The fifth Bangor Book Festival will bring a record number of authors to Bangor on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 30-Oct. 1, for a celebration of literature that will reach beyond the typical venue, the Bangor Public Library, to four other downtown locations.
“This year has been a banner year for Maine writers, and we are happy to have so many best-selling and award-winning authors at the festival this year,” said Stephanie Harp, festival committee member in charge of publicizing the event. “We planned this year’s festival to be a big splash.”
In a two-day span, 35 Maine authors (or authors with strong Maine ties) will read from their newest works, participate in panel discussions, sign books and discuss their writing with festival-goers. For those who have attended the festival before, the organizers are keeping it fresh. Only four of the authors presenting this year previously have participated in the festival.
Keynote speaker Colin Woodard will kick off the event on Friday evening with a talk at the library about his fourth book, “American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America,” which will be released Sept. 29, a day before the festival.
The book is a “Top Ten Politics Pick” for Fall 2011 from “Publishers Weekly.” Woodard, originally from western Maine, is an award-winning journalist who has reported from more than 50 countries and is now a contributing editor at Down East Magazine.
“Book festivals like this are wonderful for people who care about books, both readers and writers, and to be able to get together and talk about these things face to face,” said Woodard. “We live in a very digitalized world. The collapse of the independent bookstores and now the Borders chain means there are fewer and fewer spaces to do this sort of thing.”
The diverse group of authors participating this year includes crime writer Paul Doiron, memoirist Susan Conley of Portland, nonfiction writer Hannah Holmes of Portland, poet Richard Foerster of York (who has recently been awarded a 2011 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship for Poetry), historical fiction writer Ardeana Hamlin of Hampden, and Sarah Brauntein of Portland, one of two authors ever to be chosen as an International Book Foundation “5 under 35” honoree, in 2010, before her first novel, “The Sweet Relief of Missing Children: A Novel,” was published in February 2011.
“People have great questions,” said Doiron, who will be speaking about his latest crime novel, “Trespasser,” and is also the editor in chief of Down East, the festival media sponsor. “That’s the value of these events. I’m always surprised when you hear about authors who don’t like to do readings, speaking events, or signings. I think the best part of writing is getting reactions from people who have read your work and want to talk to you.”
Foerster will read from his most recent book of poems, “Penetralia” (January 2011), for which he received the 2011 Maine Literary Award from the Maine Publishers and Writers Alliance. His reading will be at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Bagel Central, where poets will read 9:30 a.m.-12 p.m.
“The poems deal with, in many ways, personal failure, the death of a loved one and failures in friendship and how we redeem ourselves in these shortcomings in life and the solace we find in living a whole life,” said Foerster. “My writing is very language-oriented and there’s a lot of music. I’m just hoping people come out and enjoy the reading, have a good time and maybe a cup of coffee.”
The Maine Arts Commission became a major supporter of the festival this year, and for the first time, festival organizers partnered with the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance, a 35-year-old nonprofit organization that hasn’t been involved with the festival in previous years.
“When I came on board [as executive director of the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance last year] and that came to my attention, my first thought was, ‘Wait a second — why haven’t we been involved? It’s just a perfect fit,'” said Joshua Bodwell, who will be orchestrating the poetry sessions at Bagel Central on Saturday. “It’s only validated by the fact that, of the 35 authors at this year’s event, 22 are our members.”
Events for all ages will be held throughout Saturday, including an undersea collage making session for children with artist Rebecca Emberley 1:30 p.m. at the Children’s Discovery Museum. The “Great Bangor Draw-Off,” a big hit at last year’s festival, will feature Wade Zahares and Charlotte Agell, who will draw whatever the audience suggests starting 11 a.m. in the Bangor Public Library Lecture Hall.
Carrie Jones, internationally best-selling author of the young adult supernatural “NEED” series, was assigned to a panel about the censorship of young adult literature, 9-9:45 a.m. in the Bangor Public Library Story Room, to share her own experiences with censorship, primarily on the title of her first book, “Tips on Having a Gay (ex) Boyfriend,” published in 2007.
Jones is also scheduled to read 1-1:45 p.m. in the Bangor Public Library Story Room, and plans to give a sneak peek of the new “NEED” series book, which isn’t out until May 2012. She will also read an essay from the anthology “Dear Bully,” which she co-edited and just came out this month.
To encourage teens and children to attend the festival, Jones said, “If you go to the festival and make a big deal about it in English class, I am absolutely positive that your English teacher will think better of you, which will possibly boost your grade, which will make your parents happy, and possibly make them buy you a car. It should be fun. You get to meet author people. We are weird and passionate and often wear funky clothes.”
“I’m stunned by how much effort and passion the festival organizers put into the event, year after year,” said Jones. “They really are heroes, and passionate advocates for reading and for books.”
The 2011 festival is funded by several local sponsors. This year’s festival committee co-chairs are Gibran Graham and Barbara McDade. All events are free and open to the public. For a schedule of the 25 events, visit bangorbookfest.org.