Celebration of Books Returns to Spencertown Academy

Russell Shorto  (photo Keke Keukelaar)

Russell Shorto (photo Keke Keukelaar)

(SPENCERTOWN, N.Y.) – Spencertown Academy’s 11th annual Festival of Books, featuring a giant used book sale, two days of discussions with and readings by esteemed authors, and a children’s program, takes place over Labor Day weekend, Saturday, September 3, through Monday, September 5.  Featured authors this year include Christopher Breiseth, Elizabeth Brundage, Michelle Hoover, Courtney Maum, David Pietrusza, Ruth Reichl, Russell Shorto, Will Swift, Mark Wunderlich, and Steve Yarbrough.

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’re proud to present two panels about the craft of fiction, a reading by an award-winning poet, a conversation with a bestselling cookbook author, and presentations by an array of accomplished historians,” said Highfill, vice president and executive editor at William Morrow & Co., an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

Proceeds from the Festival book sale help support the Academy’s programs and preservation and maintenance of its historic building.



Ruth Reichl

Ruth Reichl


Saturday, September 3

The Festival kicks off at 11:30 a.m., when prizes will be awarded to the top entries of the Festival of Books Teens’ Short Story and Poetry Contest, as judged by accomplished authors and publishing professionals. The winning young writers will have the opportunity to have their works read aloud.


At 12:15 p.m., poet Mark Wunderlich will read from his lyrical, prize-winning work. He is the author of three collections of poems, the most recent of which is The Earth Avails, published in 2014 by Graywolf Press. It received the Rilke Prize and was a finalist for the Kingsley Tufts Award. Wunderlich’s other books include Voluntary Servitude, also published by Graywolf, and The Anchorage, which received the Lambda Literary Award. He teaches writing and literature at Bennington College, and lives in New York’s Hudson Valley.


At 1:30 p.m., novelists Michelle Hoover and Courtney Maum will discuss the narrative strategies of using one voice vs. many voices—how and why writers choose a point of view, along with the rewards and pitfalls of these approaches. Each author has published a first-person novel, one from the perspective of an artist and failed monogamist who yearns to salvage his marriage, and the other, an historical multi-narrator saga about the ways war tears a German-American family apart. Hoover’s debut novel, The Quickening (2010, Other Press) was a 2010 Massachusetts Book Award “Must Read.” Her second novel, Bottomland, was published by Grove Press in 2016. Maum’s I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You (2014, Touchstone) was named a “Best Book of the Month” by Amazon.


At 3p.m., bestselling author and food writer Ruth Reichl will talk about the joys of shopping for local ingredients, cooking, and eating in Columbia County and the Berkshires in conversation with Madaline Sparks, principal of Madaline Sparks Garden Design and Spencertown Academy board vice president. Reichl was editor in chief of Gourmet Magazine from 1999 to 2009. She has authored four memoirs, Tender at the Bone, Comfort Me with Apples, Garlic and Sapphires, and For You, Mom; a novel, Delicious!; and a cookbook, My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes that Saved My Life.


Courtney Maum (photo Colin Lane)

Courtney Maum (photo Colin Lane)

Sunday, September 4

At noon, novelists Steve Yarbrough and Elizabeth Brundage will discuss the importance of setting in a novel. They will explore person, place, and thing— the elements involved in creating fictional worlds in novels. Yarbrough is the author of eight books, including most recently, The Realm of Last Chances (2014, Vintage). A PEN/Faulkner finalist, he has received the Mississippi Authors Award, the California Book Award, and the Richard Wright Award. Valatie, NY-based Brundage has published four novels. Her latest, All Things Cease to Appear (2016, Knopf) combines noir and the gothic in a tale about two families entwined in their own unhappiness with, at the center, a gruesome and unsolved murder.


At 1:30 p.m., non-fiction author Russell Shorto will give a talk titled “From Amsterdam to New Amsterdam” in which he will discuss the common thread that connects his two most recent books: water. It was the battle to control water with dams and dikes that led the Dutch city of Amsterdam to rise to prominence. Amsterdam in the 17th century gave rise to New Amsterdam, which became New York. And water management is today a vital issue with which both cities—and much of the rest of the world—are grappling. Shorto is has published five books of narrative history, which have been translated into 14 languages, and he is a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine.


Sunday’s final program at 3 p.m. will be a panel discussion titled “FDR’s Legacy From The 1930s” with distinguished scholars Christopher Breiseth, David Pietrusza, and Will Swift. New Deal historian Breiseth is the co-editor of A Promise to All Generations: Stories & Essays about Social Security and Frances Perkins (2011, Frances Perkins Center). David Pietrusza is the author of 1932: The Rise of Hitler and FDR, Two Tales of Politics, Betrayal and Unlikely Destiny (2015, Lyons Press), which was nominated for the American Library Association Notable Books Council’s 2015 Notable Books List. Will Swift is the author of The Roosevelts and the Royals: Franklin and Eleanor, the King and Queen of England, and the Friendship That Changed History (2004, Wiley). FDR once visited Swift’s home, the Nathan Wild House, in Valatie, New York.



The Festival of Books children’s program on Saturday, September 3 from 9:30 a.m. to 11:15 a.m. will feature a visit from the costumed character Pete the Cat of Eric Litwin’s popular children’s book series. Youngsters will get to shake Pete the Cat’s hand 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.


Michelle Hoover

Michelle Hoover


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 on Saturday, September 3 from 9:30 a.m. to 5p.m.; Sunday, September 4 from 10a.m. to 4p.m.; and Monday, September 5 (bargain day) from 10a.m. to 2p.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 2 from 6p.m. to 8p.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 3 from 8a.m. to 9:30 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 5, 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, visit Festival of Books.


The Festival of Books is funded in part by Poets & Writers with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.





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