Literary giants come to tiny town for first-class festival

Milford. Audiences were enthralled by the wide range of book discussions at the fourth annual Milford Readers and Writers Festival.

Sep 24 2019 | 12:01 PM

They did it again: the fourth annual Milford Readers and Writers Festival garnered superlatives all around, from the quality of the writers, to the excitement they generated, to their connection to the readers through intelligent, participatory conversation.

“It takes time, effort, and talent," said Edson Whitney, festival co-chair with Carol McManus, in his introduction to Saturday morning’s session. "One week from this festival, the board will meet for planning next year’s festival."

The 2020 festival will be held on Sept 11, 12, and 13.

Bob Levine, festival co-founder, said the “Our Constitution Under Siege” session received a robust standing ovation.

“It just doesn’t get any better than this," he said. "It was fabulous.”

The 45 presenters in both the main stage and free panels around the borough would agree.

Twenty five green-shirted volunteers, six of them from Delaware Valley High School, were guided by Liz Dispenza and Glyn Eisenhauer. They held several meetings before the festival and so were well prepared, knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and helpful. The DV students were particularly excited to meet local writers like Angela Parrino and John DiLeo.

"Imagine," one aspiring teen writer said, “they are right here in Pike County.”

And the readers also came from Pike County and beyond. Most from out of the county came from New York City, but others traveled from as far away as Miami, Fla.; Hamden, Conn; and Stow, Ohio. The writers came from as far as California.

Many attendees wrote glowing reviews on the festival on Facebook. (facebook.com/MRWFestival/reviews).

“It was my first time at the festival," Patricia Honeycutt Cantor commented. "Super well-organized. Professionally presented. Loved being able to buy books in our bookseller-less town. Great cocktail party with yummy food. And thrilled to meet Anne Perry. Bravo!"

Maureen Dooley loved one of the free sessions given by Dr. Angela Parrino, who started her own company, GP’s Honey Tomes, to publish children’s books. Parrino spoke in detail about what it takes to self-publish.

Bob Eckstein, a New Yorker cartoonist, drew the festival live on Facebook.

Wide-ranging topics and discussions

The sessions were varied in topics, and the reactions they evoked were just as varied.

Helen Zia, in her interview with Anne Cheng, talked about the escape of four refugees from Mao’s regime during the big China migration. In her book “Last Boat Out of Shanghai,” she talks very personally about how she discovered that her mother was on the last boat. She said this story is particularly relevant today, and that leaving your family, possessions, and culture behind is very traumatic.

In their discussion “Life and the Afterlife," George Anderson and Dr. Eben Alexander mesmerized the audience with their very different takes on life after death. The line to buy their books at the pop-up bookstore was out the door. They sold out.

Anne Perry, a writer of historical detective fiction, including the Thomas Pitt and William Monk series, was adored by her many loyal fans in the audience. She was paid only sixpence for a story she wrote at age four, but she has more than made up for that. Perry has sold more than 30 million copies of her 97 novels, which have been translated into 17 languages. Her new contract with Penguin Random House specifies that she will publish two novels and one novella every year. Not only is she prolific, she is incredibly focused on details. For each new book she writes, she does a 25-page chapter outline.

Judge Andrew Napolitano and Professor Jeffrey Rosen, both constitutional scholars, brought to life some of the major issues of the constitution that they see “under siege.” This session was moderated by Mayor Sean Strub, and the repartee was brilliant. Both Rosen and Napolitano agreed that the Constitution itself should be the basis when discussing topics like the separation of powers and the Second Amendment, not partisan views. They also felt that better listening and more respect on all sides is needed. As erudite as this session was, it was peppered by Napolitano's hilarious impressions as he quoted U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders. Rosen, not to be left out, gave a great impression of Nixon. The audience was thrilled.

Mary Cooney summed up the weekend experience well in her Facebook comment:

“Utterly enthralling from beginning to end. I found myself often laughing out loud and other times holding my breath in anticipation. Where else can you find such a diverse, entertaining and prolific group of authors under one roof? I was stimulated beyond measure and now I have lots of ( signed) books to sustain me in the months to come. Thank you to all the organizers and volunteers that did an amazing job to make sure that the whole festival came off without a hitch. Our town is blessed with intellectual richness and like attracts like. I hope this continues for years to come.”

“Utterly enthralling from beginning to end. I found myself often laughing out loud and other times holding my breath in anticipation. Where else can you find such a diverse, entertaining and prolific group of authors under one roof? I was stimulated beyond measure and now I have lots of ( signed) books to sustain me in the months to come. Thank you to all the organizers and volunteers that did an amazing job to make sure that the whole festival came off without a hitch. Our town is blessed with intellectual richness and like attracts like. I hope this continues for years to come.” --Mary Cooney