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Spencertown Academy Arts Center's Festival of Books returns with in-person book sale and author talks

3-day book sale to feature 15,000 books

Man sorts books

Wayne Greene, co-chairman of Spencertown Academy Arts Center’s Festival of Books, sorts books for the festival's book sale. The sale, which will feature 15,000 book, returns for in-person sales, after a two-year pandemic-related hiatus.

SPENCERTOWN, N.Y. — Get your book bags ready! After two years of virtual sales and lectures, bibliophiles will be able to browse, pick up books and buy them in person, and meet authors face-to-face when the Spencertown Academy Arts Center’s 17th annual Festival of Books returns Labor Day weekend.

The festival will feature a giant used book sale, discussions with and readings by noted authors, a children’s program, a bookmaking arts exhibit and winners of the Academy’s 2022 Young Writers’ Contest reading their winning fiction and non-fiction.

Wayne Greene, festival co-chairman along with David Highfill and Carl Atkins, said the last in-person book festival was held in 2019. It was held virtually in 2020 with author talks offered on Zoom and, in 2021, expanded to offer a couple hundred books in an online store.

“It’s a very big fundraising event for us and a community event,” Greene said in a recent phone interview. “The virtual years, we made much less money. A positive byproduct was people were generous with donations.” He added another positive was the academy was able to get authors that were usually not available, due to geography and the festival being held on the holiday weekend.

“With Zoom, the authors could be anywhere,” he said citing last year’s talk by popular author Joyce Carol Oates.

“We had a huge viewership of that talk,” he said, adding all of the talks are always free, but some attendees make donations.

Featured authors this year include Daphne Palasi Andreades ("Brown Girls"), Jean Hanff Korelitz ("The Latecomer"), David Nasaw ("The Last Million"), Mayukh Sen ("Taste Makers"), and James Shapiro ("Shakespeare in a Divided America").

“The authors are selected by a small committee that meets during the previous winter,” Greene said. “They discuss books they’ve read and look for authors who have current books. They also consider the geography — how close the authors are to Columbia County [where Spencertown is].” Committee members also are mindful of diversity — the authors’ racial diversity, gender and ethnicity. They also look for a mix of topics, he said, choosing a novelist or poet, cooking or politics and history.

Greene said while he is usually very busy and it is hard to attend, he’d like to hear the talk by Daphne Palasi Andreades, author of “Brown Girls.”

“I’m partial to fiction and the story is about growing up in Queens [N.Y.] — and I grew up in Queens.”

He added no tickets or reservations are needed for any of the talks, which will be held in a large tent. The tent seats 75 and there is standing room. All authors’ books will be for sale and authors will be signing their books. The academy is collaborating with the Chatham Bookstore to have the books available.

The giant book sale, the first held in-person since 2019, will feature over 15,000 books this year, including a Kids’ Corner for young readers and a media section of DVDs, CDs, audio books, and vinyl LPs. Spencertown Academy members will have the first crack at the books during the Member’s Preview 3 to 8 p.m., Friday, Sept. 2. The preview is free for members, $10 for members’ guests; memberships will be available at the door or online in advance. Refreshments will be served during the preview.

“We usually get 10,000 to 12,000 books [for the sale], but this year we’re getting more,” Greene said. “People have been saving them up. During the pandemic, they read more and over the past two years, we’ve been accepting them from people, who have moved or downsized, in anticipation of the book sale being held again. We had a couple thousand of books on hand.”

A special book room, under antiquarian/used bookseller and dealer Greene’s direction, will feature a hand-picked selection of specialty books, limited editions, and out-of-print books.

“Books more collected and sought-after,” Greene said, adding “I get to live out my fantasy of owning my own bookshop.”

Some of the specialty books this year include a first edition of Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood’; an autographed copy of Philip Roth’s “American Pastoral” and “Before Easter After,” a limited edition photo book about Patti Smith by Lynn Goldsmith, autographed by Smith and Goldsmith.

A special children’s program on Saturday will feature a meet-and-greet with Elephant and Piggie, characters in a book series by award-winning author and illustrator Mo Willems. Children will be able to have their pictures taken with the costumed characters, get crafty with Elephant and Piggie-related art activities, and listen to stories read by librarian and storyteller Ann Gainer. “It’s a 90-minute Elephant and Piggie-fest,” Greene said.

Spencertown Academy sponsors an annual Young Writers Contest for area high school students. Greene said three of the six prize winners in 2022 — Taibat Ahmed, Taconic High School; Arianna Camacho, Hudson High School, and Amanda Gutierrez, Germantown Central School-High School — will read their winning fiction and non-fiction entries on Saturday.

