Celebrating written words: Montclair Literary Festival

in Arts/Books/Children/Community
Reagan Arthur, left, stands with Little Brown, left, stands with Rebecca Gray, editor at Serpent’s Tail UK, at the London Book Fair. They share the author Attica Locke whose book jacket is behind them, at the London Book Fair. Photo courtesy of Reagan Arthur.

By GWEN OREL

orel@montclairlocal.news

The Montclair Film Festival has a lot to answer for.

In a good way.

New arts organizations are popping up, and the success of the Montclair Film Festival usually gets mentioned as part of the “why not?” The founders of the new Montclair Orchestra mentioned MFF.

And the organizers of the Montclair Literary Festival, which takes place March 31 to April 2, mentioned MFF too, as did a publisher and author (both from Montclair) who are participating. See page B-6 for more details.

The festival, which opens next Friday, is a combination of free writers’ workshops, author readings with Trevor Noah and Paul Auster headlining, issue-based panels, and children’s events. It’s for writers and readers and all cultural consumers — and most of it is free.

Jacqueline Mroz, program director at the not-for-profit Succeed2gether, is co-director of the festival, with Catherine Platt. Succeed2gether, Mroz explained, is a not-for-profit whose goal is to close the educational gap and provide free tutoring and other educational services, including a monthlong summer enrichment class in July. The festival will raise funds for the group from its ticketed events.

WHY A LITERARY FESTIVAL?
“I thought it would be a great way to celebrate local authors and emerging writers. I love books. I love listening to writers talk,” said Mroz, who has a book of her own coming out in June. There was a book festival a while ago, called Booktoberfest, but it died out, she said. Though MLF has been planned only since the autumn, “It just seemed to come together,” Mroz said. She also looked to the Morristown Festival of Books, in its third year, for inspiration.

JACQUELINE MROZ

Platt said that the festival “brings together a lot of community organizations, the library, the museum, bookshops, for one day. It’s a celebration. That’s important.”

She recently returned to Montclair after 12 years in China, where she had been running a literary festival. Platt brought the “festival know-how,” and Mroz had the local contacts, she said.

Even Trevor Noah, who will discuss his memoir “Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood” with editor Chris Jackson, came on board through a Montclair connection: Margot Sage-EL of Watchung Booksellers wrote a letter to Montclairite Stephen Colbert, asking for his help.
“Apparently, he hand delivered the letter to Trevor Noah’s assistant,” Mroz said with a laugh.

TRUTH FOR READERS
Along with readings and literary discussions, the festival offers panels about social issues. Montclairite Tim O’Brien, author of “TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald,” will participate in a panel titled “Alternative Facts: Trump and the New World Order,” with fellow residents Kate Zernike, David Halbfinger and Jonathan Alter.

O’Brien said Montclair is “the journalist ghetto of the Northeast,” and “an unusual town. It’s home to people who care about the arts and journalism and media and entertainment and politics and business and finance.” While there are already literary events in Montclair, big events, he said, offer “a marquee presence” that gathers people together.

O’Brien, who is executive editor on two commentary platforms on Bloomberg.com, said his book “TrumpNation” has had a resurgence, adding, “It would have been nice if he had run for president when the book came out.”

There’s a Hollywood element to the way Trump blurs fiction and nonfiction, O’Brien said: “What drives [Trump] more than anything is self-aggrandizement. He’s a profound movie buff. He thinks about himself almost cinematically. He sees himself as the star in his own narrative, and is constantly writing the script as he goes.” It’s not unlike theatrical improvisation, he said. “When we travelled around on his plane we screened movies.” Which ones?“Citizen Kane.” “Sunset Boulevard.” “Pulp Fiction.”

“Reality is profound,” O’Brien said. The notion that no one cares about his tax returns is untrue.
And, he said, truth matters.

HOPE FOR WRITERS
Along with listening to authors, aspiring writers can get tips about the writing life during the festival.
Reagan Arthur, a senior vice president and publisher at Little, Brown, has just returned from the London Book Fair, an international rights fair where publishers and agents meet to sell rights to projects in other territories. Arthur will participate in a panel titled “How to Get Published.”

