The Morristown Festival of Books returns Oct. 7-8 with James Patterson, New York Times columnist Frank Bruni, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Paul Muldoon, journalist Katy Tur and many more.
The festival brings in fiction, nonfiction, YA and children’s book authors to not only discuss their books, but also the themes within, their careers and whatever pops into the heads of audience members. There’ll be book signings after each talk, and the discussions are moderated by editors, publishers, authors, librarians and more. It all takes place at five venues in Morristown, including the Morristown & Morris Township Library, The Parish House of the Presbyterian Church, and the lawn at Vail Mansion.
The idea is to foster curiosity—both among those who are familiar with the authors at the Festival and those who are generally willing to expand their minds.
“Our goal is to engage the community in conversation; to bring in interesting authors, topics and perspectives,” says Karen Gruenberg, Festival board member. “We look for diversity. We look for diversity of authors, diversity of subject matter.”
And the Festival leverages that diversity by staging panels with authors that might have some interesting commonalities or differences in their work, histories or identities. Some panels feature authors chatting with authors, others with just a moderator, but the focus is on hosting conversations (and not necessarily book readings) that expand on the literature at the core of the Festival.
“We’ll put some authors together on genre, or their writing styles, or how they write their ideas, and find some commonalities and differences so the audience members can hear different perspectives,” Gruenberg says. “We then have a Q&A with each session, and that’s always really popular.”
This is the ninth edition of the Festival, which (like everything else) took a step back during the pandemic, going virtual in 2020. The 2019 Festival brought in over 9,000 people from all over the region, and Gruenberg is hopeful this year will see a similar, if not greater, turnout.
And there’s plenty of reason for a great turnout. The Festival kicks off with keynote speaker Bruni (with Tur moderating) on Friday night at the Mayo Performing Arts Center. Bruni will discuss his memoir The Beauty of Dusk: On Vision Lost and Found.
Fiction writers in attendance include Mateo Askaripour (Black Buck), Jean Hanff Korelitz (The Latecomer), Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa (A Woman of Endurance) and thriller author Chris Pavone (Two Nights in Lisbon), among others. The nonfiction side includes Paul Muldoon, who will discuss his work editing Paul McCartney’s The Lyrics: 1956 to the Present; longtime sportswriter Bob Ryan (In Scoring Position: 40 Years of a Baseball Love Affair); cookbook author Eric Kim (Korean American: Food That Tastes Like Home); and philanthropist, 2015 CNN Hero of the Year and Jersey native Maggie Doyne (Between the Mountain and the Sky).
The KidFest not only includes a number of children’s book authors, but also things that’ll attract kids to it, like face-painting, balloons and more, which’ll hopefully inspire kids to grow their literary curiosity.
James Patterson will also speak at KidFest; the world’s best-selling author has started writing children’s and YA books. He’ll also serve as the closing act for the Festival, discussing his latest book Blowback, with a Q&A to follow.
The Patterson closing event and the Bruni opener are ticketed events, but everything else is free.
The celebration of books comes at a unique time, when folks are trying to ban certain pieces of literature, particularly kids’ and YA books. Gruenberg says the Festival organizers are aware of the greater landscape for this year’s Festival.
“We talked a bit about it,” Gruenberg says. “Our mission is to allow everyone to have a voice, and that diversity of voices is more important than ever and it’s not about dividing people… but about uniting a community around our mission.”
More than anything, though, the Festival serves as an opportunity to spend a day (or part of it) expanding the mind and stoking both curiosity and creativity. It’s a boon for Morristown, for the Jersey literary scene and, at the risk of sounding grandiose, for the pursuit of knowledge, in general.
“It’s grown every year,” Gruenberg says. “It’s been an extraordinary success. We get nothing but positive feedback from publishers to the restaurants, to people who work in and around the town that this is a truly positive event and it draws from much farther than Morristown.”
For more information on the Morristown Festival of Books, Oct. 7-8, go here.