Bibliophiles can rejoice. Eight years after the state last held a statewide literary fair in Hartford, the Connecticut Literary Festival launches Oct. 5 to celebrate the literary arts.
Hosted by Real Art Ways, the festival features panels, readings, a book fair, a typewriter gallery and a readers’ marketplace with area publishers and literary organizations. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and admission is free.
Festival founder Jotham Burrello spent a year on this “labor of love,” gathering together more than 50 Connecticut writers and organizations. “Some festivals have multiple spaces but this first year we can manage it using the seven galleries [at Real Art Ways],” he says, also crediting Central Connecticut State University’s English Department and book publisher Elephant Rock Books as drivers of the event. “Every gallery will have a different event simultaneously, so it’s like a literary carnival.”
Headlining the panels is Amy Bloom, whose books include two New York Times best-sellers, Lucky Us and Away, the nonfiction Normal, exploring sex and gender, and three collections of short stories. Her latest book, White Houses (2018), is an imagining of the real love affair between First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and journalist Lorena “Hick” Hickok. We spoke to the Wesleyan University professor of creative writing about the new festival and her own literary career.
What are you most looking forward to about the festival?
I think it’s a great beginning. It’s a chance for us in Connecticut with this great literary tradition and lots of wonderful writers working now to come together and really celebrate literature, writers, readers and make it the best kind of book party.
What is the focus of your presentation?
I will talk a little bit about writing — both what writers need and what readers need. I will probably read from my most recent novel and my next novel and then answer questions, which to me is always the most fun part.
You were a therapist before you published your first book. Why writing?
I was a practicing therapist for about 10 years before I started writing. I discovered I had stories I wanted to tell, not stories about my patients, but stories about the characters in my head, and that’s how I wrote my first short-story collection.
You have written both fiction and nonfiction. Which is more challenging?
For me, fiction is more challenging. I’m always appreciative to write nonfiction, but needing to create a voice for a novel is certainly a challenge — the kind of imagining and making up a plot and making up of events, which reveal people’s nature.
You did a lot of research for White Houses. How long did that take?
That probably took about a year.
What was the most surprising thing you learned?
I think the thing that surprised me and also pleased me was the relatively happy life that Lorena Hickok went on to after she left the White House. There were certainly bad times, but eventually she found herself a successful writer again and that made me happy.
Who was more fascinating: Eleanor or Lorena?
I found them both fascinating and appealing, but obviously I chose to make Lorena the narrator because she was an outsider and a writer. Both of those qualities appeal to me.
What is your next book about?
It’s about the German occupation of Paris during World War II and the way in which people did and did not collaborate and did and did not resist.
The Tiny Reading Gallery will host about 40 writers, reading their original work all day in 10-minute slots. “Writers of all stripes and sizes are going to be there, from high school students to published writers and people in between,” Burrello says.
The Typewriter Gallery will have about eight small desks with typewriters, flowers and writing prompts. People can type their own stories and hang them on the wall.
The Marketplace Gallery includes the Yale Writers’ Workshop, Woodhall Press, the Freshwater Literary Journal, Wesleyan University Press, the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, and The Mark Twain House & Museum.
The Raw Cafe will host live music and spoken-word artists.
Theater Talks will see writers reading their work, moderated conversations and Q&As.