The Newburyport Literary Festival: What a Weekend!

Warning: This is a long post – I wanted to capture the fullness of the weekend.  There’s a lot of “I did this and that,” running from one activity to another.  But that’s what the weekend was — run, run, run and fun, fun, fun!

The 6th annual Newburyport Literary Festival was held last weekend, April 29-30 up in beautiful Newburyport, Massachusetts.  I enjoyed speaking with the co-chairs, Vicki Hendrickson and Jennifer Entwistle, at a luncheon in Boston last year, but this was the first year I had attended the festival.  It was a wonderful weekend – full of author readings, panel discussions, and social activities.

It all took place in various venues (two independent bookstores, an arts center, City Hall, the library, the Maritime Museum, and several churches donated meeting space) in beautiful Newburyport – a historic seaport on the north shore.  I met up with Sarah from Archimedes Forgets, and wandered the downtown area a bit.  It’s a lovely, walkable city, lined with quaint shops and boutiques; I’ve put a few photos of store signs and the spring scenery in this post.

The festivities began Friday night with Opening Ceremonies marking the contributions of William Lloyd Garrison, a son of Newburyport who was a fierce abolitionist and proponent of women’s suffrage.  After a moving introduction by a descendent of “Lloyd” Garrison, the stage moved to a panel discussion of Garrison and the causes he supported.  The panel was moderated by Ellen Fitzpatrick  (UNH and The News Hour), Kate Clifford-Larson (Simmons College), and Lois Brown (Mt. Holyoke).  Much of the weekend line-up was focused on “The Freedom Narrative,” the theme of this year’s Festival.

After this opening panel, Sarah and I met up with the other bloggers on our panel – Kevin from Boston Book Bums and Marie from Boston Bibliophile.  We joined others at “dinner with the authors,” an evening of conversation with many of the authors appearing at the festival, people involved in organizing the NPBT Lit Fest (so many hands worked to pull off this weekend!), and others from the community.  Dinner was catered by the Grog Restaurant, which built the menu around food that would have been available during the Civil War.  This included brown bread (baked in a can), oyster chowder and haddock.  The chef blurred the line a bit with a delicious butternut squash ravioli served in a sauce of butter, cut apples, and apple cider.  Historically accurate or not, it was delicious!  During the dinner I peeked at the silent auction items which were on display in the next room – my trigger finger had me bidding, and I won a “bucket of fun” from a local art gallery and a family membership to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.  A win-win for me and fundraising for the Newburyport Lit Fest!

After a good night’s sleep, I enjoyed a casual breakfast at the inn where I spent the weekend, then dashed off to catch the last half of a presentation by Bethany Groff and her book, Dirty, Sexy Newbury: Love, Death, and Barnyard Brawls in Early Newbury History. The author had us laughing out loud as she transcribed and deciphered old court records, putting them into contemporary language and historical context.  I purchased her book, but didn’t have time to stay to chat and ask her to sign it.

I headed over to the Firehouse Center for the Arts, where Paul Harding read from his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Tinkers. After about a 20-minute excerpt (we were hanging on every word, even those who’ve read the novel were mesmerized by hearing the author read his own work), he opened up the auditorium to Q&A.  One great mental picture that stays with me is his explanation that he writes like a Roomba – he knows the parameters of the story and ricochets from scene to scene until he has it all covered.  When editing Tinkers, he laid out the various scenes and literally moved them around on his living room floor, like a puzzle, until satisfied with the arrangement.  Harding also shared that his next novel will be out from Random House in 2012; it’s set in the same village and involves the next generation (but is not a sequel).

Paul Harding was quite a lead-in to our Book Blogger panel!  We took the stage in the same auditorium (comfy castered chairs in a loose semi-circle; like The View but without any arguing!) and began with Denise introducing us and our blogs.  She then led us through a moderated discussion; we talked about everything from content, relationships with publishing professionals and readers, the “voice” and “personality” of our blogs, and monetizing (or not) the blogs.  Denise opened it up to questions from the audience – we learned that the audience included bloggers (not necessarily book bloggers), readers, and authors.  It really was a great conversation, which probably could have continued had not 1. our time been up, and 2. our belly alarms reminding us that it was time for lunch!

We each recommended two books to the audience, which booksellers had available outside the hall. They were:

  • Boston Book Bums – Crimes of Paris (Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler) and The Peach Keeper (Sarah Addison Allen)
  • Archimedes Forgets – Secret Keeper (Mitali Perkins) and Written in Bone (Sally Walker)
  • Boston Bibliophile - The Outside Boy (Jeanine Cummins) and Enough about Love (Hervé Tellier)
  • She Is Too Fond of Books – Little Princes (Conor Grennan) and The Honeybee Man (Lela Nargi)

Marie and her husband, Sarah, and I joined Jason from Brain Candy Book Reviews for a nice lunch at Agave.  I hadn’t met Jason before, and it was – as always – such a pleasure to put a face (and real person) to the avatar on Twitter.  I only once called him “Brian” (which I knew I would do, melding the Brain in his twitter handle, @BrainCandyBR).