“Everybody is probably inspired by how great the Montclair Film Festival has been for the town,” Arthur said. “It’s an inspiration to see how many people come out for events.” Montclair, she pointed out, has two great bookstores: something not many towns can support these days.

Arthur said she hopes people will come to see that “publishers are always looking for exciting new voices. There’s no reason not to be optimistic.”

Writing, she said, “combines commerce and sensibility. If people are interested in being published, it’s important to remember it’s not a cut-and-dried kind of process. You have to have luck, intuition, research the right connections whether it’s the right publishing house or the right agent. It can seem frustrating from the outside.

“But people in publishing are hoping to find great books to publish, just as authors are hoping to be published.”

Showcasing emerging writers was important to Mroz in planning the festival. In addition to panels of published writers, the schedule includes The Young Writers Showcase, featuring the announcement of the winners of a short-story competition at Montclair High School, judged by local authors; and a middle school poetry slam.

It’s a feast of events. It’s a festival, Mroz said, that “seemed like something that should have been happening.”

An earlier version of this story misattributed who wrote the letter to Stephen Colbert. It was Margot Sage-EL.

MONTCLAIR LITERARY FESTIVAL PROGRAM OF EVENTS
All events are open to the public and free unless a ticket price is specified.
Watchung Booksellers will sell authors’ books at event venues.
Program subject to change

FRIDAY, MARCH 31
1:30–2:30 p.m. “Born a Crime”
Venue: Montclair State University Memorial Auditorium
Daily Show host Trevor Noah’s memoir “Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood” became an instant New York Times bestseller when it was published in November 2016. Noah and his editor Chris Jackson will discuss the book and Noah’s experience growing up in South Africa during the last gasps of apartheid and the tumultuous days of freedom that came with its demise.
Tickets $40, include a copy of “Born a Crime”

2:45–4 p.m. “Poetry and Politics”
Venue: MSU George Segal Gallery
A joint panel with Montclair State University’s Live Lit series
Poets Jonterri Gadson, Vincent Toro, Vi Khi Nao and Teka-Lark Lo read and discuss their work to mark the beginning of National Poetry Month. Local poet and MSU professor Claudia Cortese moderates.

7–9 p.m. “Young Writer’s Showcase”
Venue: Montclair High School George Inness Building
Announcement of the winners of the Montclair Literary Festival High School Short Story Competition, and poetry slam competition from Montclair Middle School students, with guest performances from M.C. Vincent Toro and judges Roger Sederat and Grisel Acosta.

SATURDAY, APRIL 1
CHILDREN’S PROGRAMS AT THE MONTCLAIR PUBLIC LIBRARY
Children age 8 and over may be dropped off for these events; younger children must have a chaperone.
Venue: The Storytime Room, MPL third floor

10:30–11.20 a.m. “Story time with local children’s writers”
Storyteller Julie Pasqual brings folktales from around the globe to life using a combination of spoken word, movement, and acting. Ages 2–10
11:30–12:20 p.m. Jorge Aguirre brings his graphic novels, which include dragons and giants, to life, with the help of readers ages 5 to 12.
12:30– 1:20 p.m. Author Geoff Rodkey recounts what happens when the Tapper Twins go to war, run for President and tear up New York. Ages 5–12
1:30–2:20 p.m. Jason Kirschner tells the adventures of “Mr Particular: the World’s Choosiest Champion.” Ages 5-12
2:30–3:20 p.m. Author Adriana Brad Schanen shares stories of two polar-opposite friends, Quinny and Hopper. Ages 5–12

Kids Drop-In Story Games
10:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m.
Venue: The Green Room, MPL third floor
The Writers Circle’s story-building experience includes Story Magic card decks, the Plotfoolery board where rolls of the dice spark stories, and other games. Ages 8 and up

