Martha’s Vineyard has long been known as a Mecca for writers. Our historical record is rich with the names of some of the literary greats. And the Island continues to attract — and foster — writers of every ilk.
“It’s always amazed me, from beginning authors and the number of writing groups we have on the Island, to Pulitzer prize winners like Geraldine Brooks and Tony Horwitz who live here year round, it just seems to be an island that cultivates the arts,” says Dawn Braasch, owner of the Bunch of Grapes Bookstore. “I’ve found a lot of authors who don’t necessarily live here but have spent time here working on a book. There seems to be this sort of magical quality about the Island.”
And Ms. Braasch should know. Keeping up with the renowned bookstore’s tradition of hosting authors from all over, she has booked a full line-up of readings for this summer. “There are at least two every week — on some weeks four. It’s a real mix of local authors as well as internationally known authors,” Ms. Braasch says. She notes that the bookstore’s reputation allows her to attract authors on book tours, but she gives as much credit for that to the Island itself. “I think everybody wants to come to Martha’s Vineyard.”
The Bunch of Grapes’s roster of free author’s talks includes a little bit of everything — authors of children’s books, cookbooks, photography, fiction and non-fiction, as well as a mix of local and visiting authors. The book subjects are very diverse. Fishing legend and artist Kib Bramhall will present his book of essays, photos, and illustrations, “Bright Waters, Shining Tides.” A few days later the store will feature an autobiography by Belva Davis, the first black female news anchor in the western United States. A series of talks by the authors of autobiographies and biographies of jazz musicians will make up part of the MV JazzFest in August. Alexandra Styron, daughter of the late William Styron, will discuss her book, “Reading My Father: A Memoir.” Literary giant David McCullough will speak on his latest book, “The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris.”
Mr. McCullough will also appear in a special fundraising event at the Agricultural Hall hosted by the West Tisbury Library on July 20. The library, as always, will host a number of author events throughout the summer, including Nancy Deville discussing her two books on nutrition, Linda Levy reading from her first novel “A Kingdom of Madness,” and Kate Feiffer reading her new kids book, “My Side of the Car.”
“Authors from all towns are invited but we do have a strong commitment to townie writers,” says Colleen Morris of the West Tisbury Library. “We host a lot of folks who are first-time writers. We want to help these new writers get started.” Keep your eyes peeled for author’s events at the other town libraries throughout the summer.
In the fall, State Road Restaurant plans to host a series to benefit the library called Speak Easy, featuring local authors.
The Martha’s Vineyard Museum has two book events scheduled for the summer. Mary Beth Norton will discuss her book, “Separated By Their Sex: Women in Public and Private in the Colonial Atlantic World” on July 7 and, on July 1, the museum will sponsor a book launch event at the Old Whaling Church for Matt Taylor’s “Jaws: Memories from Martha’s Vineyard.”
Every other summer since 2005, the Martha’s Vineyard Book Festival at the Chilmark Community Center has brought numerous authors together for a full day of talks and books signings. This year’s event on August 7 will feature about 25 authors (not all of whom are scheduled at this time), such as Alexandra Styron, Geraldine Brooks, Linda Fairstein, Ward Just, cookbook authors Joan Nathan and Jessica Harris, and Charles Rappleye discussing his book “Robert Morris: Financier of the American Revolution.”
Festival founder and organizer Suellen Lazarus notes that this summer they will introduce more books with appeal to younger audiences. She is excited this year to be hosting Chris Adrian, who was included in the New Yorker’s 20-under-40 fiction issue.
Ms. Lazarus is very thorough in her search for authors. She says that she checks in with independent bookstores and religiously reads the book reviews in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The New Yorker. She also gathers suggestions from others on upcoming authors. “Geraldine Brooks has been a great source for suggesting people,” Ms. Lazarus says.
The festival has grown in popularity since its inception to the point where, according to Ms. Lazarus, off-Islanders now schedule their vacations to attend and book clubs include the event in their schedules. Says Ms. Lazarus of the Island population, “It’s a very well-read demographic. We have authors in our midst, but a lot of times you don’t get the opportunity to hear them talk about their work.”
You can start taking advantage of this wealth of author events this week. At 5 pm tonight, June 9, local mystery writer Cynthia Riggs will discuss her latest book, “The Bee Balm Murders,” at the West Tisbury Library. June 10 at 7 pm, Kelle Groom will be at the Bunch of Grapes to talk about “I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl,” a memoir about addiction, grief, and survival.