A reader’s dream: The Martha’s Vineyard Book Festival

Ward Just. — Photo By Ralph Stewart

The Martha’s Vineyard Book Festival, a free event featuring a multitude of authors speaking at two venues, is coming up this Saturday and Sunday, August 3 and 4. The festival runs from 11 am to 5 pm on Saturday at the Harbor View Hotel in Edgartown, and from 10:30 am to 5 pm on Sunday at the Chilmark Community Center in Chilmark.

Saturday’s programming includes panel discussions on topics such as Gangsters, Guns and Sociopaths featuring three authors who have written about Whitey Bulger: Kevin Cullen and Shelly Murphy of The Boston Globe, and Dick Lehr; an ode to independent bookstores featuring contributing Island authors of “My Bookstore” Ward Just and Richard Russo, along with Bunch of Grapes owner Dawn Braasch, and Steve Fischer, executive director of the New England Independent Booksellers Association; Coming of Age Novels moderated by Vineyard writer and illustrator Kate Feiffer; among several others. In addition to the panels, Saturday’s event also features talks by individual authors, followed by book signings.

On Sunday, four Island authors join the program: Rose Styron, Susan Shreve, Laura Wainwright, and Melinda Fager.

Ms. Styron, a poet, is the editor of “Selected Letters of William Styron,” her late husband.

“You Are the Love of My Life” by Ms. Shreve is a novel set in the Watergate era.

Laura Wainwright’s collection of essays is called “Home Bird: Four Seasons on Martha’s Vineyard.” And Ms. Fager, along with husband Jeff of CBS News, writes of catching, cooking, and eating locally on Chappaquiddick in “Living off the Sea.”

“Martha’s Vineyard has long been a place where creativity has flourished and where there is a strong bond of community and place,” the organization states in a press release. “The book festival’s mission is to provide the opportunity for authors and readers to meet, to engage with one another in a relaxed and beautiful setting and to allow each to find new meaning in their work and discover new works.”

One author’s story

Photographer Mariana Cook presents at 1:15 Saturday afternoon at the Harbor View Hotel and at 3 pm on Sunday in the Stonewall Tent in Chilmark. She will describe the interviewing, writing, and photographing of 99 pioneer human rights activists for her latest book, “Justice: Faces of the Human Rights Revolution.”

In a telephone interview this week, we asked Ms. Cook what led her to the subject of her book.

“It’s something I’d been thinking about for several years,” the longtime Island and New York City resident said. “Initially, I wanted to limit it to this country because the subject was overwhelming. I asked [the late author and journalist] Anthony Lewis for his thoughts on organizing the scope of the work.

“He suggested that I focus on justice, human rights, and the rule of law and that the work should include humanitarians from around the world,” she said. The result includes both the thoughts and portraits of humanitarians including former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, former American president Jimmy Carter, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and the Burmese democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi.

“I wanted to meet people who cared enough about others who cared enough to make sacrifices in their own lives to help them. Other people provided names [of candidates for inclusion in the book]. I appreciate Anthony’s support. He believed in my work,” she said. Mr. Lewis contributed the foreword to her book.

What is the common denominator among these culturally and geographically disparate people? “They all live in hope” Ms. Cook said. “That’s the answer. It is true in all of them, the common denominator. They are empathetic, of course, but they are able to live in hope in the face of atrocities and horror and the day to day drudgery in their lives.

“I hope it will inspire people to devote their lives or to think about choosing this [humanitarian work] as a profession,” she said. To that end, Ms. Cook has chosen to make the hardcover book available on electronic platforms including Kindle and iPad. “Nothing may come of it, but for countries where the book can’t ship because of weight and price, people can have a chance to see it,” she said. “And the electronic version is better for young people who read electronically. The e-book format also allowed me to include 14 audio files with excerpts from the interviews.”

Ms. Cook’s research took her to an international law court that led her to this conclusion: “There are not enough courts or lawyers in the world to handle the cases [of alleged inhuman behavior].

Ms. Cook is a world-class portrait photographer. To achieve that status, you need only accomplish one thing: provide an image that is a true psychological profile of the person being photographed, one that the viewer can see and understand. Simple, eh? Be honest. When was the last time you got your kid actually blowing out the candles?

So the answer is that it’s hard, not simple. But she’s being doing that for several decades, has published seven books of portraiture and landscapes, including one of stone walls that’s the best I’ve seen. She was good enough at age 23 that Ansel Adams, legendary American landscape photographer, took her on as a student.

But “Justice” seems somehow different, a departure from her other work. “I don’t really know. Yeah, I guess there has been a shift, I feel I’ve shifted somehow. I do know I couldn’t have done this book even five years ago,” she said.

Maybe that old rascal Oscar Wilde informs us here with his opinion that, “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.”

Visit mvbookfestival.com for the full schedule of events.