Harbor Springs is a small town in northern Michigan, nestled against a hill that drops down into Little Traverse Bay. It has some cute shops, a few restaurants, and remarkable views, making it a popular stop for visitors to Petoskey or Traverse City. There are also several ice cream parlors to satisfy the hordes that descend upon the wee town in the summer months (or me, in need of a snack on a mild afternoon – practically the same thing).
They also, once a year, have a book festival.
Starting four years ago, the month of September sees Harbor Springs transform from a sleepy town into a literary celebration. If you’ve ever been to a book festival, you know the transformation I’m talking about. The local book store orders in massive amounts of books and colonizes a room – or several – somewhere nearby to serve as a pop-up book shop. Authors are invited to take part in panel discussions and book signings. Literati and armchair adventurers from within driving distance make their appearance, clutching much-loved paperbacks and buying sleek new hardcovers to have their favorite authors sign.
Last week, all this happened in the lovely town of Harbor Springs.
I have to say, I was very impressed by the Harbor Springs Festival of the Book – in fact, this was probably my favorite book festival that I’ve attended. For one thing, who doesn’t love northern Michigan in the fall? I’ve certainly never met such a person.
For another thing, this event was extremely well organized. The authors who were invited to the festival represented a wide range of genres, styles, and cultures in a way that is, quite frankly, more difficult to achieve than you’d think. There were novelists, memoirists, poets, short storyists, and history writers present, as well as novelists, poets, and storybook writers for children. They really ticked an impressive number of boxes in the genre department.
The panels were also very good. I attended panels on magical realism, cultural representation in literature, the working creative life, writing the immigrant experience and food, and so many more. The moderators for the panels were very good, and had prepared excellent questions for discussion (again, not as common as you would think with these things!), and the panelists themselves were very articulate and, in some cases, entertaining.
Even the venues and the schedules were well-thought out. Every panel lasted one hour, followed by a half-hour break to get your books signed by the authors on the panel and to get to your next event. Harbor Springs is small enough that fifteen minutes would probably have been plenty of time to do all that, but this way you had enough time to amble down the street, stop and buy a coffee or an ice cream, check your program to make sure you were going to the right place, and still get there in plenty of time. In my opinion, that’s the way to go – after all, if you’re going to sit through a panel discussion about the confluence of politics, art, and culture, you’ll probably need a well-made double espresso in your hand to help you through.
The whole community was involved in the effort. Venues for the event included churches, the movie theater, the high school auditorium, the local history museum, and the public library, which made for interesting layouts for the panels. Some were a tad on the cozy side, and others allowed for a little more elbow room. Regardless, it was great to see a whole community come together for an event like this.
Taken altogether, the Harbor Springs Festival of the Book was a great event, and one that I think any lover of books and literature would enjoy. Keep an eye out for next year’s event plans!