Montclair Literary Festival at Home
Those with tickets already will be invited to attend.
Others can buy an online event ticket via PayPal at the website below.
Books are available through Watchung Booksellers, for shipping or contactless pickup.
• Instagram Live event with author Liz Moore (“Long Bright River”) on Friday, May 22, 11:30 a.m.
Wednesday, May 27, 7 p.m.
• Madeline Miller, interviewed by Lee Boudreaux, about “Circe”
Wednesday, June 3, 7 p.m.
By GWEN OREL
Reading books is a solitary activity.
But going to book events is not.
When authors go on tour, they connect with their readers by answering questions, signing books, and, at literary festivals, bumping into them in the halls outside of other authors’ events.
Last year at the Montclair Literary Festival’s main weekend, a room full of excited children in the Young Adults room in the library talked about Greek gods to George O’Connor, creator of the “Olympians” graphic novel series, while in the library auditorium aspiring authors pitched their work to “the book doctors,” Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry, in “Pitchapalooza.”
In the main sanctuary in First Congregational Church, Montclair’s Garth Risk Hallberg moderated a panel on translation, while in a room down a flight of stairs, New Jersey authors including Thomas Pluck and Wallace Stroby discussed “Writing New Jersey.”
This year’s Montclair Literary Festival, presented by Succeed2gether, had been scheduled for the end of March.
When COVID-19 hit, organizers rescheduled the main weekend for September.
Recently, the festival began holding some of its scheduled ticketed events online.
It’s not quite the same as being there. But it is connecting readers and authors, say literary festival founders Marcia Marley and Jacqueline Mroz.
A NEW INTIMACY
Colum McCann (“Let the Great World Spin”) had planned to talk about his new book “Apeirogon” in a pre-event for the Montclair Literary Festival on March 12.
Now he’ll be speaking online, on Wednesday, May 27, at 7 p.m.
McCann was in Seattle when his publishers pulled the plug on his tour.
“After that everything fell like dominoes. For me, I thought it was the end of everything. Everything I’d worked for, for five hard years, was disappearing on me.
“Then I started doing some of these online book clubs and Zoom talks. It was very interesting.
“I used to be a terrible Luddite. The idea of Facebook is horrific to me.
“Instagram sounds like a cereal. I do not go on Twitter.
“I started doing these things and realized there is an intimacy there that’s kind of new and profound, in a way. You literally go into peoples’ living rooms, and they’re there.”
He has done some work with schools in the Bronx and in Kentucky, for his nonprofit agency, Narrative4, a story exchange that encourages young people to trade stories with one another.
“I could see all their faces,” said McCann, who teaches creative writing at Hunter College in New York City.
The Montclair Literary Festival at home will not make audience faces visible to authors, but there is still an intimacy, Mroz said. “You see the [authors’] faces close up, and can ask questions in real time,” she said.
One of the faces people will be able to see close up is Montclair editor Lee Boudreaux, who
will interview Madeline Miller on Wednesday, June 3, at 7 p.m. about Miller’s bestselling novel “Circe.”
Boudreaux also worked with Miller on her first novel, “Song of Achilles.”
“I started reading it, and literally on the first page I knew I would finish,” Boudreaux said. “You’re in the story immediately. His father hates him. He’s been exiled. He accidentally killed a man … all in the first paragraph.”
With “Circe,” Miller had her “finger on a moment,” Boudreaux said. “She’s a woman who’s never gotten to tell her side of the story. Why was she turning men into pigs in the first place? I find [Miller] thrilling to read. Her language is beautiful, her sense of drama, propulsion, and her inner understanding of characters is superb. Also, she can write such spectacular monsters.”
Miller will take questions from the audience and share her vision with them, Boudreaux said.
“I think maybe we are going a little stir crazy being inside,” said Marley, executive director of Succeed2gether, an organization that offers free one-on-one tutoring to students in grades K-12, to help close the achievement gap. Succeed2gether began presenting the literary festival four years ago as a fundraiser for the organization, and has exceeded Marley’s expectations with its development of community and conversations.
Having the conversations online is a way “to discuss ideas with people, to listen to authors
we’d want to hear. I think that it takes you out of yourself, and maybe out of your anxiety,” Marley said.
While some talks and programs are having to be reconceived — the festival is figuring out how to offer its children’s programming right now, planning story times with authors who would have been in the festival — other events are new.
Without the lockdown, it’s unlikely that Montclair Literary Festival would collaborate with other book festivals to present authors. But now they are working with Wordplay, a festival in Minneapolis, Mroz said. Mroz is program director for Succeed2gether, and director of the Montclair Literary Festival. They are also talking to the Nantucket Book Festival about collaborating.
The online events cannot replicate the feeling of wandering in
to a room to hear an author you’d never heard of, or unexpectedly finding a discussion that’s interesting.
But Crowdcast, the program they are using, does allow the audience to ask questions and connect.
A NEW WORLD
Not that Crowdcast is perfect: Author Erik Larsen’s face froze onscreen and occasionally vanished during a conversation with author Christina Baker Kline. “You have to plug in, it’s not WiFi,” Mroz said. “I don’t even know if I have an ethernet cable anymore. It’s a whole new world.”
That world offers some unexpected perks.
“As we transform and adapt to the new situation, we will learn ways to expand our reach. “Having events where people can stay at home and still communicate is wonderful,” Marley said. Succeed2gether may offer many of its classes online this summer.
One element of online festivals that everyone praises is the erasure of distance.
McCann “went” to a book launch for Ishmael Beah recently in California, and he’s “attended” book shows in his home country, Ireland.
“It’s interesting. You can grab a glass of wine, sit in the comfort of your own home. You can go to the literary festival in pajamas, why not,” he said.
And the number of people who can attend is close to limitless, he added.
Recently, he was on a Zoom call with 500 people, a call with The Parents Circle Families Forum, an organization of Palestinian and Israeli families that have lost loved ones due to conflict.
McCann worked with that organization as he wrote “Apeirogon,” which tells the story of Rami and Bassam, an Isaeli father and a Palestinian father who both lost daughters. “In my view, they are saints. They are the most extraordinary people on the planet,” he said.
His book, written in short, numbered sections — 1,001, mirroring the “1,001 Nights” — has had a tremendous reaction, he said. This week, the book is number seven on The New York Times bestseller list.
“I think people respond viscerally to stories of hope,” McCann said.
But while having a glass of wine at home is nice, he still wishes he could have a glass of wine with the audience after a reading. “Maybe this time next year,” McCann said. “We can compare notes.”