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Thoughts on the Making of the Nantucket Book Festival

June 21, 2018 by Mary Bergman
Mary Bergman

When You Live on an Island, Every Book is a Beach Book:

Thoughts on the Making of the Nantucket Book Festival

It is fitting that the Nantucket Book Festival (NBF) falls so close to the summer solstice and the longest day of the year. The NBF is a celebration of literary luminaries, but it's also a time to reflect on the power of reading and writing. Literacy allows us to move from darkness into light.

The publishing world is not known for its speed, but the Nantucket Book Festival is planned in just about a year. How? From June to June each year, it's all hands on deck. Our robust cadre of committee members, board, Advisory Board members and volunteers help our one full-time staff person, Executive Director and superhero Maddie Hjulstrom, along with special projects coordinator Mimi Schlichter, to make the festival happen.

Most of the festival was planned in the basement of the Atheneum. You might expect that -- bookish people gathering each month in the belly of the library, one hand clutching a pile of advanced reader copies of the newest books, the other a cup of coffee. Thanks to the miracle of teleconferencing and the help of the inimitable Amy Jenness, we are able to catch committee members wherever they may be in the off season. And it's because of cofounders Meghan Blair-Valero (Fogged in Bookkeeping), Mary Haft (Haft Productions), and Wendy Hudson (Nantucket Book Partners and Cisco Brewers), that we're all here in the first place.

Lauren Berlin at the Westmoor Club (and Nantucket Surf Company), Josh Gray (my co-chair) at the Dreamland, writer Ryder Ziebarth and success strategist Marsha Egan map our public relations and advertising game plans. Artist Bee Shay is an excellent advocate for island writers and oversees the Local Author presentations in the Atheneum Garden. Tim Ehrenberg (Brand New-Nantucket) runs the social media and takes beautiful photos. Martha Johnson wrangles volunteers with aplomb, Chris Vineis is our development guru, and Anne Troutman is always there when you need her.

In the age of email, we're able to pass ideas back and forth with lightning speed. But on an island as small as Nantucket, sometimes it's faster to, you know, talk to people. So I'll dash over during a lunch break from my job at the Nantucket Preservation Trust to Annye's Whole Foods, where Annye Camara put a book for me next to a loaf of bread on the holds shelf, or to Bookworks, where Dick Burns has discovered a brilliant poet we simply must get to the island, or to the post office, where I always run into Tharon Dunn, who has the latest news on what authors she's heard back from. Another day I run into Jack Fritsch (The Antiques Depot) in the produce section, where we discuss fundraising and grants over grapes. It's these hundreds of moments of collaboration from which the Nantucket Book Festival is built.

Right now, I remember only the triumphant moments. But there were the rejections, the cancelled plans, the frustrations. We're alive at an important moment in time, where abuses of power are being called into question -- and the literary world is not immune from these abuses.

I'm proud of the company the Nantucket Book Festival keeps. I'm proud of the voices we help amplify, the issues we help bring to the forefront, and the beauty we find in the pages of these books. I continue to be humbled by the incredible attendance we have at events, and the support of our sponsors and donors. Nantucket may be 30 miles out to sea, but we are far from isolated.

The Festival is one weekend a year, but the work of the Book Foundation continues year round. Have an idea for an author you're dying to see, or want to tell me about a book that changed your life? Let's chat the next time we run into each other at the post office. . .after this weekend, of course.

Written by Mary Bergman, Festival Co-Chair

This story first appeared in the Mahon About Town email newsletter: Subscribe free at