Spencertown Academy Arts Center’s 17th annual Festival of Books takes place over Labor Day weekend, September 2 through September 5. 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 include Daphne Pilasi Andreades, Jean Hanff Korelitz, David Nasaw, Mayukh Sen, and James Shapiro. There will also be a bookmaking arts exhibit by Suzy Banks Baum. Admission is free to all of the events, save for the Members Preview early book-buying opportunity detailed below. Masks are required inside the building.
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. David Highfill, Wayne Greene, and Carl Atkins are 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 offering many delights for book lovers: one of the largest and most enticing collections of books for sale we’ve ever featured and a stellar line-up of authors making appearances,” says Highfill.
Authors’ books will be available for purchase and signing. Healthy, delicious snacks and beverages will also be for sale on Saturday and Sunday, including the Academy’s signature “To-Die-For, No-Alarm Vegetarian Chili.”
FESTIVAL MAIN STAGE – Saturday, September 3
The Festival kicks off 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 10 best books of 2020, as well as a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award for non-fiction. The narrative spans all of American history, from the Revolution to present day, and reveals how no writer has been more embraced, more weaponized, or has shed more light on hot-button issues in our history than Shakespeare. Joining Shapiro in conversation will be Carl Atkins, author of several works on Shakespeare, including Shakespeare’s Sonnets Among His Private Friends.
At 1:30 p.m., winners of the Academy’s 2022 Young Writers’ Contest (Taibat Ahmed, Arianna Camacho, and Amanda Gutierrez) will read their winning fiction and non-fiction entries. The reading will be moderated by Carol Essert, who coordinated the contest this year.
At 3:00 p.m., New York Times bestselling author Jean Hanff Korelitz will discuss her latest novel, The Latecomer, a profound and witty family story that touches on the topics of grief, guilt, generational trauma, privilege, race, traditions, and religion. Among her previous books are The Plot (adaptation forthcoming 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). Joining Korelitz in conversation will be novelist Molly Prentiss, author of Tuesday Nights in 1980.
FESTIVAL MAIN STAGE – Sunday, September 4
At 12:00 p.m., James Beard Award-winning writer Mayukh Sen will discuss Taste Makers: Seven Immigrant Women Who Revolutionized Food in America, which was named a best book of 2021 by NPR and one of the Wall Street Journal’s favorite books of the year. A group biography, it weaves together histories of food, immigration, and gender told through the lives of seven pathbreaking chefs and food writers. Sen is currently writing a biography of the actress Merle Oberon, to be published by W.W. Norton & Company in 2025. He will be joined in conversation by Tamar Adler, chef and author of An Everlasting Meal.
At 1:30 p.m., acclaimed 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 yet until now largely hidden story of postwar displacement and the statelessness of refugees left behind in Germany after WWII. Among his earlier 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 Pulitzer Prize finalist in biography in 2013 and Andrew Carnegie, which was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, the recipient of the New-York Historical Society’s American History Book Prize, and a 2007 Pulitzer Prize finalist in biography. Cecile Kuznitz, associate professor of history and director of Jewish Studies at Bard College, will join the author in conversation.
Sunday’s final program at 2:30 p.m. will feature Daphne Pilasi Andreades discussing her celebrated debut novel, Brown Girls. The book is about a group of friends and their immigrant families from Queens, New York—it’s a tenderly observed, fiercely poetic love letter to a modern generation of brown girls. Andreades is a graduate of CUNY Baruch College and Columbia University’s MFA Fiction program, where she was awarded a Henfield Prize and a Creative Writing Teaching Fellowship. She is the recipient of a 2021 O.Henry Prize, and scholarships to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and Martha’s Vineyard Institute for Creative Writing, where she won the Voices of Color Prize. Joining the author in conversation will be Julie DeLisle, former director of the Chatham Public Library.
The Festival of Books children’s program on Saturday, September 3 from 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. will feature a meet and greet with Elephant & Piggie, fun-loving friends in two dozen books by award-winning author and illustrator Mo Willems. Kids will be able to have their pictures 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.
GIANT USED BOOK SALE
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 affordable prices. There’s a special Kids’ Corner for young readers and a media section full of DVDs, CDs, audiobooks, and vinyl LPs. A first-floor gallery features a handpicked selection of specialty books, limited editions, and out-of-print books.
Friends of the Academy donate books and a dedicated band of volunteers, led by Wayne Greene, spend countless hours throughout the summer carefully sorting and organizing the books in preparation for the sale. “We are fortunate to have received an abundance of fine books over the past several months, and we anticipate receiving even more in the coming weeks leading up to the Festival,” says Greene. “We’re especially excited about an extensive collection of jazz books and LPs donated by a life-long collector and a large collection of rare art books that feature works by Ellsworth Kelly—a generous donation from a former assistant of the late artist.” Other highlights in the Special Book Room include Before Easter After, famed photographer Lynn Goldsmith’s massive photo book on 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 Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood (hardcover in dust jacket, $100); and a 1938 first edition of The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (hardcover in dust jacket, $125).
The book sale is open to the public on Saturday, September 3 from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., Sunday, September 4 from 10:00 am to 4:00pm, and on Monday, September 5 (bargain day) from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Admission is free. Teachers with ID receive a 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, September 2 from 3:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Free for members, $10 for member’s guests, and memberships will be available at the door or online. Refreshments will be served during the evening hours.
BOOKMAKING ARTS DISPLAY
Writer and mixed media and book artist Suzi Banks Baum will create a table-mounted display of bookmaking arts, specifically paper making and Coptic Stitch binding techniques, that will be on exhibit during the festival. She will teach a two-day book arts workshop later this fall at the Art School of Columbia County.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Spencertown Academy arts organization, and the 175th year since the Academy was built as a school in 1847. 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.org.