged her to shape the festival around local artists, not just bring in people from outside the region.

Narrowsburg is far from the tender-shoot stage in terms of ongoing artistic presence, but Deep Water brings in artists, directors, producers, dreamers from places beyond, adds them to the fertile soil of the Upper Delaware and stirs things up. It’s interaction—between audience and artist, between local artist and one from away—and who knows what might happen?

“It takes over the town… that’s what’s so great about living in a small space. Everyone knows each other,” Hicklin said. “Everyone is pulling for you. In New York, you’re drowned in the noise.” 

This year features a book fair, taking place on June 22 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Delaware Hall in the Narrowsburg Union at 7 Erie Ave.  

Even in this world of screens, books matter. Writing matters. At the book fair, attendees can take a break and reconnect with the printed page.


“We have early-career artists too,” Hicklin added. Take for example Corinna Grunn and Hilary Melcher Chapman, who in 2023 performed “Undertones,” a dance installation weaving together light, sound and bodies in motion.

This year, you’ll find—among many new and established artists—Meredith Moyer performing  “Garden of Eve: A Reclamation” at The Darby, just over the bridge in Beach Lake, PA. The performance is part of Deep Water Lab, a sort of talent incubator for local artists who are just starting out. “Garden of Eve” starts with the Garden of Eden and reaches into the future to suggest a garden of the possible.

On Saturday at 8:15 p.m., Deep Water Lab has another offering. Conor Kelly O’Brien, co-founder/executive director of the Scranton Fringe Festival, and sound designer Daniel Amedee will present “Echoes: Stories in Progress.” The work explores memory, identity and the beauty (and challenges) of a community that is changing. Performers include Susan Mendoza, Kyoshin Lohr, Kimmie Leff and others. It’ll be held at 256 Bridge St. 

Garden in flower

A clear centerpiece of the festival is celebrated writer Jamaica Kincaid. Author of the haunting “The Autobiography of My Mother” and many more books and stories, of late Kincaid has embraced gardens with “My Garden (Book),” “Among Flowers” and now “An Encyclopedia of Gardening for Colored Children.” She will be in Narrowsburg for a conversation with New York Review of Books editor Emily Greenhouse about gardens as a bed of creativity, personal discovery and engagement with (not a refuge from) the issues of the present world.

That’s taking place at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 22 at the Tusten Theatre, 210 Bridge St.

Weeding, unweeding

Gardens are about exclusion. There are unwanted plants: they get pulled. There are invasives: they are destroyed. Bugs? The ones that kill your plants are disposed of.

But historically, gardens are also exclusionary in terms of who gets to walk the paths and cut the flowers—or even look at the flowers.

Utopias exclude people. The ones who don’t fit in, the ones who no longer are contributing. 

Perhaps it’s no accident that “Another Eden” does not ignore this shadow side. 

Exclusion ran through Hicklin and Taylor’s discussion of this year’s Deep Water. How do “people create spaces? Whom do they exclude? Whom do they include?” Taylor said. 

Taylor and Hicklin brought up the destruction of Lucky Lake. The lake was for decades a haven away from New York City for Black people. Until one day in the 1980s, when heavy machinery destroyed the dam, the lake drained away, and the town did nothing. 

Gentrification is changing the region. What is the effect on the people who live there? 

The co-directors have been grappling with the question. 

The festival has come at the question of exclusion from several angles, but one of the most interesting is the discussion set for Friday, June 21 at 7 p.m. at the Tusten Theatre. At “Lenapehoking: Returning to Our Homeland; Honoring Our Heritage,” Curtis Zunigha, co-director and co-founder of The Lenape Center in New York City, will open the festival. He will tell and sing the story of how the Lenape were forcibly removed from the region and sent to reservations in Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Canada. “Curtis’s return to the Lenape homeland represents an act of reclamation… of culture, identity and heritage,” organizers wrote. Zunigha will also read from the book “Lenapehoking: An Anthology.” The book is available for sale and all proceeds will go to the Lenape Center.

“I’m very excited for this,” said Taylor. “My sense is there’s an enormous hunger for the history of the area.”

Who’s in? As many as possible.

“It’s an expansive program,” said Taylor. She didn’t mean (or didn’t only mean) the range of offerings. “I’ve been on two festivals my entire life… my experience is that the ones that are truly successful [are those that] have something that touches everyone. Just because it’s a literary festival doesn’t mean it’s only for one part of the community.” 

Step inside

The Deep Water Literary Festival is a chance to visit other people’s dreams and art, and talk to them, and learn a little. Maybe unlock something inside yourself. 

The festival is a volunteer-led nonprofit organization. Some events are ticketed. 

Learn more at https://deepwaterfestival.com.

For the full schedule, see https://deepwaterfestival.com/program/.

deep, water, literary, festival


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