ART AND LITERATURE AT MONTCLAIR ART MUSEUM
All materials provided; all classes free. Children age 7 and above may be dropped off, younger children require a chaperone.
1-2 p.m. “Stolen Beauty”
Venue: Geyer Studio
A collage workshop inspired by Gustav Klimt’s famous “Woman in Gold” portraits of Adele Bloch Bauer. Laurie Lico Albanese, author of the novel “Stolen Beauty,” will explain the story behind the paintings and how Klimt created them, while students use gold leaf and collage techniques to create their own masterpieces, with the guidance of guest artist Catherine Lecleire. Age 7 and up.
1-2:30 p.m. “Artist Books à la Matisse”
Venue: Studio A
Henri Matisse used paper cut-outs for his groundbreaking artist book, “Jazz,” which was published in 1947. Montclair-based artist Gwen Charles uses collage techniques and drawing to teach children how to create their own artist’s book. Age 6 and up
3–4:30 p.m. “Create a Picture Book Character with Kristine Lombardi”
Venue: Geyer Studio
Author/illustrator Kristine Lombardi will teach how to create a picture book character, drawing inspiration from the sweet and imaginative title personality of her book “Lovey Bunny.” Ages 5-7
3–4:30 p.m. “Introduction to Comics and Graphic Novels “
Venue: Studio A
Montclair graphic novelist Kevin Pyle will introduce participants to the basic visual storytelling tools of comics and graphic novels. Students will learn to use word balloons and complex facial emotions in comics, as well as how to draw basic anatomy and design their own characters. Ages 8-12, teens also welcome

SATURDAY, APRIL 1
MAIN PROGRAM
10–11 a.m. “Facing History and Ourselves.”
Venue: MPL Auditorium
Bestselling author Stephan Talty, who writes fiction and narrative nonfiction, including the book that inspired the movie “Captain Phillips,” and Ellery Washington, author of a forthcoming book about the Buffalo soldiers, discuss different approaches to writing about and facing up to history, with Anne Burt, chief communications officer of the nonprofit Facing History and Ourselves.

10– 11 a.m. “The Story of My Life.”
Venue: The Guild Room at First Congregational Church
Panelists Meredith Maran (“The New Old Me: My Late-Life Reinvention”) Ylonda Gault Caviness (“Child, Please: How Mama’s Old School Lessons Helped Me Check Myself Before I Wrecked Myself”) and Lee Siegel (“The Draw: A Memoir etc.”), discuss the art of memoir with David Henry Sterry, Book Doctor, editor and writer (“Chicken: Self-Portrait of a Young Man for Rent”; “Master of Ceremonies: A True Story of Love”; “Murder, Rollerskates and Chippendales”) .

10–11 a.m. “How to Get Published”
Venue: The Sanctuary at First Congregational Church
Literary agents Tina Bennett (William Morris Endeavor) and Richard Abate (3 Arts Entertainment); Reagan Arthur, the publisher of Little, Brown; and bestselling authors Deborah Davis and Nancy Star give advice on how to break into the publishing world.

11:15 a.m.–12:15 p.m. “Stolen Beauty”
Venue: MPL Auditorium
Montclair author Laurie Lico Albanese talks about Gustav Klimt’s portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer (“The Lady in Gold”) and the story, the women, the drama and struggles behind the painting, which inspired her new novel, “Stolen Beauty.”

11:15 a.m.–12:15 p.m. “The Character of Song: Writing About Music and Its People”
Venue: The Guild Room at First Congregational Church
Warren Zanes, author, musician and executive director of Steven Van Zandt’s Rock and Roll Forever Foundation, discusses strategies for capturing larger-than-life characters in the music world with Amanda Petrusich, author of “Do Not Sell At Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World’s Rarest 78 rpm Records”; music impresario and academic Jason King; and archivist, musician and music producer Don Fleming.

