Novelist Jonathan Lethem to open Word festival

“A Gambler’s Anatomy” author Jonathan Lethem will be interviewed by Slate magazine’s book and culture columnist Laura Miller at the inaugural Word Blue Hill Literary Arts Festival running Oct. 20-22 in Blue Hill.

BLUE HILL — A town so oozing with writers that the New York Times did a piece on that very subject was deserving of its own literary festival.

And now it has one thanks to local organizers, including Sarah Pebworth, Brooklin children’s author Ellen Booraem, creative writing teacher Lee Lehto, writer and editor Marie Epply and Blue Hill Books owner Samantha Haskell and a host of others.

The first Word Blue Hill Literary Arts Festival will kick off with “Jonathan Lethem and Laura Miller, A Conversation” at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 21, at Emlen Hall on The Bay School campus. Lethem, whose 10th novel “A Gambler’s Anatomy” (Doubeday, 2016) was published last year, lives part-time in Blue Hill. He will be interviewed by Slate magazine’s book and culture columnist Laura Miller.

The talk is just one of many diverse events in the three-day festival running Friday-Sunday, Oct. 20-22. The lineup includes a literary marketplace on Saturday as well as workshops, panel discussions and a poetry crawl. A morning gathering at Mainescape Garden Center on Sunday concludes the festival.

Lethem has lived with his family seasonally in Blue Hill for the past 15 years He bought the house, which had belonged to the late Blue Hill historian Esther Wood.

“I write in the same study she used,” said the author reached via email while he and his family were visiting the Mount Katahdin region.

“It’s been a lucky place for me, not just because of the remarkable community we’ve fallen into here (of artists and writers, but also of farmers, and tree wardens, and granola makers, and booksellers and librarians, and coffee roasters…) but also because I’ve done much of what I consider my best writing up here.

“Large stretches of ‘Chronic City,’ ‘Dissident Gardens,’ ‘The Ecstasy of Influence’ and ‘A Gambler’s Anatomy’ were written here — as well as many of the occasional pieces and book reviews that make up ‘More Alive and Less Lonely.’

“When I finished a draft of ‘Chronic City,’ in the winter of 2007, I spent eight evenings reading the draft aloud to anyone who’d listen at the East Blue Hill Library, while some friends built a fire and made tea,” Lethem said. “On most nights I had six or seven listeners at least, which gave the revisions of that book a unique communal aspect.”

‘More Alive And Less Lonely,’ my most recent, is a collection of my enthusiasms as a reader, reviewer, editor and book collector — basically, the confessions of a working author who remains a fan,” he said. “I’m sure at the festival I’ll also be talking a great deal about ‘A Gambler’s Anatomy,’ my 10th novel, which was published just a year ago.

“I’m honored to help open the festival, which promises to be a terrific addition to the rich cultural life of the town,” Lethem said.

Miller also is the author of “The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia.”

“Because he’s [Lethem] an old friend of mine, I’ve never been able to review his books in my entire time as a critic,” the book critic said. “I’m really excited to sit down and have serious questions for him.”

As a culture journalist, Miller said she’s usually looking to make an argument.

“I’m looking to make my response to a piece of art,” Miller said. “Looking at how it handles certain themes. Why it resonates with other things going on in society.”

Miller published an essay last summer called “Dark Futures” about why so many literary novels today contain science fiction elements.

One reason, she said, is that the world is changing so fast no one knows what life might be like in a couple years — the time it usually takes for a novel to be published.

“It has less to do with what we think the future is than how impossible it is to get a grasp on the present,” Miller continued. “It just feels like anything could happen. There’s no stability.”

Making a projection about the future is probably the easiest thing for writers to do because they don’t need to do research for that.

“It’s been a terrible year to be a cultural journalist because no one wants to read about culture,” Miller said. People want to read about politics.

The festival offers activities for all ages, including local science writer and children’s book author Kim Ridley, who will hold a workshop for kids ages 8 and over. Participants will make their own booklets of nature observations from 10 to 10:45 a.m. at the Blue Hill Public Library.

There will be a panel discussion there too entitled: “Can’t You Write About Something More Pleasant? Acknowledging Reality in Novels for Kids and Teens” on Saturday, Oct. 21 from 12:30 to 2 p.m.

The panel will feature Ellen Booraem (“The Unnameables,”  an American Library Association Award for Best Book for Young Adults) Cynthia Lord (“A Handful of Stars”), Megan Frazer Blackmore (“The Suicide Code” and Marian Padian (“Wrecked”).

The festival also will host a Poetry Crawl in downtown Blue Hill on Saturday from 2 to 5:30 p.m. The workshops cost $25 apiece. For a full schedule of events, visit

Jennifer Osborn

Jennifer Osborn

Reporter and columnist at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Jennifer Osborn covers news and features on the Blue Hill Peninsula and Deer Isle-Stonington. She welcomes tips and story ideas. She also writes the Gone Shopping column. Email Jennifer with your suggestions at [email protected] or call 667-2576.

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