- Flash readings at Liberty Rock Books in 2015. The Hobart Book Village’s Fifth Annual Festival of Women Writers will be held September 8–10.
Bibliophiles rejoice! Tucked along the west branch of the Delaware River, there is a tiny Catskill town designed just for you (and those you'll drag along to browse the shelves and sniff the spines). Hailed the "Reading Capital of New York State," Hobart Book Village in Hobart, is home to 400 people, five independent bookstores, and the only book village east of Mississippi. "We get a ton of people from all over the world who come to our beautiful part of the country," says Barbara Balliet, co-owner of Blenheim Hill Books. "People are willing to travel if they love books."
They're also willing to travel for book festivals. This year, the bibliophagist community is hosting its Fifth Annual Festival of Women Writers on September 8, 9, and 10—which founders Balliet and Cheryl Clarke (poet and Balliet's bookstore partner) say might be their biggest year yet. With three full days of readings, workshops, and panel conversations, the festival is the destination for all-things book related. Why led by just women? "Women writers need the attention of the public," says Clarke. And it's a way for women to create a broader network among each other, Balliet adds, though the festival is open to everyone.
While the writers (and attendees) come from across the country, there is still a strong focus on a regional pull. In earlier years, they chose from the village's professional network, later added in recommendations from participants, and now, due to overwhelming hype, are requesting submitted samples from solely published writers. For the first time ever, the festival started receiving inquiries from agents and publishers about their writers participating.
This year brings in two dozen returning and first-time-festival writers, like regional poet Margo Farrington, screenwriter Elisabeth Nonas, and historian Blanche Wiesen Cook—who just finished a three-volume biography of Eleanor Roosevelt. Throughout the weekend, the writers will lead several intensive two- and six-hour writing workshops (each with a registration and fee that goes directly to the writer) for attending writers that are looking to dive deeper on larger projects, like short story collections and novels. "This entire region is rather rich in writing and writers. We make a big effort to attract people into the workshops because there are so many people that are starting to write in the area," says Balliet. Some workshops include Julie Enszer's From A to Z: Self-Publishing Fundamentals, Stephanie Nikolopolous' Build Demand For Your Book Proposal and Kamilah Aisha Moon's The Elegy: Poetics of Protest and Collective Grief. For those seeking something less rigorous, there are free readings and a public conversation on art and politics with panelists.
What makes the book village work is its communal, noncompetitive flare. Each bookstore has its own specialty that doesn't overlap with the others—like BHB's strong poetry and nature sections and Creative Corner Books' craft selections—so there's a place for each book niche. It also grants a more cohesive and binding festival. Run entirely by residential volunteers and bookstore owners, the festival is held throughout the entire village with everything in walking distance. The weekend's several-hundred population increase also fosters a significant boost for the town's local businesses, like the bed and breakfasts and local caterers. "It puts us on the map, and introduces people to this area who might not otherwise ever get here," says Balliet. The only plot twist? The venues and workshops are hitting full capacity quicker than ever. Seems like a good problem to have.
The Hobart Book Village's Fifth Annual Festival of Women Writers will be held Friday, September 8 through Sunday, September 10. The festival opening reading begins on Friday at 1:45pm with three writers. Registration is required in advance for intensive workshops. For a full list of writers and a schedule overview: Hobartfestivalofwomenwriters.com.