Spencertown Academy Arts Center 12th Annual Festival of Books

 Elinor LipmanSpencertown Academy Arts Center’s 12th annual Festival of Books takes place over Labor Day weekend, September 2 through 4. The festival features a giant used book sale, two days of discussions with and readings by esteemed authors, and a children’s program. Featured authors this year include Sulome Anderson, Wesley Brown, Louie Cronin, Jonathan Gould, Michael D. Lemonick, Elinor Lipman, Greg Mitchell, Rebecca Morgan Frank, and Patricia Park. Admission is free to all of the events, save for the early book-buying opportunities detailed below.

Authors’ books will be available for purchase (at special event prices) and signing. Healthy, delicious snacks and beverages will also be for sale throughout the weekend, including the Academy’s signature “To-Die-For, No-Alarm Vegetarian Chili.”

The festival, which began in 2006 as a book sale to raise funds for the Academy’s community arts programs, has grown into one of the biggest and most eagerly anticipated cultural events of the year. Academy Board members David Highfill and Jill Kalotay co-chair the festival. “This year, we’ve lined up an eclectic and exciting program—from artful poetry to riveting nonfiction to delightful romantic comedies,” says Highfill, vice president and executive editor at William Morrow & Co., an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

Jill Kalotay adds, “The Academy is an all-volunteer organization now, and none of this would be possible without the generosity of our individual underwriters, book donors, and the nearly one hundred people who volunteer their time and talents to help make the Festival of Books a success. We are so grateful for their support.” Proceeds from the Festival book sale help support the Academy’s programs and preservation and maintenance of its historic building.

Saturday, September 2

The Festival kicks off at 11:30 a.m., when prizes will be awarded to the top entries of the Festival of Books Young Writers’ Contest, as judged by accomplished authors and publishing professionals. The winning young writers will have the opportunity to read their works aloud. Contest coordinator Kelly Kynion will host the festivities.

At 12:30 p.m, authors Jonathan Gould and Wesley Brown will read from their books and discuss race and music during the Big Band years of the 30s and 40s, and during the civil rights struggles of the 60s. Gould’s latest book, Otis Redding: An Unfinished Life (Crown Archetype, 2017) was written with the cooperation of Redding’s family and many of his closest associates. Brown’s short story collection, Dance of the Infidels(Concord ePress, 2017), tells of his fictional characters’ relationships with famous musicians—Sarah Vaughan, Duke Ellington, Dexter Gordon, Miles Davis—evoking the magnetism of the music and its makers.

At 2:00 p.m., Rebecca Morgan Frank will read from her second poetry collection, The Spokes of Venus (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2016) in which magicians, wig makers, sculptors, perfumers, choreographers, and composers help conjure her poems about making and observing art. Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, Ploughshares, Guernica, and elsewhere.

At 3:30 p.m., Sulome Anderson and Michael D. Lemonick discuss their books—one a memoir and one a study of the science and meaning of memory. Anderson is the author of The Hostage’s Daughter: A Story of Family, Madness, and the Middle East (HarperCollins, 2016). Her memoir is an investigation into her father Terry Anderson’s kidnapping and six-year captivity by terrorists; it won a Nonfiction Book Award and two International Book Awards. Lemonick is a veteran journalist for Scientific American and Time magazine, and he the author of seven books, including The Perpetual Now: A Story of Amnesia, Memory, and Love (Doubleday, 2017) about the neuroscience of memory.

Sunday, September 3

At 12:00 p.m., prolific author Greg Mitchell will present his latest nonfiction book, The Tunnels: Escapes Under the Berlin Wall and the Historic Films the JFK White House Tried to Kill (Crown, 2016). The book is a Cold War narrative of superpower showdowns, media suppression, and two escape tunnels beneath the Berlin Wall. It has been has been optioned by FilmNation for a motion picture with Paul Greengrass attached as director.

At 1:30 p.m., two acclaimed novelists will take the stage. Elinor Lipman will read from her latest book, On Turpentine Lane (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017), an endearing romantic comedy about a restless woman who impulsively buys a dilapidated cottage. Louie Cronin will read from her debut novel, Everyone Loves You Back (Gorsky Press, 2016), a coming-of-middle-age story about a a sarcastic radio technician named Bob. For 10 years, Cronin (a.k.a. “Cronin the Barbarian”) served as Car Talk’s traffic cop, producing the show and ensuring that every call was entertaining.

Sunday’s final program at 3:00 p.m will feature Patricia Park, whose novel Re Jane (Viking, 2015) is set in the geographically close but highly disparate worlds of Queens and Brooklyn. It’s the story of Jane Re, a honhyol (mixed race) Korean American woman who feels like an outsider in every sense. Paramount TV and Anonymous Content recently teamed with actor-producer Daniel Dae Kim to adapt the book into a half-hour comedy series for TV Land.


The Festival of Books children’s program on Saturday, September 2 from 9:30 a.m. to 11:15 a.m. will feature a visit from the costumed character The Cat in the Hat of the popular Dr. Seuss children’s book. Youngsters will get to shake The Cat in the Hat’s paw and pose for souvenir pictures with their storybook friend, as well as make book-related art projects in the crafts tent with Chatham art teacher Susan Grybas. There will also be storybook readings for the youngest book lovers.


At the heart of the Festival is a giant book sale, one of the biggest in the region, featuring more than 10,000 gently used books, including fiction and non-fiction, hard and soft covers—all offered at very affordable prices. There’s a special Kids’ Corner for young readers and a media section full of DVDs, CDs, audio books, and vinyl LPs. A first-floor gallery features a handpicked selection of specialty books, limited editions, out-of-print books, and new books donated by leading national publishers.

Friends of the Academy donate books and a dedicated band of volunteers, led by Allan Davidson and Wayne Greene, spend countless hours throughout the summer carefully sorting and organizing the books in preparation for the sale.

The book sale is open to the public on Saturday, September 2 and Sunday, September 3 from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m, and on Monday, September 4 (bargain day) from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Admission is free.

In addition, there are two early-buying events. Spencertown Academy members will have first crack at the books and enjoy wine, cheese, and shopping at the Member’s Preview Party on Friday, September 1 from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Admission is $25. Tickets and memberships will be available for purchase at the door. Please note: This event is for Academy members and their guests only. (Book dealers are welcome at the early-buying opportunity Saturday morning.)

Shoppers and book dealers who want first pick of the stock can take advantage of an early-buying opportunity on Saturday, September 2 from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. Admission for early buying on Saturday is $20 (cash only). Serious bargain hunters will want to return to the sale on Monday, September 4, when all remaining sale books will be just $1.00 and all specialty books will be half off the already low prices. There will also be closing hour surprise specials.

Housed in a beautifully restored 1840s Greek-Revival schoolhouse at 790 State Route 203 in Spencertown, New York, Spencertown Academy Arts Center is a cultural center serving Columbia County, the Berkshires, and the Capital region. It offers a variety of free and low-cost community arts events, including concerts, readings, theater pieces, art exhibitions, and arts-related workshops and classes. For more information about the Festival of Books, see http://spencertownacademy.org/events.