After lunch, Sarah and I enjoyed a presentation by Howard Frank Mosher, “Transforming History Into Fiction: The Story of a Born Liar.”  Mosher gave an entertaining slide show and talk, recounting the book tour for Walking to Gatlinburg, in which he visited 100 cities in one year (in a vehicle that looked like a K-Car, affectionately nicknamed “the loser cruiser” by his family and friends).  Mosher playfully remarked that “writers are liars and thieves” and that the standard disclaimer “any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental” is “the biggest fib in the publishing industry – of course they’re based on real people!”  Howard Frank Mosher is the author of over a dozen books, three of which have been made into films.  I took the opportunity to purchase Walking to Gatlinburg, and enjoyed chatting with Mosher while he inscribed my copy.

Later in the afternoon I walked to The Book Rack to hear Meg Mitchell Moore read from her forthcoming novel, The Arrivals.  This is the story of 3 grown children who return home for various reasons – lots of exploration of sibling-sibling and sibling-parent relationships.  The book will be out from Reagan Arthur Books at the end of this month; it’s part of a two-book deal, after enjoying The Arrivals (set in Burlington, Vermont), we’ll have about a year to wait for Moore’s second novel, set in lovely Newburyport.

The Closing Ceremonies were a collection of readings and music inspired by the America of 1861. I was introduced to “melopoeia,” poetry spoken to musical accompaniment (not sung), and to “polyphony,” a poetry reading in many voices.  After the closing ceremonies we ventured to a party at the home of Andre Dubus III and his wife, Fontaine Dubus.  They’re a local family who have been supportive of the Festival since its inception; I have Dubus’ memoir (Townie) cued up on my to-be-read shelf, and am listening to The Garden of Last Days (when there are no kids with me in the ‘swagger wagon’). The evening was a great way to wrap up the Festival; I’m looking forward to the 2012 celebration!

16 comments to The Newburyport Literary Festival: What a Weekend!

  • Oh wow! It sounds like you had a wonderful time out there and that you got the chance to meet a lot of cool folks. I loved the pictures and was so excited that you shared this post with us!

  • What a fantastic festival! How cool that you got to meet so many authors and attend a party at Dubus’ home. The Garden Of Last Days is definitely NOT one to listen to in the car! I listened to it and didn’t enjoy the male voice trying to do the females; really wished I had read it instead. I’ll bet you’re still in a literary haze of happiness!

  • Meg

    Hi Dawn,

    So glad you enjoyed the festival in our lovely town. The organizers did a fantastic job. I appreciate the mention and also appreciate your attending my reading. Great to meet you!

  • zibilee – I had SUCH a great time! My only wish was to be able to clone myself, so I could attend more of the panels and readings. We had perfect weather for the Festival weekend.

    Lisa – I agree with you on the narrator (and I’m only about 4 hours into it). I may switch to a print edition of THE GARDEN OF LAST DAYS …

    Meg – what a fun weekend — yes, I’m glad I caught you at the Book Rack – you had a full house! I’m looking forward to reading THE ARRIVALS … only a few more weeks to wait for it :)

  • I love the Newberryport area, so i can envision way this weekend was so perfect. Great post.

  • Hi Dawn,

    What a great post! I have to agree it was great to finally meet you after our long Twitter affiliation.

    Looking forward to more bookish events with you and the others!


  • That sounds like so much fun!! What a great book blogger panel! I do have one question – does Jason look like his avatar?

  • Kathy, he totally does! *Exactly* like his avatar.

    Awesome write-up, Dawn! Now I really have to get on mine.

  • That sounds absolutely incredible! It is almost like sensory overload, isn’t it? I would have loved to have been able to hear your panel. This was a great recap. I love hearing about events like this…

  • OMG this sounds absolutely fabulous!! What a weekend.

  • What a fabulous weekend. I’m so jealous, it sounds like you all had a fantastic time. Yea! books.

  • Busy, busy, busy…but fun, fun, fun!!

  • It was so much fun to read this post. I can tell you had such a good time. I’m glad you shared it with all of us.

  • Diane – I thought of your daughter, and all the beautiful photos in her knitting book; they were taken in Newburyport/Plum Island, weren’t they?

    Jason – yes, I’m glad we were able to sit for a bit and chat over lunch — whirlwind!

    Kathy – Yes. Did you read what he wrote about using the background as a mood halo, changing colors depending on how he feels?

    Sarah – it was fun to spend time with you. Thanks for you patience as I snapped pics of street signs and license plates.

    Sandy – a bit of a feeling like you were there, like reading the UCF Book Fest posts from you and Heather. A taste of the event.

    Beth F – and we got really lucky with the weather. And …. I walked across the waterfront park without getting lost!

    martha – yea books, indeed!

    softdrink – my thoughts exactly.

    Margot – I warned you that it would be a whirlwind of a post; that’s how the weekend was. But so much fun to be surrounded by people talking about books!

  • What a great weekend. Good food, good company, and good books :)

  • Wow, what a fantastic event! Your panel sounds like a lot of fun and the town looks so inviting. The party at the Dubus’ home must have been amazing!!

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