Shop Notes: Back To The Business Of Passion At The Newburyport Literary Festival


Shortly after I moved to Ipswich a few years ago, a friend drew my attention to the Newburyport Literary Festival.  Unfortunately, I’d just missed it, but I looked at the line-up of authors and saw a number of big names I would have loved to see.  How did this small coastal town put together such a prestigious festival each year?  After a friend connected me to one of the directors and I found myself joining monthly meetings to help plan the following year’s festival, the answer soon became clear: a small group of passionate and dedicated volunteers, who love both literature and the North Shore of Massachusetts.

On April 23-24, the 16th annual Newburyport Literary Festival will take place virtually — while still exhorting the spirit of this gorgeous place we live in — with another fabulous schedule of events, all free and open to the public.  Friday night opens with a celebration of this year’s author honoree, poet Deborah Warren, who is joined in conversation with book critic Ernest Hilbert.  On Saturday it’s impossible to attend every event, so you’ll have to pick between the many nonfiction, fiction, and poetry panels and author conversations taking place throughout the day. Mystery readers will not want to miss “Did the Butler Do It?  A Conversation with Three British Crime Masters” with Ruth Ware, Elly Griffiths, and Dorothy Koomson, while audiobook enthusiasts should hit pause on their current listens in order to attend “Listen Up!  Audiobooks Turn Up the Volume for the Publishing Industry” with panelists Imogen Church, January LaVoy, and Robert Petkoff.  At 11:30 a.m., everyone should take the time to witness the great Natasha Trethewey receive the first annual X.J. Kennedy Prize for Excellence in Poetry.  This will be followed by a conversation between Trethewey and local luminary Rhina Espaillat.  After a full afternoon of events, the day culminates with a cocktail party (BYO!) with some of the contributors of Alone Together: Love, Grief, and Comfort in the Time of COVID-19 — Jennifer Haupt, Scott James, January Gill O’Neill, and Dani Shapiro.

But wait, there’s more!  

We haven’t even talked about Sunday yet.  

The second full day of festival events features more fiction and nonfiction authors talks, plus authors of local history.  Ghlee E. Woodworth’s tour of Newburyport, from her forthcoming Newburyport Clipper Heritage Trail, Volume II is a true delight.  A number of events feature novelists with local ties: Manchester native Lily King (discussing Writers and Lovers), current Beverly resident Alena Dillon (featuring her newest novel The Happiest Girl in the World), and Newburyport native Erik Hoel (The Revelations).

I can’t help but give the panel I’ll be moderating a shout-out, too. I’m thrilled to be talking about where art meets commerce with authors who also own bookstores: Ann Patchett, Kelly Link, and Alex George.  In the afternoon there are events on graphic novels, young adult books, and the current state of science fiction and fantasy writing to choose from, plus events featuring Phuc Tran, author of the New England Book Award-winning memoir Sigh, Gone, and Peter Ho Davies, author of A Lie Someone Told You About Yourself, in conversation with Charles Baxter.

And more.

I wish I could tell you about every event, but I only have a few hundred words to work with here.  I’m excited about every one of them.  If you’re having any trouble deciding, step into the shop and check out our shelf of books featuring this year’s festival authors.  There’s truly something for everyone. I encourage you to visit to see the full schedule and register for all the events that interest you.  

I’ll see you there.

newburyport, massachusetts, x.j. kennedy, book critic, poet, newburyport clipper heritage trail, lily king, ann patchett, scott james, newburyport