Festival Attracts Readers Young and Old
Community Center Is Sunday Setting for Book Fair
By SAM TELLER
A new page was turned in Chilmark Sunday as hundreds flocked to the first Martha's Vineyard Book Festival to seek autographs and hear readings by more than 30 Island authors.
Held at the Chilmark Community Center, the free event began at 10:45 a.m. with a reading by Robert Brustein, director of the American Repertory Theatre, and concluded just after 6 p.m. as the attorney and scholar Alan Dershowitz discussed the Israel-Palestinian peace process.
About 800 people came and went throughout the sunny day. The community center baseball field was converted into a makeshift fairground, with a number of large white tents scattered in the outfield. Three tents - marked nonfiction, fiction and food, and children and Island life - each contained a podium, microphones and chairs for eager Vineyard bibliophiles. Under the shade of another white tent, lobster rolls, sandwiches, drinks and desserts were sold.
Dressed in turquoise T-shirts, dozens of volunteers, including many community center employees, escorted authors and directed traffic. Under the shade of a small tent near second base, Katrina Hacker, 15, sold festival T-shirts in a variety of colors. "Green and blue are selling most," she reported.
Inside the community center, the large room was lined with tables piled high with books and manned by a small team of sellers from the Bunch of Grapes Bookstore. A steady stream of customers kept them busy. Sitting at the cashier's table, employee Nick Hathaway, 18, said he was not surprised to find that selections by the author Judy Blume were selling best.
Indeed, many visitors and volunteers later said that Ms. Blume, who has sold over 75 million books in more than 20 languages, was the highlight of the festival.
With a broad smile, Ms. Blume took the stage just after 1 p.m. to enthusiastic applause; more than 200 people from toddlers to grandparents had turned out to see her. She read a new unpublished story entitled The Tooth. The story begins as the character "the Pain" loses a tooth on a morning school bus ride.
"You'd think he was the first person to ever lose a tooth!" Ms. Blume read, eliciting giggles from her young admirers.
Beforehand, Ms. Blume had autographed hundreds of books for fans of all ages. Volunteers said they appreciated not just her presence, but her patience as well.
"She was so gracious," said Talia Herman, who volunteered with her husband and daughters. "No one left with an unsigned book."
Other authors, such as the mystery writer Philip Craig, made a point of engaging their fans as well.
"He wrote manuscripts for each person," said Natasha London-Thompson, opening to the title page of Vineyard Prey, where Mr. Craig had written a short personalized note. She added: "He rocks."
Mr. Brustein read from his most recent book, Letters to a Young Actor, about the tension between colorblind casting and racial typecasting in theatre today. He took a few questions before heading to another tent to autograph copies of his books.
Signed copy in hand, aspiring writer and actor David Burstein, 16, of Weston, Conn., said he came mainly to hear Mr. Brustein. He said he was particularly impressed with the volume of creative activity on display at the festival.
"There's such a rich Island culture of writing," said Mr. Burstein. "It seems like it's hard not to be inspired creatively on the Vineyard."
While reading her book The Secret, children's author Merrily Fenner pointed out familiar Island locations, colorfully illustrated by Joan Walsh. Several young fans approached so close that their voices were picked up by Mrs. Fenner's microphone.
Festival attendees also had their voices heard on more serious topics.
As the sun began to set, Mr. Dershowitz invited questions and criticism in response to his short talk about his new book, The Case for Peace. He emphatically argued that a prerequisite for peace in the Middle East is a pervasive change in attitude toward Israel.
"Israel must be normalized in the international community," he said, suggesting that Israel is currently held to a different standard than all other nations. "It must be treated like New Zealand, like Australia."
At the end of the day, the feedback was positive. "I bought $200 worth of books, all my Christmas presents, and I got them personalized," festival goer Linda Thompson said. "It was great."
"Attendance was very good for the first year," said organizer Suellen Lazarus. "The volunteers were amazing."
Mrs. Lazarus, a longtime Vineyard summer resident, based the idea for the event on the National Book Festival held every year in Washington, D.C. "We have authors everywhere," she said. "It just seemed like a natural thing to do."
Her son, managing a nearby parking lot, attested to the hard work involved. "My mom has been working all day every day for the past week," said Eben Lazarus, 16. "She's going to be very relieved to have it over."
At 6:30 p.m., as the final visitors headed home, Mrs. Lazarus's enthusiasm was evident beneath her fatigue.
"It was terrific," she said. "There was a lovely sense of community spirit. The authors enjoyed it, the people enjoyed it, and it brought the Island together."