Chilmark considers M.V. Summer Book Series in August

Selectmen say any approval will be ‘provisional’ based on COVID conditions.


The Chilmark select board is waiting on weigh-in from the board of health before making a decision on a Summer Book Series proposed for August.

Founded in 2005, the festival is an outgrowth of the Chilmark Community Center’s evening lecture series.

Suellen Lazarus, founder of the Martha’s Vineyard Book Festival, pitched the concept of the event to the board at Tuesday’s meeting. 

Normally, the full-fledged festival would be held at the Chilmark Community Center, and would feature authors being interviewed by panels, book signings, and other programs.

But Lazarus said the five-day Summer Series would serve as a scaled-down stand-in for the regular festival, which would be impossible to pull off due to COVID restrictions.

“This year would typically be a book festival summer. We understand, of course, that a full-blown book festival under current health conditions is just not feasible, considering the scale of the festival. However,” Lazarus said, “we think that with appropriate and sufficient planning and in consideration of the state’s guidelines, we could do some live programming this summer.”

If conditions allow, the Summer Series would span five days, August 6 to 10, with two events per day on weekdays, and four or five events per day on the weekend.

Each event would have a live audience limited to the prevailing Massachusetts COVID standards for outdoor events (currently at 150 guests per event). In total, the Summer Series plans to feature around 15 leading authors. 

The large, open tent where the event would be held would be large enough to accommodate distancing requirements, Lazarus said. She noted that live events would be ticketed, with ticket sales only in advance. “This would facilitate contact tracing if necessary, and would avoid congestion at registration,” Lazarus said.

All the events would also be livestreamed and accessible for free to those who can’t get tickets, don’t want to pay, or don’t feel comfortable at the live event. 

Instead of having a book sales and signing tent, a book bundle would be available for purchase alongside basic admission tickets.

“Authors would presign bookplates to be inserted in the books, so there would not be a regular signing tent. We are really focused on avoiding all areas of congestion,” Lazarus said.

Although the Island is seeing a COVID spike, Lazarus stressed that the vaccine rollout is progressing at a good pace, and eligibility has now opened up to the general public. 

Select board members said they couldn’t give any official approval until hearing from the board of health, but Lazarus said festival planners “need an indication as to whether or not, given the right conditions, you feel comfortable proceeding.”

“If we don’t begin to plan, we will miss the opportunity,” she said, and continued to say that there is no close contact between audience members and authors, and events are spaced out so that there is no contact between groups. 

Select board member Warren Doty said he is concerned with the idea of making any approvals until the board of health has been consulted, adding that they have the ultimate say in whether an event like this can be held safely. 

“The proposal might be well thought out, but it’s actually really ambitious — it is much more than anything we have done in the past 18 months,” Doty said. “If the proposal was for two days with two events per day, it would be much more doable.”

To that proposal, Lazarus said, “I’m not bothering, because that’s four authors.”

Board member Jim Malkin said he appreciates Lazarus’ tenacity, and would only be comfortable in saying that the board would need to revisit the proposal a few weeks before the scheduled date, to determine if “conditions permit.”

“I am not going to define what ‘conditions permit’ means, nor am I going to establish a timeline. Nobody knows what the conditions are going to be then, and how dangerous it’s going to be,” Malkin said.

Lazarus wondered whether the town thinks it would be necessary to be more restrictive than state and federal COVID guidelines, to which Malkin said, “Yes, absolutely yes. Because of the demographics and the size and spaces in our town, yes, I could see that happening.”

In other business, the warrants for the 2021 Chilmark town meeting and elections are posted on the town website.


  1. I just heard that the Newport Jazz and Folk Festivals are happening this year, in a carefully distanced format. There should be a way to figure this out.

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