The fifth Milford Readers and Writers Festival (MRAWF) has been eagerly anticipated by its loyal audiences after a three-year Covid hiatus. The theme or mantra of the festival has always been, “Readers. Writers. Conversation.” And this year, people had voracious appetites for more readers, more writers, and more conversations.
Carol McManus, festival co-chair with Edson Whitney said, “”I was overwhelmed by the positive energy and gratitude that the festival is back .... It proved to me there is an unquenchable thirst for good literature, smart conversation, and sharing of ideas and expertise, and books are critical to satisfying that appetite. I am grateful to our everyone who attended and hope to see them back in 2023.”
According to Whitney, they sold 200 weekend passes, 100 individual tickets, and the average number of people in a session was between 180 and 200. The weekend started on Friday night, September 16, with a dramatic reading of The Gin Game by actor Len Cariou and his wife, writer, actor, and activist, Heather Summerhayes Cariou. Michelle Oram produced this event.
The Carious performed a reading a few years ago at MRAWF) and the audience welcomed them back.
On Saturday, ticketed events on the main stage at the Milford theater were “What is American Food?” “Books You May Never Get to Read,” “Writing About Rock & Roll,” and “In Conversation with Nelson DeMille and Alex DeMille.”
In the Food Panel, Yale History Professor Paul Freedman brought his historical prospective to the discussion of American culinary history while trading historical tidbits with journalist, novelist, and self-described foodie, Richard Morais. After that session, Jim Pierce, from Lords Valley, said, “I really enjoyed the variety and intellectual challenge of listening to these writers’ perspectives.”
Jim Pedranti, local Milford benefactor exclaimed, “I was really pleased with their expertise and their backgrounds. It was nice that they talked about the Delmonico Restaurant in New York City, which is historically related to our Delmonico Room here in the Hotel Fauchere.”
The book publishing panel was popular as well as topical. Moderator Brooke Warner, publisher of She Writes Press, said, “ Books are really at the center of our culture wars right now,” and asked the panelists (author James Kirchick, publisher Jamie Raab, and literary agent Regina Brooks, “What are the ramifications of that?” The other two panels provided lots of food for thought.
Suzanne Braun Levine, a co-founder of MRAWF remarked, “We always try to create a program that has variety and depth. I think we really got it this year - from the nuanced and passionate discussion of book banning to an intimate conversation with Nelson DeMille and his son Alex about how it was to write a book together. The free panels were also especially topical and intriguing.”
The free panels included an entire Science Fiction event coordinated by board member and science fiction author Lillian Longendorfer at the Columns Museum on Saturday, as well as a book selling and signing event afterwards at Golden Fish Gallery. There were also pop-up bookstores at St. Patrick’s church, where the main stage authors signed and sold their books.
There were nine other free panels, mostly on Sunday. Co-chair Whitney said, “We always strive for a diverse selection of panels and topics, so we have something for everyone . This year we did not have ticketed panels on Sunday. They were all free, to avoid conflicting panels and to offer something for the entire community. We ensure that these panels are located at various venues around town to make the festival a part of the community and to support our wonderful local business and treasures like the Pike County Public Library ,Grey Towers, The Columns Museum, Waterwheel Café, and Better World Store and Café.”
Two of the most popular free Sunday events were “Secret City: The Hidden History of Gay Washington” and “ Ida: A Sword Among Lions: Ida B. Wells and the Campaign Against Lynching.” The first was a conversation between author James Kirchick about his book of the same name and mayor, author, and activist Sean Strub. The discussion involved the history of how gay men were treated in the U.S. from the time of FDR through the end of the 20th century. Kirchick told some illuminating and touching anecdotes reflective of the era of each of the presidents.
Christa L. Caceres, President of the Monroe County NAACP Chapter, in a discussion with Professor Paula J. Giddings about Ida B. Wells, revealed little-known details about the campaign against lynching. Caceres said, “”It was an honor to discuss the life of Ida B. Wells, an extraordinary woman ‘hiding in plain sight’ with such a prolific author and historian of our time, Paula Giddings. Our conversation was delightful, and the audience response was overwhelmingly positive.”
As for the festival as a whole, Whitney said,” I think this was the best one yet. We are always learning and building on the past and improving for the present and the future.”
Looking ahead to the future, MRAWF co-founder, Bob Levine said he was “amazed at how quickly speakers fell in love with the festival and our Milford community . Many have already said they want to come back.”