By Maclaine Willett, Editor in Chief
For the 10th consecutive year, the Nantucket Book Foundation is presenting a diverse and enriching lineup of authors to converse virtually with audiences to ensure safety of those wishing to attend despite the pandemic. Although the festival may not look normal this year, the people of the Nantucket Book Foundation and all of the audience members planning to attend are thankful for the opportunity to attend the event, especially considering last year’s festival was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This event will span the whole summer, and is already underway. On June 17th the festival featured a conversation between various authors and historians about Juneteenth. This celebration of the end of slavery in the United States was discussed virtually with host and critically praised author Mitchell Jackson, as well as other authors and educators like Dr. Keisha N. Blain, Imani Perry, Deesha Philyaw, and Clint Smith. As described on the website for the Nantucket Book Festival, this event helped to strengthen the voices and conversations on the issues of race in our country, and it also aided in commemorating and celebrating the emancipation of slavery.
The most recent event, on July 20th, titled Friends & Fiction, saw a group of authors participating in a speedy Q&A, game show fashion, hosted by the festival’s marketing director Tim Ehrenberg, to see how well the friends know each other. This proved to be a fun and exciting event for people to tune in to, and this event was also presented virtually, allowing it to garner more attendees. The authors that participated in this event include Mary Kay Andrews, Kristin Harmel, Kristy Woodson Harvey, Patty Callahan Henry, and Mary Alice Monroe. These women finished the event with readings of short stories about Nantucket from each contributing author.
The next upcoming event of the 2021 Nantucket Book Festival is titled Cocktails, Conversation, & Couture with Elin Hilderbrand & Jennifer Weiner on August 19th at the Nantucket Hotel and Resort. This event is different from the others in many ways, but the key difference is that this event is not virtual like the others, so this is an aspect that potential attendees should consider. There will be cocktails and “small bites” served, followed by a fashion show of local stores known as Read the Runway. To wrap up the event, the authors will be leading a conversation with each other and the attendees, and the two will also participate in a book signing.
The festival will close on a poignant note with Fall and Rise: The Story of 9/11, an event led by former Boston Globe reporter Mitchell Zukoff, to be held on September 18th. Zuckoff, the author of the book that the event is concerned with, previously visited the high school to guest teach about his reporting to Anne Phaneuf’s Journalism class in 2019, as well as any students who wished to join and listen. Phaneuf said that he “brought a wealth of experience about interviewing people in intense scenarios… He really brought the whole human dimension of journalism to the class, so it wasn’t just reading stories in a book.” She called him “generous” and “inspirational”.
Zuckoff, who interviewed the survivors of those lost in the September 11, 2001 attacks on the Twin Towers, will be talking to the Nantucket Book Festival about the “tragedy and triumph” that arose after this awful attack. He will be joined with Brian Clark, a survivor of the attacks who escaped the South Tower just before the collapse. This event will be of utmost importance, specifically on the 20th year since the attacks.
This itinerary was preceded by an essay contest, open to any Nantucket High School student grades 9-12. Participants were asked to write about a moment in their life that challenged their beliefs and caused them to change, reflecting on what they learned about themselves. This annual contest is typically inspired by a visiting author, who speaks to students at NHS in an assembly. This year, though she could not visit in-person, Nic Stone, author of “Dear Martin” and “Odd One Out”, was the inspiration for the prompt, as her books deal with teens navigating through their teen years and challenging the way they think about the world and themselves. The winner of this approximately 650 word essay contest was freshman Anna Popnikolova, assistant editor-in-chief of Veritas, with her piece “Mushroom Soup”, receiving a 500 dollar prize. The four runners up—senior JohnCarl McGrady, former editor-in-chief of Veritas, junior Melanie Bamber, sophomore Olivia Davis, and junior Maclaine Willett, editor-in-chief of Veritas—each received 100 dollars. Popnikolova and the four runners up were recognized virtually at the book festival, and all submissions were published online.
Although the festival does look different this year, board member Maddie Hjulstrom stated that the festival still features “extraordinary author conversations” that are available to people across the globe since they are being recorded virtually. As for other differences aside from the virtual setting of some of the events, Hjulstrom commented that Nantucket Book Foundation has “slowed the pace a bit and are focusing on just a few events” in the festival. This has been done to ensure that the few events being held will be worth the investment.
The 2021 Nantucket Book Festival, as clearly seen in the various events, is presenting an interesting and enriching lineup this year, filled with a variety of authors, educators, historians, and speakers. Further information can be found on the festival’s website——nantucketbookfestival.org——like certain books that are recommended and are written by the presenting authors. This event is a great way to explore interests in literature and current events through interactive conversations with an interesting and worthwhile lineup of authors.