The Martha’s Vineyard Book Festival celebrated its return to the Island for the sixth time this weekend, bringing a boatload of authors and their books, ready for signatures.

The festival featured a wide range of writers talking about their craft with eager readers, who peppered authors with questions. The free event is held every two years on the Island; book festival volunteers urged attendees to purchase books to support the authors.

Moderator Paul Schneider leads conversation about life on the water with authors John Benditt, Liza Klaussmann, Jennifer Tseng and Peter Nichols. — Mark Lovewell

The festival opened Friday evening with a sell-out crowd at the Chilmark Community Center gathered to hear award-winning journalist and NPR host Michele Norris interview Ta-Nehisi Coates, a senior editor for The Atlantic and a leading voice in the national conversation on race. His provocative book Between the World and Me has been sitting atop best-seller lists since it came out last month. The event was sponsored by the Vineyard Gazette. The festival closed Sunday with an animated panel of commentators dissecting the role of the news media in current events.

A small crowd of book fans, both tourists and Islanders, gathered outside the Harbor View Hotel Saturday morning to hear local Vineyard authors like Jennifer Tseng and Chris Fischer alongside off-Island writers like Ginny Gilder, Bob Ryan, and Peter Nichols in a series of talks and panels early in the day in the hotel’s Edgartown Room.

A steady flow of visitors streamed into and out of the nearby Menemsha room, where they could purchase books for the authors present to sign in the hotel’s gazebo or watch a live feed of the discussions going on in the main room. Many simply browsed the titles, giving a promise that they would return later. But several attendees filled their arms with books to purchase to the point that one Bunch of Grapes employee offered to find them bags.

Kicking off the afternoon block of speakers were Vicki Croke and Carl Safina discussing the similarities, particularly in personality, between animals and humans.

Rick Mast, chocolatier and cookbook author, talks with fellow cookbook author Chris Fischer. — Mark Lovewell

Ms. Croke’s book, Elephant Company, was based around the role of elephants in Burma during World War II, while Mr. Safina's book, Beyond Words, focused on the broader array of emotions and complex relationships that animals can form. Both agreed there was more to animals’ inner lives than might appear at first glance. “You can’t accurately call an elephant ‘it’ any more than you can call a human ‘it,’” Ms. Croke asserted at one point.

Authors Jeff Hobbs, David Kertzer, Stephen Kurkjian, and Sarah Wildman followed with a discussion about writing. All those on the panel had recently written somewhat research-intensive non-fiction. Mr. Hobbs came the closest to a less academic narrative with his book The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace, about the death of his roommate from Yale and an investigation into its causes.

“This book is a eulogy that got out of hand,” Mr. Hobbs said, noting that he had to spend vast quantities of time with drug dealers and other urban crime world figures in preparation for his book, even taking his daughter to several of the meetings.

Mr. Kertzer, a Brown University professor, spoke about his Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Pope and Mussolini. His flowing historical narrative was assisted by the use of archives released from the Vatican. Mr. Kertzer refused to frame the book as a story of good versus evil, noting, “There’s always this sort of push and pull between who’s right and who’s wrong.” Mr. Kertzer emphasized that this in turn helped attract him to his chosen topic.

Saturday closed out with a discussion on writing about one’s self with memoir authors Charles Blow, Barney Frank, Patty Marx, and Mary Norris. Moderator Alexandra Styron described it as “a real Frankenstein” of a panel.

Moderator Alexandra Styron talks with Charles Blow about his memoir, Fire Shut Up in My Bones. — Mark Lovewell

Ms. Norris, whose book Between You & Me focuses on her life as a grammar obsessive, began by wryly noting, “I never had any luck publishing anything until I started writing about commas.”

Both Mr. Frank’s and Mr. Blow’s books dealt with subjects that in part pertained to their sexualities. Mr. Frank, however, pointed out that Mr. Blow’s colleague at The New York Times, Frank Bruni, had remarked on what he saw as the relative lack of focus pertaining to Mr. Frank’s homosexuality in his book, prompting Mr. Frank to quip that perhaps others had wanted 50 Shades of Frank instead. “I’m not sure I could’ve gotten much past 17 or 18,” he said.

Sunday’s schedule of events took place outdoors at the Chilmark Community Center, with author talks held in three tents while authors signed books and attendees munched on food provided by the Home Port. In the Bunch of Grapes book sales tent, several titles were sold out by the end of the day.

Erik Larson, author of Dead Wake, an account of the sinking of the Lusitania, talked to an overflow crowd about the process of writing his newest work. “Looking for an idea is like looking for a spouse,” he said. “You’ve got to kiss a lot of frogs.”

Liza Klaussman's latest novel, Villa America, takes place in the French Riviera and is a story of the Lost Generation. — Mark Lovewell

Mr. Larson would not say what his next book would be, but did joke that he was considering the title Killing Bill O’Reilly as an explanation of his views on modern media.

Mr. Blow was interviewed by WBUR’s Here and Now co-host Jeremy Hobson, giving a brief introduction to his book Fire Shut Up in My Bones that left his audience so riveted that when the microphone momentarily drifted away from Mr. Blow’s mouth, several members immediately erupted, “Hold it closer!” His harrowing narrative of his early life in Louisiana produce some shocked and sorrowful reactions from those in attendance as he read excerpts from the work.

Finally, the festival ended with a panel on the modern news media with Mr. Blow, Mr. Frank, and Jeff Fager, executive producer for 60 Minutes, moderated by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Alex Jones. After festival founder and organizer Suellen Lazarus thanked the volunteers, sponsors, and attendees of the event for showing up and helping to ensure its success, the panel dived in with discussions around race relations, gun control, and even Donald Trump.

“I haven’t lived a good enough life to have that happen,” said Mr. Frank when asked about Donald Trump’s prospects for winning the Republican nomination.

Mr. Fager, as a producer of the news, came under some fire from Mr. Frank at one point for supposedly contributing to many Americans’ bleak outlooks by focusing too much on negative news. The discussion between the two men rose to the point that Mr. Blow leaned back in his chair and said, “This is getting good,” to laughs from the crowd.

But the panel discussion became highly intense all around towards the end, prompting the moderator, Mr. Jones, to finally stop the men nearly in mid-sentence and in turn close out the 2015 Martha’s Vineyard Book Festival. “We’re not only out of time, we’ve gone way over,” Mr. Jones said, thanking the members of the panel for their participation and beginning a mass exodus out of the festival grounds.

View more pictures from the Martha's Vineyard Book Festival.