Literary Festival takes over Brattleboro

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(Host) The seventh annual Brattleboro Literary Festival takes place this weekend. More than 30 novelists, poets, nonfiction writers and children’s authors will be reading and talking about their craft in venues all over town.

VPR’s Susan Keese has a preview.

(Keese) One of Wyn Cooper’s favorite literary festival stories is about the year there was a fire scare in Brattleboro’s Latchis Theater. The late Vermont writer Grace Paley had just started reading when word came to evacuate.

(Cooper) "And somebody got on their cell phone and called the Congregational Church and they said, ‘Sure, you can use the church.’ And so like 400 people marched up Main Street together and went into the Congo Church and then she started to read.”

(Keese) Cooper, one of the festival’s organizers and a poet himself, whispered to Paley before she went on that she only had 15 minutes left, to keep everything on schedule. Paley said, “These people have come to hear me, and I’ll read as long as I want to.”

(Cooper) “Ha ha… It was so great.”

(Keese) That kind of dedication to writing and reading is a hallmark of this three-day literary extravaganza.

The readings are free and most of the authors donate their time. This year’s roster includes famous writers like former U.S. poet laureate Robert Pinsky, NPR book critic Allen Cheuse and essayist Anne Fadiman. She wrote ‘`The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down.”

But the festival committee also looks for lesser-known writers producing exciting work. People like Charles Bock, who grew up in a family of Las Vegas pawnbrokers, though he now lives in New York.

(Cooper) “His book is called “Beautiful Children.” It’s a rather dark but absolutely astounding novel about runaway children in Las Vegas. Um, Margaret Cezair-Thompson is from Jamaica. Her book is about a 13-year-old Jamaican girl who was involved with Erroll Flynn.”

(Keese) Another under-the-radar attraction is poet Kazim Ali. His collections include “The Far Mosque” and “The Fortieth Day.”

(Cooper) “His poems are as much like prayers or chants as they are like poems. He has this magical ability with words. His poems are very subtle, and you don’t forget them.”

(Keese) There are also panels, including one on turning books into screenplays. Brattleboro novelist Suzanne Kingsbury moderates that one.  She’s also on the festival committee. Kingsbury says the writers enjoy meeting each other, and meeting readers who care about their work.

(Kingsbury) “Pretty much across the board the authors say that they have a blast here, they have a lot of fun. And Brattleboro‘s a great community. Everyone’s very happy to have them here, eager to see them. And I think that makes for them feeling like celebrities when they’re walking down Main Street, which they are for this weekend.”

(Keese) The festival runs through Sunday evening.

For VPR News, I’m Susan Keese.

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