Montclair Literary Festival
Saturday, Sept. 12, and Sunday, Sept. 13
Workshops Sunday through the
Main link: Succeed2gether.org/mlf-festival-september/
Writing workshops: succeed2gether.org/mlf-writing-workshops/
Join link: www.crowdcast.io/montclairliteraryfestival
Christina Baker Kline, Open Book/Open Mind: montclairlibrary.libnet.info/event/4527445
By GWEN OREL
Writers write alone, and readers read alone, but at a literary festival, they come together to celebrate.
This year’s Montclair Literary Festival is online only — originally scheduled for March, it was postponed due to COVID-19.
However, it will be live, and though readers will not this year be in the same physical space with the writers, they will be able to ask questions via a chat box on their computers.
The festival, now in its fourth year, will take place on Saturday, Sept. 12, and Sunday, Sept. 13, with writing workshops taking place on Sunday and during the week.
For some readers, seeing the author’s face close up is a plus, said Jacqueline Mroz, founder
and director of the festival. “[Online] feels more intimate,” Mroz said. “It’s great to see [authors] live, and have the energy of the audience, but if people are sitting in the back, they are very far away.”
The festival was created to benefit its sponsor organization, Succeed2gether, a nonprofit promoting literacy that offers tutoring and other resources to children in Montclair and throughout Essex County.
All of the events, except for the interactive workshops (on such topics as “Structuring the Novel” and “Travel Writing”), are free, except for an author talk with former Montclair resident Christina Baker Kline about her new book, “The Exiles.” That talk, on Sunday, Sept. 13, is co-presented by the Montclair Public Library’s Open Book/Open Mind program. Scheduled ticketed events, including author talks with Colum McCann and Madeline Miller, were held in the spring.
Books are available through Watchung Booksellers.
“People are excited about seeing the authors, and the authors are excited about doing it,” Mroz said.
Multiperson panels are a new challenge for the literary festival, and they are planning run-throughs.
Events include a panel on sports titled “In the Zone,” with three sportswriters; a talk on “Addiction and the Family”; a panel on “Race/History” moderated by Montclair’s Dionne Ford, editor of “Slavery’s Descendants: Shared Legacies of Race and Reconciliation,” and “Virtual Brunch with Adam Platt,” the New York Magazine food critic and author of “The Book of Eating: Adventures in Professional Gluttony,” among others.
The Book Doctors, David Henry Sterry and Arielle Eckstut, will once again offer “Pitchapalooza,” with 10 writers selected at random to pitch their books.
MLF has tentatively scheduled its next live event for March 2021, but is also reserving next fall 2021 for a live event.
LONELINESS AND READING
Canadian author Mona Awad’s novel “Bunny” has been described as “Heathers” meets “Mean Girls” meets “The Secret History.”
Set in an MFA program in the fictional town of Warren (where bunnies live, get it), the book tells the story of lonely student Samantha, who both hates and envies the “Bunnies,” a clique of four girls in the program who call one another “Bunny.”
There is real magic at play, a little bit of “The Craft” too: The Bunnies, Samatha discovers, are conjuring “drafts,” boyfriends, out of bunnies.
It gets stranger. “Bunny” has been optioned by AMC.
Awad is on the first panel of the day on Saturday, Sept. 12, titled “Dark Matters: Outsider Female Narrators.” Authors Lauren Acampora and Laura Sims will join her, moderated by Montclair author Laurie Lico Albanese.
The panel asks why female characters with lonely, and even violent, tendencies are becoming more prevalent. Does it mark a shift in our culture?
“It could be that people are finally starting to feel OK to give voice to these things, that felt really dangerous to do before,” Awad said. “Now we can actually speak. Having very conflicted, dark relationships with your friends, and being honest about your whole emotional life, instead of showing just the good parts — maybe there’s more space for that now.”
Awad sees “Bunny” as a book about loneliness and imagination, how these two things work together, and how they feed each other. Loneliness is how a writer lives — and why festivals matter.
“Books are the things that have changed me. They feel like friends. They make me feel less alone in the world. My hope is that ‘Bunny’ can do that for other people,” Awad said.
What is the importance of reading, in a world with 10,000 channels, the internet, audiobooks and video calls?
Peter Coyl, Montclair Public Library director, talked to Newark librarian Maisy Card about
her family saga, “These Ghosts Are Family,” about being a librarian and a writer, and Leah Price, director of the Rutgers Initiative for the Book and author of “What We Talk About When We Talk About Books.” This panel was prerecorded, but Price and Card will do a live Q&A as soon as the panel airs.
“Reading is the key way that people gain knowledge,” Coyl said. That includes audiobooks and graphic novels, he clarified. “We have thousands of years of the written word, and people communicating. We still depend on writing things down to share them and to find access to information later on.”
The panel explores why the literary festival exists, and why the library partners with Succeed2gether for the literary festival, Coyl said.
Card’s book explores her family as well as reading. She emigrated from Jamaica when she was 5. “I didn’t grow up reading about people like me. It didn’t occur to me until I was much older that I could write about a Jamaican family,” she said. In the panel, she talks about how writing what you know is important.
Books and libraries will always be valid and important, both Coyl and Card say. “During this time, people are turning to reading as a way to cope,” she said. “Libraries are about books, but not just about books. They always have adapted to community needs.” In Newark, as teen services librarian, she coordinated a coding class for teens this past summer. “Most Black and brown people are underrepresented in STEM (the school program focusing on science, technology, engineering and mathematics),” she said.
Card is working on a second book, fiction this time, about a group of immigrant home health aides in Florida, so she recently resigned as teen services librarian at the Newark Public Library.
While the fear of libraries going away has been around for a long time, Coyl said, “If you peel back the onion and look at the argument, people have to stop reading, and that’s not going to happen.”