Oh my dear book lovers,
It was absolutely fabulous. The whole weekend spun out of control in a beautiful way. On Friday morning, I ran to the Brattleboro Museum with 100 other little children where we watched, wide-eyed, as Janice Harrington told stories about big mamma and sweet potatoes in her classic dreads and Mississippi accent. Ashley Bryan spoke next, reading old African folktales, reciting Langston Hughes poems and singing slave spirituals at the top of his lungs. He looked so comforting and grandfatherly in his red cardigan, just exactly like an African Mr. Rogers. Katherine Patterson bought everyone in the audience copies of Ashley and Janice’s books and then we all piled out into the bursting sunlight, ready for the weekend.
It was a crazy afternoon what with traffic stopped up all the way to the Marina bridge and as far west as Exit Two, and the streets packed with mimes and musicians. The art lovers were crammed into all the galleries, meeting the artists, drinking free wine and bidding on one of Evie Lovett’s Rwanda photographs, which was being auctioned at the VSP. Someone said they saw Wyn Cooper running for his life from a beefy looking steroid addict, but I wouldn’t know, I was with Ashley Bryan in Jim Maxwell’s radio studio. Jim interviewed us about the festival and writing and Ashley told all his secrets about growing up in the Bronx, and using stories from the slave days to write books for children. All that talking made us thirsty and we headed to the Book Cellar’s private author party, which was packed with visiting writers drinking wine and eating sushi, Thai chicken and shrimp among other things.
At the party, everyone was trying to talk to Michael Collier about summer camping at Breadloaf. Philip Levine kept bumping people with his wirey-hair. The infamous NPR commentator, Virginia Prescott, arrived fashionably late, looking very hot in a burgundy silk shirt and thick brown leather belt, and Hillary Jordan sat in a corner signing copies of her first book, her auburn hair everywhere. Newbury Award Winner Karen Hesse showed up (she lives here) and the handsome Franklin Reeve (who also lives here and happens to be the late “Superman’s father) stood in the children’s section, simply beguiling with his white hair and drop-dead gorgeous blue eyes. Robert Olmstead was mysterious as always, but he brought his brother, Sam, who had a new beard he’d grown driving here all the way from California, and Same talked for the two of them. When everyone was sufficiently liquored up and feeling very hot about their books, the whole crew headed over in the blustery cold through packs of art gogglers to The Stone Church where Jodi Redhage made love to her cello (well you know, figuratively) stunning the room with her giggling enthusiasm, her incredible soprano, and the fact that she’s one of ten, yes ten, people in the world to accompany her own cello music with her absolute kick-ass voice. In that gothic hushed church Wyn Cooper recited two poems and Jodi put them to music, it was a religious experience. Then she and Wyn let every single person in the audience have a free cd.
We slept horribly, too excited about all the literati embedded in our town to sleep well and woke in just enough time to rush down to the Congo Church to see Philip Levine talk about work lines and the Bronx, Fresno and his love for his brother. Next Anna Dewdney arrived. She went all the way to Vietnam to find the subject of her next children’s book, and she showed us slides of this little artichoke looking mammal she wrote about, with a sweet face and scales, and then she drew a llama right there on stage and read to us from her Llama llama Misses his Mamma. All the children shouted out the words. We love Anna Dewdney, she lives here, too, and had to write for years and years for millions of nights in a row as a single mom before she got her publishing break and now Dolly Parton is putting her words to music in a Broadway hit based on her books. We love Dolly, too, but she and her appendages stayed home.
After a quick lunch at Amy’s Bakery, which was packed to the gills with New Yorkers and locals, Jamie Ford arrived with Julia Glass and read from his book Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, which may just win the best title prize. It’s a love story but the backdrop is America’s dirtiest secret, the Japanese Internment camps. Julia Glass told us about her sister dying young and the sibling relationships she writes about in her book I See You Everywhere. We love Julia Glass because she wore lime green stockings and lime green glasses and she grew her hair. David Ebershoff showed up just in time to read from his book The 19th Wife, about a polygamous Mormon sect, he straightaway gave up the scene about the 19th wife killing her gambling husband. David is the same person who did that novel about the guy who got the first sex change. We are all fascinated by that in the same way we are when we drive slowly by a bad car wreck. Tom Perrotta, in typical Tom Perrotta style, managed to have us rolling in the church aisles when he read the scene in the Abstinence Teacher about prom nights past and sex ed teachers.