Throughout the festival, a display on bookmaking by artist Suzi Banks Baum will be on view. The exhibit will include handmade books, handmade paper and stitching techniques. Banks Baum will teach a two-day workshop on bookmaking Sept. 17-18 at the Art School of Columbia County. 

Greene said there are COVID-19 precautions in place. “There have been eight air purifiers that work on the virus level installed inside the building. They are very good at removing the COVID virus from the air.”

Masks will be required in the building, but will be optional for events held under the outdoor tent.

“We plan to limit the number of people in the building at the same time,’ he said. “We’ll hold people outdoors if there are too many inside. We want people to feel confident they are safe.

Money raised from the book festival makes up 20 percent of the academy’s operational budget and helps cover general operating expenses, programming, maintaining the building and supporting art shows and concerts. The festival began in 2006 as a book sale to raise funds for the Academy’s community arts programs.

“We are all overjoyed to have this beloved event back in person on Labor Day weekend and we’ve gotten tremendous feedback from the community,” Greene said. “Everybody is excited and very much looking forward to attending.


What: Spencertown Academy Arts Center 17th Annual Festival of Books

When: Sept. 2 - 5

Where: 790 State Route 203, Spencertown, N.Y.

Information: spencertownacademy.org

COVID protocols: Masks are required inside.


Friday, Sept. 2

3 to 8 p.m.: Members' Preview. Free for members, $10 for member’s guests, and memberships will be available at the door or online. Refreshments served..

Saturday, Sept. 3 - Monday, Sept. 5

Giant book sale: Open to the public on 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday; and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Monday (bargain day). Admission is free. Teachers with ID receive a 20 percent discount on their purchases (except in the Special Books Room).

Bookmaking arts display: Writer and mixed media and book artist Suzi Banks Baum will create a table-mounted display of bookmaking arts, specifically paper making and Coptic Stitch binding techniques, that will be on exhibit during the festival.

Saturday, Sept. 3

10 – 11:30 a.m.: Children’s program, meet-and-greet with Elephant & Piggie, friends in two dozen books by award-winning author and illustrator Mo Willems. Kids will be able to have their pictures taken with the costumed characters, get crafty with Elephant & Piggie-related art activities, and listen to the duo’s stories read by librarian and storyteller Ann Gainer.

Noon: Author James Shapiro discusses his latest work, “Shakespeare in a Divided America: What His Plays Tell Us About Our Past and Future,” which was named by the New York Times as one of the 10 best books of 2020, as well as a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award for non-fiction. Joining Shapiro in conversation will be Carl Atkins, author of several works on Shakespeare, including “Shakespeare's Sonnets Among His Private Friends.”

1:30 p.m.: Winners of the Academy’s 2022 Young Writers’ Contest will read their winning fiction and non-fiction entries. The reading will be moderated by Carol Essert, who coordinated the contest this year.

3 p.m.: New York Times bestselling author Jean Hanff Korelitz will discuss her latest novel, “The Latecomer,” a family story that touches on the topics of grief, guilt, generational trauma, privilege, race, traditions and religion. Among her previous books are “The Plot” (adaptation forthcoming from Hulu, to star Mahershala Ali), “You Should Have Known” (adapted for HBO as “The Undoing” by David E. Kelley, starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant), and “Admission” (adapted as the film of the same name, starring Tina Fey and Paul Rudd). Joining Korelitz will be novelist Alexis Schaitkin, author of "Elsewhere" and "Saint X."

Sunday, Sept. 4

Noon: James Beard Award-winning writer Mayukh Sen discusses “Taste Makers: Seven Immigrant Women Who Revolutionized Food in America,” which was named a best book of 2021 by NPR and one of the Wall Street Journal’s favorite books of the year. A group biography, it weaves together histories of food, immigration, and gender told through the lives of seven pathbreaking chefs and food writers. He will be joined in conversation by Tamar Adler, chef and author of “An Everlasting Meal.”

1:30 p.m.: acclaimed historian David Nasaw discusses his latest book, “The Last Million: Europe's Displaced Persons from World War to Cold War,” in which he tells the gripping yet until now largely hidden story of postwar displacement and the statelessness of refugees left behind in Germany after WWII. Cecile Kuznitz, associate professor of history and director of Jewish Studies at Bard College, will join the author in conversation.

2:30 p.m.: Daphne Palasi Andreades will discuss her debut novel, “Brown Girls.” The book is about a group of friends and their immigrant families from Queens, N.Y. — it’s a poetic love letter to a modern generation of brown girls. She is the recipient of a 2021 O. Henry Prize, and scholarships to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and Martha’s Vineyard Institute for Creative Writing, where she won the Voices of Color Prize. Joining the author in conversation will be Julie DeLisle, former director of the Chatham Public Library.

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