The Martha’s Vineyard Author Series is back this year with a slew of talented writers with various literary focuses, debuting their new works at the Chilmark Community Center (CCC) and the Performing Arts Center (PAC).
Since 2005, the Martha’s Vineyard Book Festival has brought politicians, pundits in the music industry, and literary scholars of all kinds to the Vineyard to celebrate writing and also provide an opportunity to focus on some of the most important topics and themes of society today.
The author series shares these same goals, but takes a slightly different logistical approach. According to Suellen Lazarus, founder of the book festival, the author series offshoot was officially branded in about 2011, but the festival has brought writers to the Island long before then. “We are in Chilmark, the town is busy in the summer, and the book festival is an all-volunteer program,” Lazarus said. “So we decided we would alternate between the book series and the author series each year.”
Lazarus explained that the book festival is a weekend-long commitment, and although she loves putting it on, it’s a lot of work for those who make it happen. The author series gives the book festival organizers more flexibility to schedule authors’ visits by spacing the events out throughout the months of July and August. “Some authors are never available, and we do the book festival the first weekend in August — many can’t come the first weekend in August because of family commitments or other obligations,” Lazarus explained.
The themes of this year’s event are voting rights, politics, racial issues, food, music, and culture.
Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock will kick off this year’s author series by discussing his memoir, “A Way Out of No Way,” on July 7, followed by Geraldine Brooks, presenting her new novel, “Horse,” on July 10. Peter Guralnick, who wrote the definitive biographies of Elvis Presley and Sam Cooke, will be at the CCC on July 14, then Eric Kim of the New York Times Cooking section will speak on his new cookbook, “Korean-American,” on July 21. Former Attorney General Eric Holder will finish off the July string of presentations, then author Dawnie Walton will speak on her book, “The Final Revival of Opal and Nev,” on August 4, and local writer Amor Towles shares his novel “The Lincoln Highway: A Novel,” on August 14 at the PAC.
According to Lazarus, the book festival has always recognized the importance of consistently focusing on racial issues and highlighting racial justice as a central theme. “We’ve had authors discussing this, we did a Black Lives Matter panel two years ago. We think it’s important for us to continue that dialogue, so we always start with looking for authors to speak in that area,” Lazarus said.
Lazarus added that culture is another focal point for the author series, and she wants to bring all cultures and backgrounds into the mix to have a voice. Although the series deals with some intense topics, Lazarus said it’s key to also celebrate the wonder and beauty of music, art, and other positive topics that writers choose to zero in on. “We have so many fabulous musicians here, and so much of the influence of our music is Black influence,” Lazarus said. “Peter has very much been a chronicler of that, and we thought pairing Peter with Dawnie Walton and her book is a nice combination, because it’s all about music of a certain generation that represents a certain culture.”
The event is being held inside this year, and Lazarus encouraged guests who are vaccinated to show up to the in-person discussions. For those who aren’t vaccinated, she said the Chilmark Community Center is recording each event and posting it online. No masks will be required for admittance, but Lazarus explained that some book signing lines may require masks. “Often, we have book signings after our events. This year we are doing it kind of mixed. We have asked the author to decide what they want — some authors will be presigning their books, and other authors are doing the signing lines, but have asked people to wear masks in the line.” With each ticket purchase for an individual speaker event, folks will receive the current book that the author is discussing.
All events are held at 7:30 pm. Go to mvbookfestival.com to get tickets, to view the speaker schedule, or for more information.