SPENCERTOWN — The 17th annual Spencertown Academy Arts Center Book Festival takes place over Labor Day weekend, Sept. 2-5. The festival features a giant used book sale, two days of talks and readings by esteemed authors, and a children’s program. Featured authors include Daphne Pilasi Andreades, Jean Hanff Korelitz, David Nasaw, Mayukh Sen and James Shapiro. There will also be an exhibition on book arts by Suzy Banks Baum. Admission is free for all events, except for the early bird buying opportunity for members detailed below. Masks are mandatory inside the building.
The Festival, which began in 2006 as a book sale to raise funds for the Academy’s community arts programs, has become one of the largest and most anticipated cultural events of the year. David Highfill, Wayne Greene and Carl Atkins are the co-chairs of the Festival this year. “The return of this beloved in-person event is going to be a highlight of our summer, and we’ll be providing many delights for book lovers: one of the largest and most engaging collections of books for sale we have ever presented and a stellar list of authors making guest appearances,” says Highfill.
The authors’ books will be available for purchase and signing. Healthy and delicious snacks and drinks will also be on sale Saturday and Sunday, including the Academy’s signature “To-Die-For, No-Alarm Vegetarian Chili.”
The Festival will begin at 12:00 p.m. with author James Shapiro discussing his latest work, Shakespeare in a Divided America: What His Plays Tell Us About Our Past and Future, which was named by The New York Times as one of the Top 10 Books of 2020, as well as a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Non-Fiction. The narrative covers all of American history, from the Revolution to the present day, and reveals how no writer has been more embraced, more armed, or shed more light on the burning questions of our history than Shakespeare. Joining Shapiro in the conversation will be Carl Atkins, author of several works on Shakespeare, including Shakespeare’s Sonnets among his private friends.
At 1:30 p.m., the winners of the Academy’s 2022 Young Writers’ Competition (Taibat Ahmed, Arianna Camacho and Amanda Gutierrez) will read their winning works of fiction and non-fiction. The reading will be moderated by Carol Essert, who coordinated the competition this year.
At 3 p.m., New York Times bestselling author Jean Hanff Korelitz will talk about his latest novel, The Latecomer, a deep and witty family story that tackles themes of grief, guilt, trauma generational, privilege, race, tradition and religion. Previous books include The Plot (upcoming adaptation from Hulu, to star Mahershala Ali), You Should Have Known (adapted for HBO as “The Undoing” by David E. Kelley, starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant) and Admission (adapted as the film of the same name, starring Tina Fey and Paul Rudd). Novelist Molly Prentiss, author of Tuesday Nights in 1980, will join Korelitz in the conversation.
At noon, James Beard Award-winning writer Mayukh Sen will discuss Taste Makers: Seven Immigrant Women Who Revolutionized Food in America, which was named NPR’s Best Book of 2021 and one of Wall’s Favorite Books of the Year. StreetJournal. A group biography, it weaves together stories of food, immigration and gender told through the lives of seven groundbreaking chefs and food writers. Sen is currently writing a biography of actress Merle Oberon, to be published by WW Norton & Company in 2025. He will be joined in the conversation by Tamar Adler, chef and author of An Everlasting Meal.
At 1:30 p.m., renowned historian David Nasaw will discuss his latest book, The Last Million: Europe’s Displaced Persons from World War to Cold War, in which he tells the gripping but so far largely hidden story of post-war displacement. and the statelessness of refugees left behind in Germany after World War II. Among his previous works are The Patriarch, which was selected by The New York Times as one of the 10 best books of the year in 2012 and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Biography in 2013 and Andrew Carnegie, who was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, recipient of the New-York Historical Society’s American History Book Award and finalist for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in Biography. Cecile Kuznitz, associate professor of history and director of Jewish studies at Bard College, will join the author in the conversation.
Sunday’s final program at 2:30 p.m. will feature Daphne Pilasi Andreades discussing her famous debut novel, Brown Girls. The book is about a group of friends and their immigrant families in Queens, New York – it’s a tenderly observed and fiercely poetic love letter to a modern generation of brunette girls. Andreades is a graduate of CUNY Baruch College and Columbia University’s MFA Fiction program, where she received a Henfield Prize and a Creative Writing Teaching Fellowship. She is the recipient of a 2021 O.Henry Award and scholarships for the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and Martha’s Vineyard Institute for Creative Writing, where she won the Voices of Color award. Julie DeLisle, former director of the Chatham Public Library, will join the author for discussion.
The Festival of Books children’s program from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on September 3 will include a meet-and-greet with Elephant & Piggie, fun-loving friends in two dozen books by award-winning author and illustrator Mo Willems. Kids can have their picture taken with the costumed characters, get crafty with Elephant & Piggie-related art activities, and listen to the duo’s stories read by librarian and storyteller Ann Gainer.
At the heart of the Festival is a giant book sale, one of the largest in the region, with over 10,000 lightly used books, including fiction and non-fiction, hard and soft covers, all offered at affordable prices. There’s a special kids’ corner for young readers and a media section full of DVDs, CDs, audiobooks and vinyl. A gallery on the first floor presents a hand-picked selection of specialist books, limited editions and out-of-print books.
Friends of the Academy donate books, and a group of dedicated volunteers, led by Wayne Greene, spend countless hours throughout the summer carefully sorting and arranging books for sale. “We are fortunate to have received an abundance of beautiful books over the past few months, and we expect to receive even more in the coming weeks leading up to the Festival,” says Greene. “We are particularly delighted with an extensive collection of jazz books and records donated by a long-time collector and a large collection of rare art books featuring works by Ellsworth Kelly, a generous gift from a former assistant to the late artist.” Other highlights in the Special Books Room include Before Easter After, famed photographer Lynn Goldsmith’s massive photo book about Patti Smith. Limited to just 1500 copies, it is numbered and signed by both Goldsmith and Patti Smith (mint in unopened box, $800); 1965 first edition of In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (hardcover with dust jacket, $100); and a 1938 first edition of The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (hardcover with dust jacket, $125).
The book sale is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on September 3; 10am-4pm 4 Sep; and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on September 5 (bargain day). Free entry. Teachers with ID benefit from a 20% discount on their purchases (except in the special book room).
Additionally, members of Spencertown Academy will have the first chance to read the books during the Member Preview from 3-8 p.m. on September 2. Free for members, $10 for member guests and memberships will be available at the door or online. Refreshments will be served in the evening.
Suzi Banks Baum, writer and mixed media artist, will create a tabletop exhibition of the arts of bookmaking, in particular papermaking and Coptic bookbinding techniques, which will be on display during the festival. She will be teaching a two-day book arts workshop later this fall at the Columbia County School of Art.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the arts organization of the Spencertown Academy and the 175th year since the Academy was built as a school in 1847. Housed in a historic 1847 Greek Revival schoolhouse, the Academy is located at 790 State Route 203 in Spencertown, New York. For more information, please visit www.spencertownacademy.org.
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