Spencertown Academy Arts Center 13th Annual Festival of Books

photo by Peter Blandori.

Spencertown Academy Arts Center’s 13th annual Festival of Books takes place over Labor Day weekend, August 31 through September 3. 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 Sandra/Sandy Allen, Jamie Cat Callan, Linda Dahl, Carol Durant, Donna Kaz, Jessica Keener, Karen Schoemer, and Jon Michael Varese. Admission is free to all of the events, save for the Members Preview early book-buying opportunity 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 a wonderfully diverse range of programs—from poignant and powerful memoirs to literary thrillersto artful poetry and a charming how-to book,” says Kalotay.

“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,” adds Highfill, vice president and executive editor at William Morrow & Co., an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. “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 1

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. Claudia Maurino (first place for nonfiction) and Noah Goble (first place for fiction), who are both students at of Monument Mountain Regional High School, will read their works aloud. Contest coordinator Kelly Kynion will host the festivities.

At 12:30 p.m., Manhattan-based authors Linda Dahl and Donna Kaz will discuss their memoirs about being determined women who took on sexual discrimination and domestic abuse long before a celebrity and a hashtag combusted into the #MeToo firestorm. In UN/MASKED: Memoirs of a Guerrilla Girl on Tour(Skyhorse Publishing, 2016), Kaz chronicles her surprising 25-year journey as a survivor of domestic violence and subsequent member of the feminist activist group, the Guerrilla Girls, which creates visual art and performances to attack sexism and prove feminists are funny at the same time.

In Tooth and Nail: The Making of a Female Fight Doctor(Hanover Square Press, 2018), Dahl recounts the years she spent as an eyes, nose, and ear surgeon by day and ringside physician by night, one of few women to serve in that capacity for the New York Athletic Commission. Adrenaline-fueled and full of behind-the-scenes takes on famous boxers, the book examines sexism, the theater of boxing, and how to excel in two very different male-dominated worlds.

At 2:00 p.m., novelist Jessica Keener will read from her literary thriller, Strangers in Budapest(Algonquin Books, 2017) in which an ex-pat American couple and their adopted baby find international intrigue turns personal when they encounter another ex-pat in post-communist Budapest intent on unearthing the truth about his daughter’s death. Keener is the author of the bestselling novel, Night Swim, and a collection of award-winning short stories, Women in Bed. Her work has appeared in O, The Oprah MagazineRedbook, the Boston Globe, and other publications, and she has taught English literature and writing at Brown University, Boston University, the University of Miami, and GrubStreet. She lives in the Boston area.

At 3:30 p.m., Jamie Cat Callan will discuss her new book, Parisian Charm School: French Secrets for Cultivating Love, Joy, and That Certain je ne sais quoi(Penguin Random House/TarcherPerigee, 2018). Herprevious bestsellers include French Women Don’t Sleep AloneBonjour, Happiness!, and Ooh La La! French Women’s Secrets to Feeling Beautiful Every Day. Her books have been published in 21 countries and have been featured in major publications, including New York TimesVanity Fair, and Time.Callanmakes her home in the Hudson Valley at La Belle Farm, where she and her husband have created a little bit of France, growing lavender and sunflowers, and producing their own brand of French sparkling apple cider.

Sunday, September 2

At 12:00 p.m., nonfiction writer Sandra/Sandy Allen will discuss their first book,A Kind of Mirraculas Paradise: A True Story about Schizophrenia(Scribner, 2018).Allenis non-binary trans and lives in the Catskills.Previously a BuzzFeed News features editor, their essays and feature stories have been published by BuzzFeed News, CNN Opinion, and Pop-Up Magazine. They also founded and ran the online-only literary quarterly Wag’s Revue. Their work focuses on the past, present, and future of mental healthcare in America and on constructs of normalcy, including psychiatric disability and gender.

At 1:30 p.m., Karen Schoemer and Carol Durant will share their poetry. In Whole Phat and Gluten Free Poetry(The Troy Book Makers, 2017), Durant mixes the travails of daily life with the semantics of today and yesteryear. She holds a masters degree in Africana Studies, teaches life skills to college bound and at-risk youth in the Capital District, and works at a local cemetery. Schoemer is a poet and performer living in Hudson, NY. Her poems have appeared in Up the RiverChronogram, and the Pine Hills Review.

Sunday’s final program at 3:00 p.m. will feature debut novelist Jon Michael Varese. The Spirit Photographer(The Overlook Press, 2018) is full of dramatic twists and redolent of the mood of the Southern Gothic. It conjures the Reconstruction era South, replete with fugitive hunters, voodoo healers, and other dangers lurking in the swamp. A graduate of Swarthmore College and the University of California at Santa Cruz, Vareseis currently the Director of Public Outreach for The Dickens Project, and has lectured and written widely on nineteenth-century literature for several outlets, including the GuardianSan Francisco Chronicle, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. He lives in the Hudson Valley.


The Festival of Books children’s program on Saturday, September 1 from 9:30 a.m. to 11:15 a.m. will feature “Biscuit the Puppy,” the cute pup with a mind of his own who stars in a popular children’s book series by Alyssa Satin Capucilli. The costumed character will be on hand to greet children and pose for photos with them. Children will hear funny stories about the silly puppy, create a related craft, and browse in the Children’s Book Room, which will be open throughout the Festival.


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. Afirst-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 1 from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.Sunday, September 2 from 10:00 am to 4:00pm, and on Monday, September 3 (bargain day) from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Admission is free. New this year: teachers with ID will receive 20% discount on their purchases (except in Special Books Room).

In addition, Spencertown Academy members will have first crack at the books during the Member’s Preview on Friday, August 31 from 1:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Free for members, $10 for member’s guests, and memberships will be available at the door. Preview shoppers will enjoy wine and cheese from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Founded in 1972, Spencertown Academy Arts Center is a cultural center and community resource serving Columbia County, the Berkshires, and the Capital region. Housed in a landmark 1847 Greek Revival schoolhouse, the Academy is located at 790 State Route 203 in Spencertown, New York. For more information, please see www.spencertownacademy.orgor call 518-392-3693.