Montclair Literary Festival
More than 100 authors
Locations: Montclair Public Library, Montclair Art Museum, First Congregational Church
Most events free
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By GWEN OREL
Good things come in threes.
That’s the hope of the Montclair Literary Festival.
When it debuted in 2017 it was ambitious, featuring panels, workshops, interviews, parties — all the things a festival planner could imagine.
Festivals often start that way: big and exhausting.
Usually they streamline and sometimes they peter out entirely. Overambitious organizers need a break. Funders get tired.
But the Montclair Literary Festival is going strong.
Dreamed up by Jacqueline Mroz and Catherine Platt, the 2019 Montclair Literary Festival will be five days long, up from four last year, with more than 100 authors in attendance. Last year the festival hosted Patti Smith; this year it will hold a night of words and music featuring Richard Thompson, Warren Zanes and Zara Phillips. The festival will take place March 20-24, in several locations, including the library, the Montclair Art Museum, and First Congregational Church.
Joyce Carol Oates is the star headliner. Many events are free. All the authors appear for free, so fees go to support the festival. About 3,000 people are expected to attend.
The Montclair Literary Festival is a program of Succeed2gether, a one-on-one after school tutoring program focusing on literacy. (For more information on that program and the full festival schedule, visit Succeed2gether.org).
The festival has hardly been under the radar since it debuted: past headliners include Paul Auster, Trevor Noah, Meg Wolitzer.
And yet, some big readers in town had apparently still not heard of it.
“So many people still say, ‘There’s a literary festival in town?’” Mroz said.
So supporters of the festival have begun hosting parties to spread the word. Last week, interested guests and potential sponsors gathered at the home of Shana Rubin and Samuel Freeman.
Mroz, who is an author (“Scattered Seeds,” “Girl Talk”), said that she started the festival because she couldn’t believe there wasn’t already a literary festival in town.
“Montclair is such a literary town, and we have so many writers living here, and journalists and publishers, it’s a great way to celebrate this amazingly vibrant literary culture that we have here,” Platt said.
Among the festival’s many events will be a poetry slam for Montclair middle and high school students, as well as writing and publishing workshops.
Pitchapalooza, in which 20 writers drawn randomly get one minute to pitch their book and get feedback, run by bestselling author David Henry Sterry and agent Arielle Eckstut, will return.
The many panels on Saturday, Feb. 23, include include “Found in Translation,” which includes Ann Goldstein, the translator of the mysterious Elena Ferrante; a New Jersey authors showcase, moderated by Thomas Pluck (“Bad Boy Boogie”); a look at contemporary Russia with a panel called “In Putin’s Footsteps,” with Craig Unger and Nina Kruscheva, moderated by David Pepper; and many more.
Montclair resident Laurie Lico Albanese, who wrote “Stolen Beauty,” will moderate a historical fiction panel titled “Recreating the Past,” with authors David Ebershoff ( “The Danish Girl,” about the first sex reassignment surgery, “The 19th Wife”), Wayétu Moore (“She Would Be King,” about Liberia); and Lisa Gornik (“The Peacock Feast,” about a 20th-century family set on an Oyster Bay estate).
“We’ll talk about how stories of history change when you apply a contemporary lens,” Albanese said.
It’s an unusual panel, said Platt: “Any one of them would be amazing to listen to, talking about their book, but then you put them together and this kind of magic happens.”
Montclair novelist Benilde Little, whose most recent work is a memoir, “Welcome to My Breakdown,” will moderate “Writing Ourselves — Moving to Memoir,” with authors Dani Shapiro (“Inheritance, a Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love,” about a woman who grew up believing she was Jewish before discovering that her father is not her father); Nell Painter (“Old in Art School,” about the historian’s experience going to art school at age 64) and Jonathan Santlofer (“The Widower’s Notebook,” about a painter whose wife died suddenly in her 50s).
“Memoir can show us how to live,” Little told Montclair Local. “And also it can cure our loneliness from our weirdness. Everyone thinks they’re the only one who feels this, and memoir opens up that part.”
THE ACADEMY AWARDS
Jim Mellis, a professor of writing at City University of New York, has lived in town for three-and-a-half years, but though he has “looked at” the festival before, he has not attended. This year he will.
“I’m looking forward to the great outpouring of ideas,” he said, “whether it’s a memoir, or YA or history, all concentrated in one place.”
Liza Cohn is a sponsor, along with her husband Bill Wallach, and recently hosted a Montclair Literary Festival party herself. She compared the feeling at the festival with what it’s like to walk into the Metropolitan Museum of Art: the authors who come here are at the top of their fields, she said.
Cohn grew up going to the Martha’s Vineyard Book Festival and knew the excitement around a festival. But the Montclair Literary Festival is tied to literacy, which takes this festival up a notch.
“Not only are we bringing all these amazing ideas together,” she said. “We’re actually promoting literacy In Essex County, which is so profoundly important.
“We’re having the Academy Awards of books, right here, right next door to the Montclair Public Library.”
Though there are no awards, it feels like there’s a red carpet rolled out, she said.
“These amazing authors descend on our town, and open up about these incredible works of art that they have made.”