At the same time Janice Harrington and Annie Finch were rocking the house in a powerful-goddess-feminine-power poetry reading. Janice might win the other prize for best title with her book, Even the Hollow My Body Made is Gone. It was pouring slanted beating rain but we were all snuggled into the Hooker Dunham Theater in the late afternoon as our very own Peter Gould, one of the oldest hippies around and a very respected political activist, did mime and read from Write Naked and Donna Freitas made us laugh, impersonating her sassy narrator in The Possibilities of Sainthood. Donna, by the way is a master of understanding the correlation between spirituality and sexuality and she happens to be hauntingly beautiful.
And then it was time for dinner oh dinner at Alicis. We are all fascinated by Alici, they say he is Whoopi Goldberg’s lover (she lives here, too, we see her sometimes walking down Main Street or hanging out in Book Cellar looking for books). He is finally back from the fire that burned his restaurant down this summer, complete with mustache and long hair and his chocolate duck and salmon with risotto. Again, at dinner, too much wine, too much raucous talk about writing. I sat with Matt Raptis (of Raptis Rare Books) and Benoit Denizet-Lewis, who finally showed up, Jeffrey Sweet talked theater with all the pretty girls, promising (I think or maybe I just dreamed this, you can ask him, he is very lovely) to make Shawna his leading lady and to take my second novel to the stage. Oh, it was a luscious night with apple crisp in filo dough and anything at all you might want to drink. Later we wound up in the hooka lounge downstairs, lying all over the couches by the fire and looking longingly at the hookas on the mantel. Smoking is banned indoors in Vermont no matter what. Which is usually a very good thing. Adrienne drove me home in her brand new Range Rover. She’s married to Matt Raptis of Raptis Rare books and the two of them are thinking of taking a Range Rover trip from Alaska to Chile, very adventurous! They live in an Italian villa that used to be owned by a famous opera singer and there they hosted our annual fundraising party for the lit fest, which made us all feel very European and fabulous.
The writing panel was brunch-time Sunday morning so Write Action gave everyone free cider and just picked apples, fresh baked raisin cinnamon bread, organic yogurt and very strong coffee from Mocha Joes. Yours truly moderated the writing panel and the llama llama lady (Anna Dewdney) talked about illustrating and creating, how her kids review her books and in what way the llama is actually HER, Paul Mariani talked about his charmed life where absolutely everything he ever wrote was published and now he is writing a memoir that ends when he turns nine, and Roberto Olmstead talked about his seven year hiatus from writing and the blend between memoir and fiction, the elasticity of truth and the fact that he hates to tell people he’s a writer.
And then quick to the Hooker Dunham to hear Hillary Jordan’s rich southern accent as she channeled her World War Two characters and talked about the ten years it took her to finish her book and what a mixed blessing it was to win the Bellweather prize. I cried when I introduced Roberto Olmstead because when I was a little girl, he was my idol (he still is) and there he was, standing next to me, about to read at our very own festival. He read from a scary part of Far Bright Star where a guy cuts off a prostitute’s ear, and then he answered oodles of questions and they sold millions of books. Everyone quick skidaddled because Harry Bliss was coming (I reminded him that once a very long time ago we shared a hot tub at the Southern Festival of the Book). He cracked everyone up with his New Yorker cartoons that he illustrated right on stage. I shot off to the library to meet Benoit Denizet-Lewis’ very hot boyfriend and to introduce Benoit to a crowd interested in the fascinating topic of addiction. Benoit (very French, he even wore a beret) talked about his new book American Voyeur and read about sex addiction and the complications of trying to do primary research with an active heroin user for hi book America Anonymous.
I was supposed to introduce Elinor Lipman next, but she couldn’t come, she had a death in the family, we were all thinking of her and wishing her sweetness and love. Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd showed up with slides of their world-renowned gardens and Pushcart Prize winner Dzivinia Orlowsky read with Baron Wormser, the former poet laureate of Maine and then everyone went back to the villa to eat pizza off of paper plates.
Or so I heard, I was too drunk, drunk, drunk with literature to drive, so I grabbed my husband and we put on our walking shoes and headed down the hill, over the Connecticut River bridge in the late day sunlight, to New Hampshire, where walked along the sun dappled river and I hugged a couple of trees and made out with him in a field and wondered when the foliage would begin to change, it is still that late summer yellow, which is just fine with me. We saw lots of unleashed dogs and lots of happy people and there were almost no clouds in the sky and we held hands and later went to the Co-op to get easy, pick-me-up dinners. The whole time we talked books and we talked authors and we said how lucky we were to live in a town that borders the Connecticut River and has a Literary Festival each year that just about drowns you in artistic pleasure. Amen.