March 3, 2024

Read ’Em and Meet

Big authors at Harbor Springs Book Festival 2021
By Ross Boissoneau | Sept. 18, 2021

Bibliophiles rejoice: The Harbor Springs Festival of the Book is returning Sept. 23–25, with a slate of authors, in-person events, and books.

“We’re thrilled,” says Amy Gillard about the upcoming festival. It will take place at four venues across the city; masks will be required at all indoor locations.

Gillard is the executive director of the festival, a role she took on after serving as author logistics coordinator for the first festival in 2016.

“What’s unique about the schedule is it’s not just one book and one author in a session,” she says. “We team them up.” For example, Julia Claiborne Johnson and Asha Lemmie will discuss their books in light of character-driving storytelling.

Another innovation is engaging authors to discuss different aspects of their works. Janice P. Nimura, author of “The Sisters Blackwell” (about the first two women in America to be certified as MDs), will team up with fellow author Dawn Turner (“Three Girls from Bronzeville”) to discuss “Subverting Stereotypes,” and with S. Kirk Walsh (“The Elephant of Belfast”) for a presentation entitled “Women Who Risked It All.”

Gillard says the vision of the festival was and is to create a celebration of all things books, “from one end of Main Street to the other.” That comes with some trade-offs, one of which is limiting capacity. While there are larger venues nearby, such as in Petoskey, Bay View, or Bay Harbor, those are all outside Harbor Springs. Gillard says holding all the events in downtown Harbor Springs gives the book festival a distinctive ambiance.

“It creates a different atmosphere — all the events are in walking distance,” she says.

The festival took off from the beginning, attracting some 1,600 attendees to 24 sessions in 2016. In 2019, there were 30 sessions and over 4,000 attendees. Last year, the festival went virtual, which Gillard says was still a success in light of the restrictions. This year, however, authors and attendees will be reveling in the in-person experience. “There’s nothing like being in community,” she notes.

The festival’s burgeoning popularity led to an innovation for this year, the introduction of its new registration system. Gillard says it was introduced to help forecast how many people would be attending each of the presentations, as well as enable organizers limit attendance to capacity at each of the locations. “Venues have limitations,” she notes.

One aspect sadly in abeyance this year is the Authors in Schools Program. Since the inaugural Harbor Springs Festival of the Book, presenters have visited over 120 classrooms in six area elementary, middle, and high schools. Again, the presence of the pandemic forestalled that portion of the festival this year, though Gillard is adamant it will return in the future. 

Judging by the speed with which registrations took place this year, the popularity of the festival and that of its myriad authors and books continues to grow. That enthusiasm extends to Gillard, who says, “I like to read every book of every presenter” — even though, she says, “It’s not part of my job description.”

She believes that popularity will extend into the future, as she looks hopefully toward a happier, healthier 2022, one that allows the festival to present more authors and include more venues — potentially stores, the library, and museum — as well as an effort to return in person to schools. 

Our picks:
Festival Keynote with Malcolm Gladwell (pictured above center)
Friday 7:30pm, Harbor Springs Performing Arts Center

Whether you’re into politics, history, technology, data, or current news events — or none of the above — Gladwell’s side-door entry into any subject under the sun could make even the most mundane fascinating and seems to turn what you thought you knew upside down. A writer for The New Yorker, the host of his own podcast, Revisionist History; and a perennial best-selling author — “The Tipping Point,” “David and Goliath,” “Blink” and “Outliers” should all be required reading — Gladwell is coming to Harbor Springs to open the weekend and discuss his most recent books “Talking to Strangers: What we should know about the people we don’t know,” which explores, among many mind-blowing tales, how Fidel Castro managed to fool the CIA for a generation, why Neville Chamberlain believed he could trust Adolf Hitler, and one really sad reason campus sexual assaults are on the rise, plus “The Bomber Mafia,” his look at how technology and the best intentions collide in war.

Arshay Cooper (pictured above right)
Cooper is the author of “A Most Beautiful Thing,” a memoir of his time as a member of the country’s first all-Black high-school rowing team. It was also made into an acclaimed film, which will be screened at the Lyric Theatre Thursday and Friday. He’ll discuss both the book and the documentary at a luncheon Saturday at noon.

When Writers Share A Life
This presentation at the Lyric Theatre between 10:30am and 11:30am Saturday showcases spouses and authors Christopher Beha (“The Index of Self-Destructive Acts,” a novel about the collapse of a Manhattan family following the economic crash of 2008) and Alexandra Andrews (“Who is Maud Dixon?” a psychological thriller about a celebrated author who writes under a pen name and her assistant, a wanna-be celebrated writer who finds herself the lone survivor of an overseas car accident in which her boss is killed). Beha and Andrews married in 2014 and share a home, two children, and the same vocation. They’ll discuss what it is like to live with another writer and how it can benefit them and their work (as well as any pitfalls).

Crafting Cultural Texture
This presentation from 2pm to 3pm Saturday at the Tent in Zorn Park brings together Angeline Boulley (pictured above left), author of “Firekeeper’s Daughter,” and Asha Lemmie, who wrote “Fifty Words for Rain,” with moderator Sara Grochowski. While it’s impossible to fully immerse oneself in another’s life, books such as these enable others to share in lives that may be utterly different from their own, be it other languages, cultures, or upbringings. All with the hope it can open the eyes and hearts of readers to lives and experiences other than their own. 

For more information and the complete schedule, see


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