Martha's Vineyard has long attracted writers and poets to its sandy shores, and since 2005, the island's Book Festival brings writers from across the country to celebrate reading, writing, and the creative process. The free biennial event has grown over the past decade: This year, over thirty authors spoke about their current projects and also participated in panel discussions on various topics. Investigative journalist Stephen Kurjikan, 30 Girls author Susan Minot, and the Atlantic's TaNehisi Coates were among those on the podium, sharing their thoughts and offering fresh perspectives on a range of topics. The two day event spanned both ends of the Island; the Harbor View Hotel in Edgartown hosted Saturday's panels, and the Chilmark Community Center welcomed authors and attendees to billowing white tents on Sunday. Writers discussed issues such as women and sports, animals, race, and writing. Panels were moderated by fellow writers, such as Pulitzer-Prize winner Tony Horwitz and memoirist Alexandra Styron. Presenting partner A Bunch of Grapes Bookstore ensured that titles were available for purchase and inscription.
Authors didn't arrive via steamer, but it's a charming image nonetheless. Steamer Martha's Vineyard, from an 1890s souvenir booklet. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The festival is the fruit of the labors of Suellen Lazarus, a former director at the World Bank Group in Washington D.C. and longtime summer Island resident. Inspired by the National Book Festival, she felt confident about replicating the event on a smaller scale. "I saw the Washington festival, and I thought we could do it. We have tents, better weather, and people like to come here - and many of them from D.C," Lazarus said Saturday morning during a quick chat between panel discussions. "I'm very proud of our festival this year. There were a few themes I wanted to include - race, gender, and sustainability - and when we were organizing back in January, we thought about which authors we could intersperse into panels to generate thoughtful and engaging discussions." As an example, that morning's panel on Women in Sports included Olympian Ginny Glider, Boston Globe sports columnist Bob Ryan and professor Kenneth Shropshire, offering different points of view on a fascinating topic. Later that afternoon, Boston Globe investigative journalist Stephen Kurkjian (who wrote about the 1990 art theft at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum), joined the stage alongside Jeff Hobbs, David Kertzer and novelist Sarah Wildman to discuss the craft of writing itself.
Though she had worked tirelessly since the depths of winter to ensure everything was ship shape last weekend, Lazarus found time to enjoy the show. "I love listening to the panel discussions, so I don't really work today." Words of wisdom for any hard-working Islanders,as the rest of August will be very busy here: President Obama and family arrive tomorrow for a two-week vacation.