We were happy to safely hold the live Martha’s Vineyard Book Festival 2021 Summer Series last weekend. To do live programming under current conditions, we reduced crowd size, ticketed all entries, and eliminated book signings, among other measures. Accordingly, the program was not free, but everyone had free access to it via live stream. And it was pretty great as 22 authors traveled to the island to participate. For most of these authors, it was their first live event in 18 months. And they sure were happy to be together and to meet their devoted fans. Reading sustained us during the pandemic and we came out of it recognizing the centrality of books in our lives. For this reason, it was particularly important to us to do live programming this year despite some obstacles.

We were proud to claim these brilliant authors for the weekend. The authors included a Nobel laureate, Pulitzer Prize winners, a Pen Faulkner winner, a U.S. Senator, a Congressman, NY Times best sellers, filmmakers, historians, advocates, lawyers, psychologists, scientists, and exceptionally talented writers. Our focus was on the future of journalism, social media, politics, history, culture, equality and race, climate change and gender. It was edgy and timely. It was honest. And the quality of the discourse was outstanding and created a clear call to action. Hearing these great minds provide perspective and insight was truly inspiring.

Listening to Heather McGhee detail how we all are harmed by racism or Daniel Kahneman and Walter Isaacson sparring on noise versus bias in decision making or Geraldine Brooks deftly engaging Brandon Taylor and Deesha Philyaw on the art of short stories is to be wiser and a better citizen. We learned about the case for eliminating the filibuster from Adam Jentleson and the case for breaking up big tech from Senator Amy Klobuchar. The stories built on one another and the weekend pulled together into a comprehensive whole. The moderators were exceedingly well prepared and thoughtful.

We found a new home at the beautiful Martha’s Vineyard Museum and are grateful for the patience and helpfulness of their dedicated staff. Our traditional home, the Chilmark Community Center worked hard and cheerfully to convert a summer camp into the festival site.

Many thanks to the Towns of Chilmark and Tisbury for accommodating our programming and to the neighbors throughout the towns who allowed us to use their lots for parking. Pulling this together at two sites with 24 events, ticket sales, book sales, a huge volunteer staff to organize, developing a parking plan, identifying the best moderators, transporting the authors to the Island and around the Island, feeding them and housing them required the logistics of a military operation. All kudos go to Valerie Rosenberg, Annie Treitman, Steve Fischer, Rachel McDonald, Christine Skidmore and Wendee Wolfson for pulling off the extraordinary logistics and for their leadership. Bunch of Grapes Bookstore adeptly managed our book orders (and the returns).

Great appreciation goes to the many volunteers who efficiently picked up the authors, mailed them book plates for presigning, checked in guests, handled parking, managed tents, sold books and lunches and did so much more, and all of it cheerfully.

We are grateful to A2D Productions for their technical expertise under changing conditions, Martha’s Vineyard Productions for recording our programs, About Signs and Design for making us look smart, Jeanna Shepard and Gabriela Herman for their beautiful photos, and so many more.

Families opened their homes to the authors both to house them and to entertain them. Sponsors generously provided the financial support that was essential to underwrite the cost of an undertaking of this scale. We received generous funding from Martha’s Vineyard Bank Charitable Foundation and Massachusetts Center for the Book. In addition, Cronig’s Market, South Mountain Company and Stina Sayre Design provided needed support. Special thanks also to Slough Farm, Tradewind Aviation, Vineyard Vines and Martha’s Vineyard Glassworks.

Finally, our gratitude and anniversary wishes to the extraordinary Vineyard Gazette, our media sponsor, whom we were pleased to celebrate last Friday night with a spot on discussion on the future of journalism, and for their outstanding book festival supplement last Friday.

Suellen Lazarus


The writer is director of the MV Book Festival.