11:15 a.m.–12:15 p.m. “Truth is Stranger than Fiction”
Venue: The Sanctuary at First Congregational Church
Is fiction a disguise, or an enhancement? Author Alice Elliott Dark leads a conversation about inspiration and the interplay between life and fiction, with prize-winning novelist Jayne Anne Phillips (“Quiet Dell”), Benilde Little, author of four novels and a memoir (“Welcome to My Breakdown”), and debut novelists Elisabeth Egan (“A Window Opens”) and Dagmara Dominczyk (“The Lullaby of Polish Girls”).

12:30–1:30 p.m. “Halfway There Reading Series”
Venue: Montclair Public Library YA Room
Montclair’s “Halfway There” series presents work by five emerging local writers: Katherine Dykstra, Teka-Lark Lo, Joseph Rathgeber, Abby Sher and Lauren Marie Schmidt.

12:30–1:30 p.m. “Creating Compelling Characters”
Venue: Montclair Public Library Auditorium
Young Adult fiction is booming, and four successful Montclair YA and Middle Grades authors share insights into their craft. E.R. Frank, Sharon Dennis Wyeth, Valerie Wilson Wesley and Henry Neff talk with Maria Russo, New York Times children’s book editor about creating the characters that bring their stories to life.

12:30–1:30 p.m. “Nature Writing in the Current Climate”
Venue: The Guild Room at First Congregational Church
Between them, Robert Sullivan, Elizabeth Royte and David Biello have written about bottled water, rats, rainforests and the meadowlands, the sixth extinction and the U.S. nuclear arsenal. They talk to Scott Dodd, executive editor of online environmental journal Grist, about mankind’s impact on nature and the future of environmental policy under the Trump administration.

12:30–1:30 p.m. “Nasty Women” in Fiction
Venue: The Sanctuary at First Congregational Church
Matthew Thomas, author of the prize-winning debut “We Are Not Ourselves”; Marcy Dermansky, author of “The Red Car,” “Bad Marie” and “Twins”; and Jillian Medoff, author of “I Couldn’t Love You More,” “Hunger Point” and “Good Girls Gone Bad” discuss what makes difficult women so interesting to write and read about. Writer Thad Ziolkowski moderates.

2–3 p.m. “Flash!”
Venue: MPL YA Room
Flash fiction stories, narratives under 1,000 words, are everywhere these days, from zines to cell phones. But what works in such a small space? David Galef, creative writing program director at Montclair State University and author of over a dozen books, including “Brevity: A Flash Fiction Handbook,” talks about the possibilities in a flash presentation and leads a mini-workshop.

2–3 p.m. “Eyes of the World”
Venue: Montclair Public Library Auditorium
Robert Capa and Gerda Taro were two young Jewish refugees, idealistic and in love, who set off to capture the fight against facism in the Spanish Civil War. Marina Budhos and Marc Aronson present dramatic photos and other images from their new book, which tells the story of how photojournalism began. Moderated by photojournalist Tom Franklin

2–3 p.m. “The Cooking Gene”
Venue: The Guild Room at First Congregational Church
Michael Twitty, culinary historian and author of the blog Afroculinaria, in conversation with food writer Marissa Rothkopf Bates. In his forthcoming book “The Cooking Gene,” Twitty sets off in search of a culinary homeland, retracing the steps of his family’s journey from Africa to America and from slavery to freedom, using food as his lens.

2-3 p.m. “Why We Write”
Venue: The Sanctuary at First Congregational Church
Award-winning author and academic Nicholas Delbanco poses essential questions about the writing life to authors Sam Lipsyte, author of five novels including “The Ask”; novelist, poet and translator John Keene, author of “Counternarratives”; Garth Risk Hallberg, author of the international best-seller “City on Fire”; and Elena Delbanco, who published her first novel, “The Silver Swan,” at the age of 71.

3:15–4:15 p.m. “Sports and Social Protest”
Venue: Montclair Public Library Auditorium
Sports Writers Filip Bondy, Mike Freeman and Jerry Barca chat with Jay Schreiber, New York Times assistant sports editor, about how sports reporting has changed in this new, more politicized era and why some sports skew conservative while others are more liberal.

