Fall Gala @ Writers’ Center

For well over a dozen years, The Hudson Valley Writers’ Center has held an annual fall fundraising dinner dance and silent auction, a critical component of its fundraising activities.

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Sleepy Hollow’s Nick Robinson

For many years it has been held at the Sleepy Hollow Country Club, and this year’s event on Friday, November 3, 7 – 11 pm, will also be there.

Starting in 2002, the gala began honoring outstanding writers in the region, starting with the Center’s founder, poet Margo Stever of Sleepy Hollow and including the former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins, children’s writers Jean Craighead George and Jean Fritz, and prose writer Esmeralda Santiago.

This year it honors not a professional writer, but someone who loves and supports literature — Nicholas Robinson, of Sleepy Hollow, known to most as "Nick."

"Literature?!" some may exclaim, who know Nick primarily as an internationally-recognized pioneer in the field of environmental law, or as the chairman of the Planning Board of Sleepy Hollow and a former school board member.

If they’re environmentally savvy they may know that he established the environmental law program at Pace Law School, wrote the New York Tidal Wetlands and Wild Birds Acts, and was the first chairman of the Hudson Valley Greenway Conservancy.

They even may know that he was the first American to head the Environmental Law Commission of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, that he served as the international vice president of the Sierra Club, and that he currently holds an honorary vice presidency of the Sierra Club in recognition of his international work.

Others may associate him with the Historical Society of the Tarrytowns and with the environmental laws governing cultural heritage. They may remember that he served as president of that Society for several years and helped raise the money to restore its home (the Jacob O’Dell House on Grove Street in Tarrytown), and earlier had drafted Tarrytown’s historic landmarks ordinance.

"But wait, then!" they might think. "The Writers’ Center also raised a large sum of money to restore its historic home, the Philipse Manor Railroad Station." And yes, Nick definitely had a hand in that.

But what many people really may not know is that Nick is a serious lover and supporter of culture, particularly music and literature, and that he sees cultural activities and organizations as a vital part of any environment, natural or man-made.

In his travels abroad, especially in his many trips to Russia, he has seen how other cultures support the written and spoken word, and he has seen the grassroots effort to develop writers’ centers.

"The movement creating regional centers for writing help us slow down and do the mental work of creating human expression through literature," he says. "We have to lean over backwards to support the written word as an expression of our own American culture. Literature should be central to our civilization — not watered down by other media."

Nick’s love of literature goes back to his upbringing. Writing and reading were a vital part of his family’s life. His grandmother, Agnes Sanger Claflin Adams, wrote stories and poetry to help her heal after polio paralyzed her legs and took her teenage son’s life.

Ultimately she created nearly 30 volumes of poetry under the name Sanger Stewart, and the extended Robinson family has recently endowed a poetry reading at The Hudson Valley Writers’ Center in her name.

While Nick and his wife, Shelley, also love music (they met in a chamber orchestra at Brown University), their daughter, Cynthia Sandler, and her daughter, Julia, are hearing the call of literature. Both are students at the Writers’ Center.

"It’s satisfying to see this intergenerational bonding through writing," says Nick.

And for the Writers’ Center, it is deeply satisfying to honor someone who treasures and supports an organization devoted to the written word, even when his professional calling is elsewhere. A Center like this could not survive without such people.

Those interested in attending, taking out an ad in the journal, or contributing to the silent auction should contact the Center at 914-332-5953 or online at info@writerscenter.org.

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About the Author: Dare Thompson