Nantucket Events

Come Ready to Listen – Nantucket Book Festival

by Sarah Teach

If you’ve been into Broad Street’s cozy Bookworks any time since the 1970s, you may very well have encountered Richard “Dick” Burns. A clerk at the local bookshop, Burns doesn’t consider himself to be one of the big minds behind this week’s inaugural Nantucket Book Festival, but his involvement in it suggests otherwise. “I was originally invited to a meeting this past winter as a consultant,” he says. A decade ago, Burns, who did his undergraduate studies in the English field, launched a successful literary festival in Brattleboro, Vermont that continues today. “[Doing a book festival on Nantucket] had been talked about for many years, as early as 2004, as far as I know,” says Burns, adding, “We saw what was being done at the other festivals, and they are really focused in their particular fields.” The Nantucket Book Festival is our newest annual tradition on the island, but it’s not one
of indulgence in wine or worship of the silver screen. Burns says, “We’re doing this to celebrate the book, whether it’s [a digital reader] or a paper book, as a repository of literature.”

Putting on a festival is no simple task, but Burns says the only unique challenge of hosting a book fest on an island is getting the authors here. With his characteristic grin and hearty laugh, Burns offers a simple solution:    “But there are boats and there are planes!” The other significant obstacles
have been raising money and keeping costs down. Of this, Burns admits,    “When you want to make something free, the whole thing becomes an expensive proposition.” The community has given generously of itself to help host the festival. Many inns have offered deals to accommodate the visiting authors, and Young’s Bicycle Shop has donated bikes for all authors and their families for the entire weekend!

Burns acknowledges, “These days, we’ve pretty much got everything on Nantucket. We have our graphic designers, our artists, not to mention authors.” Indeed, in addition to the 27 authors that will be coming in from off-island, there will be almost 40 local authors showing their work at the
festival. “Lots of authors that are coming this year have never been to Nantucket before. Probably about half of them,” says Burns, who has been charged with author contact for the festival. “A lot of these professional writers are amazed at how any writers live here on Nantucket.” The authors who
write on a national level will host seminars and talks, packing the weekend with events for a variety of literary interests. The bulk of the action will take place on Saturday, sandwiched between Friday night’s free festival opening at the Unitarian Universalist Meeting House and Sunday’s Father’s Day
Brunch and then a Pig Roast at Cisco Brewery. And while putting on a festival ain’t no picnic, that hasn’t precluded the organizers from hosting one. A Limerick Picnic will be held on Saturday at the Nantucket Historical Association’s Whaling Museum. The picnic and both closing events are the
only Book Festival events that require tickets. Everything else is free and open to the public!

The folks behind the Book Festival have made it one of their primary goals to celebrate the island and, as Burns says, “Without being too ostentatious, to show it off.” But it’s not all beer and Skittles; another central goal of the Nantucket Book Festival is to use a partnership with PEN/Faulkner program to set a foundation for more literary emphasis in our schools here on the island through writing workshops.

“The whole [festival] thing is a bit artificial. A festival isn’t a creative act; it’s a show,” says Burns, waving his hand dismissively. “But in this case, the audience also [consists of] the performers. And it includes people from every aspect of the book realm, from writers to sellers to readers.” Burns’ wiggling eyebrows seem to signify a great conviction as he professes, “A festival requires a real density of heart.” Above all, Burns recommends that participants come ready to listen, and feel welcome to ask questions of the speakers and authors. For further details and a complete schedule of the Nantucket Book Festival, visit their website at

Articles by Date from 2012