Spencertown Academy Book Festival Features Virtual Author Lectures, Book Sale | Berkshire landscapes


CHATHAM, NY – Former UN worker Jill Kalotay loves books. The same goes for the 2,000 people and volunteers who attend the Spencertown Academy Arts Center annual book festival. Too many for the current climate, the 16th festival will spend a second year online.

Kalotay is co-chairing the festival, its sixth, with David Highfill, editor-in-chief of HarperCollins publisher William Morrow.

“I am a reader and a lover of books,” Kalotay said in a telephone interview. “Our family has always been like this. My daughter is a writer and my Hungarian husband is very bookish.

As the Academy is a completely voluntary organization, she added, “everything we do is a labor of love.”


Pulitzer Prize winner Ayad Akhtar, author of “Homeland Elegies,” is one of the many presenters at the Spencertown Academy Arts Center Virtual Book Festival 2021.

Topping a wide range of free Zoom lectures is Pulitzer Prize-winning author and playwright Ayad Akhtar, whose “Homeland Elegies” about a Pakistani immigrant and US-born son was selected as one of the top 10 books. of 2020 by the New York Times. The neighboring Kinderhook resident was recently named a New York State author.

Back, historian and New York Times contributor Russell Shorto, author of “Smalltime: A Story of My Family and the Mob”. Located in Pittsburgh, “the things he’s finding out about his family are amazing and heartwarming,” Kalotay said.

Author and illustrator Peter Sis, the first children’s book illustrator to win the MacArthur Fellowship, will talk about his book, “Nicky and Vera: A Quiet Hero of the Holocaust and the Children he Rescued”, the story of a little-known British hero. who saved hundreds of Jewish children in WWII Czechoslovakia.

“There is a lot of autobiography in the work he writes,” Kalotay said. “He is a world-renowned artist, famous for his peaceful approach.”

Librarian Ann Gainer will read “Nicky and Vera” in a program suitable for ages 8 and up; and author Nancy Castaldo will engage young readers with “Sniffer Dogs: How Dogs (and Their Noses) Save the World”.

Also appearing are historical novelists Rishi Reddi – his first “Passage West” features a Punjabi family with Mexican in-laws and Japanese neighbors during World War I in California – and Dexter Palmer, author of the 18th century tale “Mary Toft; or, The Rabbit Queen “.

Sonia Purnell’s “A Woman of No Importance” and Clare Mulley’s “The Spy Who Loved” both feature notable WWII women.

The graphic memoir of acclaimed comic book artist, illustrator and writer Michael Kupperman, “All the Answers” follows his father’s fame on the mid-20th century television and radio show “Quiz Kids”.

In a festival premiere, Rick Rodgers will demonstrate the baking of Almas Pite – a Hungarian apple pie – from his book “Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from Classic Cafés”.

“She is a very accessible and entertaining person,” said Kalotay, whose mother-in-law taught him “all about Hungarian cuisine”.

The 2021 and 2020 conferences will be published on the Academy’s YouTube channel. They are always free, said Kalotay, “but we really appreciate the donations.”


The Academy raises funds through its extensive book sale, organized for 10 years by former antique book dealer and retired judge Wayne Greene.

“I took a leave [from law] become a bookseller, ”Greene said in a telephone interview from Manhattan. “It was my passion.”

Previously, books were mostly sold at a price. “I started to collect through donations, to find the true value of books,” said Greene. “I would find treasures.

It examines each volume for signatures, margins, and condition.

Presented in the special book room, the individually priced books increased revenue by 25%.

“Historically, booksellers attended and left with huge deals. I still left room in the pricing for them to make a profit.

In 2019, book sales brought in around $ 29,000, an all-time high. After moving online last year, however, “we made $ 12,000, a third of what we normally do,” Greene said.

Unlike the 20,000 volumes typical of past years, online sales are limited to 500 items. Subjects include art, architecture, photography, fiction, biography, history, cookbooks and children, as well as CDs, DVDs, LPs and ephemera. Prices start at $ 5, with some 250 books priced at $ 25 and up.

“A lot of beautiful art books have been donated this year,” Green said. “One of our best offers is ‘Portraits, Figures and Landscapes’, a seven-volume set of complete paintings by John Singer Sargent in mint condition. We are asking for $ 750.

It is interesting to note a 1904 first edition of “Italian Villas and Their Gardens” by Edith Wharton, with illustrations by Maxfield Parrish, priced at $ 250.

The crown jewel of this year’s sale is Mark Twain’s “1875 Sketches New and Old” with black and white engraved illustrations, offered at $ 1,000.

“One of our neighbors was editing his property,” Greene said. “This book belonged to his father or his grandfather, it is a very rare first edition that is rarely seen.”

Touching and owning a book is nothing like a digital experience, he suggested. “It’s just a much more rewarding experience than reading something on a screen.”

“I love looking at the shelf and remembering the pleasant experience I had reading the book.”


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