Business & Economy

Online Brattleboro Literary Festival is set to beam in big names

Unlike this year, the Brattleboro Literary Festival (pictured in the past) usually takes place at almost a dozen downtown venues. Photo by Kevin O’Connor/VTDigger

BRATTLEBORO — The bad news: The Covid-19 pandemic is forcing the annual Brattleboro Literary Festival to switch from in-person to online for a second year in a row.

And the good: That’s allowing the 20th anniversary event to plug into some powerhouse talent, starting Thursday with Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, authors of the current bestseller “Peril.”

The free public program — undeterred by the past two years’ postponement of the Burlington Book Festival and Bookstock in Woodstock — had hoped to return to its usual downtown Brattleboro venues this week. Then the state reported a rise in the Delta variant, sending the event back online.

The challenges seemed to multiply when Montpelier author Katherine Paterson — winner of the Newbery Medal and National Book Award — recently canceled as the festival’s kickoff speaker after a paper shortage delayed publication of her coming novel, “Birdie’s Bargain.”

That’s when Woodward and Costa’s publishers offered up the duo for a special event Thursday at 7 p.m.

“This seems too perfect,” festival director Sandy Rouse recalled thinking.

The Woodward and Costa program, which requires advance registration, will feature the two journalists speaking about their reporting on former President Donald Trump.

It’s one of three festival offerings with White House connections.

NBC political analyst Jonathan Alter, for example, will talk with Vermont author Megan Mayhew Bergman about his recent book “His Very Best: Jimmy Carter, A Life.”

Lynn University Professor Robert Watson, for his part, will discuss his latest history, “George Washington’s Final Battle: The Epic Struggle to Build a Capital City and a Nation.”

Brattleboro boasts a long association with books. Royall Tyler, author of the first American comedy, 1787’s “The Contrast,” lived his last years in Brattleboro and is buried in town. Rudyard Kipling penned “The Jungle Book” in the 1890s in his landmark local home. A century later, the first U.S. edition of Harry Potter rolled out of the nearby Book Press.

Since its start in 2002, the festival has aimed to highlight such history and offer a current read on the times.

This week’s event also will feature online presentations by more than 60 other writers, ranging from two Pulitzer Prize winners (nonfiction scholar Louis Menand and poet Vijay Seshadri) to novelist Jean Hanff Korelitz, whose book “You Should Have Known” was adapted for the recent HBO series “The Undoing.”

People seeking more information or to register can log onto the festival’s website.

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Kevin O'Connor

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