Originally published in The Weekly Packet, October 31, 2019
WORD festival turns Blue Hill into literary mecca
by Anne Berleant
A passion for books, writers and writing fuels WORD, the Blue Hill Literary Arts Festival, which held its third annual weekend event October 24 to 27, bringing writers of all kinds to venues throughout town, with opportunities to ask questions, listen to readings or just bask in their writerly glow.
Over 1,000 people attended one or more of 24 different readings, conversations, workshops and meals, that began with a reception at the Blue Hill Inn on Friday, October 25, and ended Sunday afternoon with a collaboration between Sedgwick musician and composer Paul Sullivan and poet Richard Blanco at the Congregational Church.
“Paul added soprano Rose Upton and the result had the audience giving them standing ovations three times,” Word co-founder Sarah Pebworth said.
Writing workshops, free and not, were filled or sold out, as were bigger (and free) speaker events: author Dave Cullen, on the epidemic of mass shootings and student response; horror writer Joe Hill and multi-genre writer Elizabeth Hand, speaking with Slate critic Laura Miller on craft; and The New Yorker television critic Emily Nussbaum and Blue Hill Books owner Samantha Haskell in conversation.
At the Lightning Round for Writers, with festival co-founder and young adult author Ellen Booraem, children and adults sat around a table at the Blue Hill Library strewn with pieces of paper, photos and other small items. Booraem was putting her students through the building blocks— colors, numbers, feelings, faults and virtues, food, and so on—for their opening scenes of a story about a fairy infestation in the fridge.
A poetry crawl on Saturday brought verse lovers to Blue Hill Books, to the Congregational Church, with four stops in between, led by WORD founding member, poet and former George Stevens Academy teacher Marie Epply.
“When Marie started teaching me about poetry, I said, ‘This is one of my people, she speaks my language,’” said Martin Conti, who introduced her (with WORD emblazoned down the side of one of his orange trouser legs).
A bookmaking workshop, a discussion between New York Times children’s book editor Maria Russo and children’s librarian Pat Horton, and more opportunities to mingle with other festival-goers over food filled in the gaps.
“We worked hard to expand the range of what we offered this year,” Pebworth said, noting in particular the horror and mystery genres on display at Saturday night’s speaker event with Joe Hill and Elizabeth Hand. “This is our third year and I think being more experienced helped planning go more smoothly”
She acknowledged the library, Bay School, and WERU and funders STK Foundation, Maine Arts Commission, the Anahata Foundation and private donors “who make it possible to put on a festival like this here.”
At the Saturday night event, Pebworth was also handing out bookmarks for next year’s WORD fest, to be held October 22 to 25.
“We are all so curious here on the Blue Hill Peninsula, and WORD gives us a broad way to find out more about interesting people doing interesting things,” she said. “I’m hoping others left as inspired about their own projects, their own lives, as I did.”