Spencertown Academy Celebrates 10th Annual Festival of Books

Ruth Reichl

Ruth Reichl

(SPENCERTOWN, N.Y.) – Spencertown Academy Arts Center’s 10th annual Festival of Books – featuring a giant used book sale, two days of readings and book signings by nationally known and local authors including Simon Winchester and Ruth Reichl – and a children’s program takes place over Labor Day weekend, Friday-Monday, September 4-7, 2015.

Featured authors this year include Simon Winchester, Luke Barr, Jeanne Bogino, Wesley Brown, Jamie Cat Callan, Talia Carner, David R. Gillham, Ann Hood, Daphne Kalotay, Alex Kershaw, Jonathan Mingle, Sonia Pilcer, Ruth Reichl, and James Scott. Admission is free to all of the events, save for the early book-buying opportunities detailed below.

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. Jill Kalotay and academy board member David Highfill co-chair the festival. “We have an especially strong line-up of authors this year—from historians to contemporary novelists—and I think they will appeal to a wide range of reading tastes and interests,” said Highfill, vice president and executive editor at William Morrow & Co., an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

The winners of the academy’s first-ever Teens’ Short Story Contest will be announced at the festival. “We need to do everything we can to encourage and reward young writers—especially creative writers. These stories are high quality, diverse and imaginative. It’s always nice to be rewarded for something one does well, so I’m very happy that we have a cash prize to offer the three top entries,” said Kalotay.

Simon Winchester (photo Setsuko Wincheste

Simon Winchester (photo Setsuko Wincheste

Highfill added, “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 5

The Festival kicks off at 11a.m. with a presentation for writers of all ages by Jamie Cat Callan, author of The Writer’s Toolbox: Creative Games and Exercises for Inspiring the ‘Write’ Side of Your Brain.


At 11:45 a.m., Jamie Cat Callan presents prizes to the Festival of Books Teens’ Short Story Contest winners, who will read from their works. Lauren Oliver, New York Times bestselling author of young adult novels, including Before I Fall, Panic, and Delirium, will serve as the contest judge.


At 12:30 p.m., Talia Carner talks about her new novel, Hotel Moscow, based on her own experiences in Russia, her brushes with the Mafia, and that country’s ingrained history of anti-Semitism and emergence from communism.


Ann Hood (photo Catherine Sebastian)

Ann Hood (photo Catherine Sebastian)

At 1:30 p.m., authors Alex Kershaw (Avenue of Spies) and David R. Gillham (City of Women) talk about heroes and spies—real and imagined. One author’s book is a work of history, the other a historical novel, both explore the role of resisters during the WWII and share themes of courage and moral choices in occupied Paris and in Berlin. The conversation will be moderated by Daphne Kalotay, author of the award-winning novels Russian Winter and Sight Reading.


At 3:00 p.m., Ruth Reichl (Delicious!) converses with Luke Barr (Provence, 1970: M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and the Reinvention of American Taste). Barr, the great-nephew of M.F.K. Fisher, writes about a seminal moment in culinary history, and Reichl is an unrivaled authority on all subjects related to food.



Sunday, September 6


The program on Sunday, September 6 opens at 11a.m with “Black Carbon: Scourge and Opportunity,” a talk by Jonathan Mingle (Fire and Ice: Soot, Solidarity, and Survival on the Roof of the World). His work explores the devastating effects of black carbon on one Himalayan village. It is an important contribution to the global warming debate and an intimate portrait of the resilient villagers “on the roof of the world.”


At noon, acclaimed and accomplished novelists Ann Hood  (An Italian Wife) and James Scott (The Kept) talk about their books’ shared theme of loss, and how their individual writing processes uncovered and deepened its portrayal.


At 2p.m., Simon Winchester (The Professor and the Madman, Krakatoa, and The Map that Changed the World, among others) and Alan Chartock, president of WAMC/Northeast Public Radio, talk about Winchester’s life-long pursuit of engaging, undiscovered history.


Sunday’s final program at 3p.m., features authors Sonia Pilcer (The Last Hotel) and Jeanne Bogino (Rock Angel) in conversation with author Wesley Brown (Tragic Magic and Push Comes to Shove) about writer-to-writer mentoring. They will grapple with issues such as how the mentor process works with emerging writers and the dynamic of the mentor-mentee relationship.



The Festival of Books children’s program on Saturday, September 5 from 9a.m. to 10:30 a.m. features a visit from the costumed character Corduroy Bear of Don Freeman’s popular children’s book series. Youngsters will get to shake Corduroy Bear’s hand and pose for souvenir Polaroid pictures with their storybook friend, as well as make book-related art projects in the crafts tent with Chatham art teacher Susan Grybas.  In addition, there will be readings for the youngest readers in the Storybook Corner 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 rack full of CDs and audio books. 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.


Books are donated by members and friends of the Academy 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 Saturday, September 5 and Sunday, September 6 from 10a.m. to 4p.m, and on Monday, September 7 (bargain day) from 10a.m. to 2p.m. Admission is free.


In addition, there are two early-buying events. Supporters of the Spencertown Academy Arts Center will have first crack at the books and enjoy wine, cheese, and shopping at the Members Preview Party on Friday, September 4 from 6p.m. to 8p.m. Admission is $25 and memberships are available for purchase at the door. Shoppers and book dealers who want first pick of the stock can take advantage of an early-buying opportunity on Saturday, September 5 from 8a.m. to 10a.m. Admission for early buying on Saturday is $20 (cash only). Serious bargain hunters will want to return to the sale on Monday, September 7, when all remaining sale books will be just $1 and all specialty books will be half price.


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..

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