A father, a son, and a collaboration 25 years in the making

John and Baird Hersey

This year’s Woodstock Bookfest will feature the world premiere of Lost Dreams, a collaboration between the late writer John Hersey and his son Baird, a composer who lives in West Shokan.

“It was a way to connect with him,” said Baird of the collaboration. “He was a good father and a good man, and it was a way to stay in touch with him and be creative with him.”

After poring over some letters from his father recently, Baird decided to finish his half of the piece and ready it for performance. The story is about learning to play the violin. Novelist Colm Tóibín will provide the reading, with musical accompaniment performed by violinists Katherine Hannauer and Laura Hackstein.


According to Baird, his father studied to be a concert violinist from a young age, but eventually chose writing when he realized there wasn’t enough time in the day to attain mastery in both pursuits. John Hersey wrote 25 books, most notably the Pulitzer Prizewinning Hiroshima (1946), a searing account of the bomb’s aftermath and a pioneering work of what was later called “New Journalism,” though Hersey was critical of the fast-and-loose relationship that some later “New” journalists had with facts.

Baird Hersey, Tóibín and the violinists will need to rehearse the story before the performance. “There are sections that are just music and there are sections that are just spoken-word, but it is a kind of sentimental piece. It’s got humor in it as well,” said Baird. “And as we all know with humor, that takes timing.”

Prior to this, Baird hadn’t met Tóibín, and his father didn’t know him either. Baird brought the idea of performing the story to Bookfest executive director Martha Frankel, who then asked Tóibín if he, as keynote speaker, would do the reading. Tóibín agreed. “Colm has been very generous with his time,” said Baird.

And, in an unplanned but what Baird calls a “miraculous” coincidence, the performance date of Lost Dreams – March 24, 2018 – will mark the 25th anniversary of John Hersey’s death.

The debut performance of Lost Dreams will happen during the festival keynote event, “An Evening with Colm Tóibín”, on Saturday, March 24 at 8 p.m. at the Bearsville Theater. The Woodstock Bookfest runs from Thursday, March 22 to Sunday, March 25 and includes many other author panels, intensive workshops, parties, a Story Slam and more. For tickets and more information, see https://woodstockbookfest.com.