Joyful Bookfest

Amanda Palmer breaks out her uke during Memoir Panel at the 9th Annual Woodstock Bookfest. (Photos by Dion Ogust)

Woodstock Bookfest founder and executive director Martha Frankel was ecstatic Monday morning, following completion of the annual event’s ninth outing. Attendance had been the best ever. Local restaurants and shops were chockablock with happy customers all weekend. Books were selling like generators and bottled water before a major storm front.

Best of all, Frankel said, was the Saturday night presentation of a John Hersey short story arranged as a musical collaboration with composer Baird Hersey and featuring Bookfest keynote speaker Colm Toibin, the renowned Irish novelist.


“I had read the story, which Hersey had been working on at the time of his death exactly 25 years to the day before his son’s presentation of it. I’d talked to Baird about his plans,” she said. “But I honestly had no idea what it was going to be like.”

Frankel went on to describe a full-house audience at the Bearsville Theater alternating between laughter and tears. She said she wished, for a moment, that the event had been video recorded, but then added how it’s enough, for such events, to have had “250 people lucky enough to have been able to be in that room.”

Going on, the longstanding magazine writer and book author brought up other highlights. There was an autism panel featuring writers on and off “the spectrum” touching an audience tied to their every word; a lively poetry session, a raucous resistance-focused open mic event, and a Sunday where every panelist was a woman and things drew to a close with Woodstock-based performative legend coming out with ukulele in hand, charming the packed room immediately.

Gail Straub and Kate McGloughlin.

Kate McGloughlin and Gail Straub’s talk on the Ashokan Reservoir and how it inspired all of us was “incredibly moving,” Frankel said. “Kate’s family had been displaced by its waters many years ago. But her attitude was infectious, her way of saying ‘Welcome. I’m so glad you love what I love.’”

Everyone noted the deep love of books evident all weekend long. Toibin’s mention of the ways a good writer can bring readers into the living room he or she grew up in. The love audiences showed authors by buying their books. The liveliness conversations took on, the fact that so many — including Frankel — were able to escape their social media haunts for several days straight and share a world of greater thoughts, more involved stories, and inspiration.

“Can you believe I got strep throat on Thursday but woke up this morning with it gone,” Frankel said, noting the coughing, sneezing rasp she brought with her to all her moderating and other duties the entire Woodstock Bookfest weekend long. “But I’ve come away from it all raring to be writing all summer, with numerous projects I’m now fully ready to tackle.”

Talk about a fruitful weekend. Talk about all that books still do for the best of us.

“My Body, My Works” panel