3:15–4:15 p.m. “Race and Social Justice in the Age of Trump”
Venue: The Guild Room at First Congregational Church
Rutgers Law Professor David Troutt, Mychal Denzel Smith, author of “Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching: A Young Black Man’s Education”; and Montclair State University Criminal Justice Professor Jason Williams discuss race and social and criminal justice in America with MSU Professor Patricia Matthew.

3:15–4:15 p.m. “Narrative as Medicine”
Venue: The Sanctuary at First Congregational Church
Larry Dark, director of the Story Prize, discusses narrative health and the mind-body problem with Siri Hustvedt, who has written extensively on the subject and lectures in narrative pPsychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College; Daphne Merkin, whose new book “This Close to Happy,” is a memoir of depression; and D.T. Max, author of “Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace.”

4:30–5:30 p.m. “Tell Us We’re Home”
Venue: Montclair Public Library YA Room
Author Marina Budhos talks with readers about her book “Tell Us We’re Home,” about three daughters of maids and nannies in the wealthy suburb of Meadowbrook. “Tell Us We’re Home” is the current Essex County Big Read YA Pick.

4:30–5:30 p.m. “Pitchapalooza!”
Venue: MPL Auditorium
The American Idol of Books offers the chance to pitch your idea to literary agents Liza Dawson, Joelle Delbourgo and Monica Odom, and receive constructive advice from the Book Doctors, Arielle Ekstut and David Henry Sterry. Twenty writers will be selected at random to pitch their book with a one-minute pitch. At Pitchapalooza, judges help participants improve their pitch, not tell them how bad it is. This will be New Jersey’s only Pitchapalooza event in 2017.

4:30–5:30 p.m. “Here Comes the Sun”
Venue: The Guild Room at First Congregational Church
Nicole Dennis-Benn’s debut novel of Jamaican life has been hailed as “a compelling exploration of exploitation, sacrifice, tourism, poverty and the drive for freedom” and “a magical book from a writer of immense talent and intelligence.” The author talks with her editor, Katie Adams, about the novel’s complex heroines, its Jamaican setting and dynamics of race, sexuality and class.

4:30–5:30 p.m. “Alternative Facts: Trump and the New World Order”
Venue: The Sanctuary at First Congregational Church
Tim O’Brien, author of “TrumpNation: The Art of Being The Donald”; Kate Zernike, New York Times journalist and author of “Boiling Mad: Inside Tea Party America”; and David Halbfinger, New York Times presidential campaign editor, sit down with The Daily Beast columnist, author and political commentator Jonathan Alter as they try to make sense of fake news, enemies of the people and Trump’s attitude to the media.

6:30–7:30 p.m. “Novel of Chance”
Venue: The Sanctuary at First Congregational Church
Paul Auster’s new novel “4 3 2 1” is described as “his greatest, most heartbreaking and satisfying novel — a sweeping and surprising story of birthright and possibility, of love and of life itself.” Auster will talk about his latest work with Michael Wood, Princeton professor emeritus of English and comparative literature. Set in Brooklyn and New Jersey locations including Newark and Montclair, the book traces the four parallel and entirely different fictional lives of Archibald Isaac Ferguson.
Tickets $50, including a copy of “4 3 2 1” OR $100 for both Auster’s talk and the authors cocktail party

7:30–9 p.m. Authors Cocktail Party.
Venue: The Guild Room at First Congregational Church
Drinks and hors d’oeuvres to celebrate the inaugural Montclair Literary Festival.
Tickets $100, including entry to the Paul Auster book talk and a copy of “4 3 2 1.”

SUNDAY APRIL 2
10 a.m.–1 p.m. Publishing Master Class with The Book Doctors
Venue: 11 Pine St. (Office of Succeed2gether, first floor of office building, with green awning)
Master Class with Arielle Ekstut and David Henry Sterry. Every participant will get the chance to pitch their book idea and have it critiqued kindly and gently.
Tickets $100

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