by Julianne Adams
Bibliophiles are flocking to our island for the third annual Nantucket Book Festival. This year, more than 70 authors are taking part in the literary celebration that runs from Friday through Sunday, June 20-22. Chosen by a committee to represent a diverse range of writing, the participating authors cover the spectrum of literary possibility: fiction, non-fiction, children’s, young adult, poetry, and more. Some of the many local favorites participating in the event include Alice Hoffman, Nancy Thayer, and Jodi Picoult, all of whom will be speaking separately about their work at ticketed events.
Most of the 30 events are free and, as author liaison Maddie Hjulstrom explains, are about more than the 35 speaking authors presenting their current work. “There is a deeply personal element to each event—we’re interested in not only hearing about their new books, but also about the heart and soul behind the stories.” To get at the stories behind the stories, a number of events bring two or more authors together for a literary discussion. At “From Page to Stage,” Stacey D’Erasmo and Welsey Stace, whose recent releases follow touring musicians, will have a discussion moderated by Megan Stielstra on writing creatively about music. “The Yellow Birds” pairs Kevin Powers and John Merson, both veterans and authors of works chronicling their time in war.
Festival co-founder Meghan Blair-Valero describes the events as an opportunity to gain “amazing insight into the story and influences on that story.” She writes, “We all read a story with our own experience influencing our perception, and when a group gathers to hear the writer’s perception, it is a very unique experience.” In addition to informing an individual’s reading of a work, hearing an author talk brings to life their work in a new way and infuses the work with a sense of community.
This idea of community is a key tenet of the festival. One of the major goals that the events achieve is highlighting Nantucket’s literary community. Many of the involved authors have close ties to the island, either as residents or inspired visitors. Nathaniel Philbrick, whose In the Heart of the Sea received the 2000 National Book Award for Non-Fiction and is being adapted into a film, is a longtime island resident. Another Nantucket resident, Elin Hilderbrand has set all of her dozen books on the island. Budding young island writers who participated in the PEN/Faulkner Writers in School program this spring will present at the “Opening Night Kick Off,” which also features three great authors (Geoff Dyer, Ben Fountain and Dani Shapiro).
The Book Festival is just as much about the authors as the readers. Festival-goers will have the chance to mingle with the speakers after every talk. There are multiple events specially geared towards reader interaction. At “Under The Tent,” more than 40 authors who are locals or whose books are inspired by the island will chat with readers and sign their works. And there will be a slew of activities for the little ones.
Throughout its three days, the festival has events aimed for readers of all ages. “Pirate Story Time” will engage the kids with costumes and storytelling. YA author Gabrielle Zevin will discuss her latest work, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, a hit at Mitchell’s Book Corner this season. For festival organizers, having events geared towards younger readers was crucial. Blair-Valero explains how “[a]ttending a festival like this is a great way to get connected with books and stories and get excited about reading. That is why it is so important to include young adults and kids in events like this.”
At night, once the kids have fallen asleep dreaming of the new stories they’ve encountered, adults can gather at the “Authors In Bars” and “Open Mic” for a more free discussion with their favorite speakers. For the less literary-inclined, these events are great ways to join in on the festival fun, as are the tantalizing talks taking place at local restaurants. With food writer John Mariani, you can feast on Italian plates at Ventuno or sip on cocktails at Cru. Another great option is “Best Friends, Occassional Enemies,” with Lisa Scottoline and her daughter Francesca Serritella, whose co-authored series takes a humorous look at life together (their most recent release is Have a Nice Guilt Trip). Hjulstrom writes, “the tone of this event is very funny and relaxed—anyone who wants a good laugh and a great meal at the Westmoor … would love this event.”
With its mixers and talks, the Nantucket Book Festival is a great opportunity not only to meet with favorite authors, but also to discover new ones. The event “Emerging Writers” has this aim in mind. Michael Shulder will moderate a discussion with burgeoning literary talents Molly Antopol, Cynthia Bond, Tim Horvath, and Anthony Marra. At “Under the Tent,” readers will be able to peruse the works of all the participating speakers. A surefire attraction for the roving literary eye will be the Penguin Book Truck, which is novel in more ways than one. The bright orange truck, bedecked with penguins, offers new releases and classics.
With all of its offerings, festival organizers hope to help book lovers and wary readers alike discover amazing reads. As Blair-Valero writes, “The subject matter, styles of writing, types of books, and personalities of writers are as varied as the grains of sand on our beaches. There really is a book for EVERYONE. If reading and literacy are a struggle, then audio books are a great alternative. If you say you aren’t a reader it is because you haven’t found the right book yet.”
After finding your book soulmate, you can celebrate by visiting the festival Wrap Party. Held at Cisco Brewers on Sunday afternoon, the party features a pig roast courtesy of Annye’s Whole Foods, a selection of Cisco Brewery’s offerings, and one last opportunity to talk shop with festival speakers. After that, it’ll be time to hit the books and read your newest finds.