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ESSEX - Alice Paden Green realized a dream in 1997 when she opened The Paden Institute and Retreat for Writers of Color in Essex.

Six years later, she's about to realize another dream - an evening of readings and discussions by former residents of the institute.

"We've had 10 residents since opening and most have not met each other," she said. "I thought this would be a great time to get together; and we also want the community to meet all these wonderful writers."

Among the readers Thursday will be novelist Elizabeth Nunez; playwright Yusef Salaam; mystery writer Frankie Bailey; poet Everett Hoagland; poet J.L. Torres; and writer Brooke Stephens.

For the past 18 years, Green has been the executive director for The Center for Law and Justice in Albany, an entity dedicated to ensuring fair treatment of minorities by the criminal justice system.

The roots of The Paden Institute and Retreat for Writers of Color can be traced to Green's Adirondack childhood.

She grew up in the mining town of Witherbee during the '50s and said that the experience of being one of the few African American families in the region often resulted in feelings of profound isolation.

In her 2000 essay, "An African in the Adirondacks," Green wrote:

"Our isolation from other black children made us feel like aliens, inferior breeds, forever the 'other people' who were ostracized from town folk in work and play."

"At the same time, we found white neighbors on our street and church who have remained our friends to this day," she said.

Green left the Adirondacks for college, earning graduate degrees in education, social work and criminology, and a Ph.D. in criminal justice.

Because of her painful childhood, she had few thoughts of ever returning to the Adirondacks, until husband Charles Touhey convinced her otherwise.

That's when Green realized that one of the three buildings on the family property could be put to good use.

The Paden Institute and Retreat for Writers of Color operates on the premise of simplicity fostering productivity.

At the back of Touhey and Green's property, behind two other houses sits a small brown cottage surrounded by 10 acres of land.

Green said the quiet serenity of the forests and meadow that surround the cottage have proved to be the perfect tonic for writers who are either creatively blocked or are lacking uninterrupted time to work on a project.

"It's not necessary for a resident to have been published before to qualify," Green said. "They just have to be working on a viable project.

Past residents have included mystery writers, poets, playwrights and novelists.

"Everet Hoagland has done several poems on the Adirondacks after staying here," she said. "Basically, we wanted writers to come so they would experience the North Country and the North Country is often reflected in their writing. Frankie Bailey got some great ideas here for her mystery novels."

And another writer was so taken with her stay in the Adirondacks she ended up buying a home in Essex.

"The surroundings allow them to get into their writing," Green said. "They get to do things they would otherwise find difficult to complete because there are very few distractions here."

The no-frills environment means no amenities like television, radio or air conditioning. But the price is right: $10 per week and residents buy and prepare their own food.

"I've always admired writers," Green said. "They make a great contribution to our society."

And she noted that the existence of such an institute in the Adirondacks has resulted in a spontaneous healing for her - and the community.

"It's been a great experience for both," Green said. "Some of the residents weren't sure how people would respond to them - all have ventured out into the community and have been pleasantly surprised.

"I had some unpleasant experiences growing up in the Adirondacks and I've been able to come back and share my experiences and enjoy it now. Having people in the community respond to us in a positive way allows me to feel much more at home."

IF YOU GO:

The Paden Institute and Retreat For Writers of Color will offer readings and discussion by writers of color at 7 p.m. Thursday at the United Church of Christ, 7582 Court St., Elizabethtown. Admission is free. For more information, call Alice Green at 427-8361 or Charles Touhey at 438-3521.

Directions: Take I-87 north to Exit 31. Make a left off the exit and follow signs to Elizabethtown. The church is on the left.

The Paden Institute and Retreat For Writers of Color is open June through September. Those interested in applying can write or call: Alice Paden Green, Pine West Plaza, Building 2, Washington Avenue Extension, Albany, NY 12205. Phone: 438-3521.

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