Kevin O’Connor / Staff Photos
Left, readers browse at the sixth annual Bookstock literary festival this past weekend in Woodstock. Left, Poet and Bennington College professor Mark Wunderlich reads at the sixth annual Bookstock literary festival this past weekend in Woodstock. Above, poet and Bennington College professor Mark Wunderlich reads at the sixth annual Bookstock literary festival this past weekend in Woodstock.
WOODSTOCK — The nearly 400 free tickets to hear former U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins were snatched up two weeks before Friday’s start of this town’s Bookstock literary festival. But tell that to the equal number of people who tried unsuccessfully to squeeze in anyway.
“We suspected that might happen,” said Partridge Boswell, one of the event’s volunteer organizers, “but it’s a good problem to have. It underscores the way things are growing.”
Six years after locals aimed to boost their annual book sale with a reading or two, the now three-day festival presented three U.S. poet laureates and more than 30 other notable novelists and nonfiction writers this past weekend in a crowded series of free public programs.
Collins and Pulitzer Prize-winning peers Louise Glück and Charles Simic topped a bill that drew hundreds of book readers and buyers to the town green and surrounding historic buildings Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
“We want to bring the written word to life,” Boswell said. “We try to present authors who are capable of doing that.”
Collins, for example, entertained a capacity crowd at the Town Hall theater Friday night, then surprised the audience at a Green Writers Press gathering Saturday afternoon by reading one of his poems from the new Vermont publisher’s anthology “So Little Time: Words and Images for a World in Climate Crisis.”
“A huge honor,” Green Writers Press leader Dede Cummings soon tweeted with a photo. “Billy Collins reads his poem ‘Snow Day’ from the book I published!”
Poet and Bennington College professor Mark Wunderlich read for a smaller but no less appreciative crowd at the nearby 180-year-old North Universalist Chapel. Having just released a third collection of poems titled “The Earth Avails,” Wunderlich also shared a few works in progress.
“This is a little rough,” the poet told the audience about one, “but I thought Vermonters are friendly.”
Listeners, in turn, expressed empathy for his “Death of a Cat,” centered on a pet “unburdened by the need to assign language to everything they see.”
Other speakers ranged from Anita Diamant, author of the biblically inspired New York Times best-selling novel “The Red Tent,” to Harry Bliss, The New Yorker magazine cartoonist from South Burlington who presented his newest illustrated children’s book, “Anna & Solomon,” written by his mother-in-law.
A volunteer planning committee of 20, with help from area businesses and organizations headed by Sustainable Woodstock, raised the event’s nearly $20,000 budget from grants, sponsorships and fees.
“There are some people who say, ‘Let’s make this really big and have nationally known authors,’ and there are others who say, ‘We’re a small town that can’t handle huge crowds,’” lead coordinator Ron Miller said. “We’re trying to find the right size. But I think it’s exciting the success builds on itself.”
Boswell concurred: “We’ve come a long way in a short time.”
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