Long Island LitFest Brings Book Lovers Face-to-Face with Bestselling Scribes

A great novel is a window to the world.

And a great novelist? A person who knows how to walk you to that window, throw open the curtains and show off the magnificent view.

As anyone with a passion for reading fiction can tell you, that’s exactly what happens when you disappear into a real page-turner. This year Long Island LitFest, an organization aimed at connecting authors and readers, is betting that it can also occur when you meet a great novelist in person. Given the qualified pair of authors slated for its upcoming festivities, chances are you’ll get a great return on investment if you take its advice: put down the book, disconnect from all gadgets and connect with an author. A celebrated author, that is.

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LitFest holds its signature event each spring: a day filled with author readings and book signings. The inaugural celebration in 2015 was rich with literary fireworks, featuring readings, book sales and signings and Dick Cavett as the keynote speaker. Cavett—who was joined by Arlene Alda, Julie Klam, Henry Alford, Susan Isaacs, Alan Zweibel, Amy Ferris, Elinor Lipman, Adam Resnick and others—called the festival “a delightful, entertaining and highly valuable cultural event. It was a sheer delight to be a part of and the audience loved it.” Zweibel added that it was “a terrific selection of writers reading to appreciative book lovers.”

But LitFest is expanding its event calendar, including two author’s nights this fall. As producer Claudia Gryvatz Copquin put it, the organization is looking to “bring stellar authors to Long Island book lovers, so they don’t have to go into New York City for quality programs. We kicked off with a bang in 2015 and haven’t let up.” Wally Lamb, author of I’ll Take You There, will appear at the Madison Theater at Molloy College in Rockville Centre on Wednesday, Nov 30. A week later, on Dec 7, it will be the turn of Alice Hoffman, author of Faithful, to take the Madison stage. Both nights will include an author’s talk, audience Q&A and book signing.

“Our motivation is to connect readers with their favorite writers by creating these exciting events,” Copquin said. “We also support authors by providing a new platform for them to showcase their works. We support bookstores, as all of our events include book sales.” Both events are sponsored by local bookstores and each ticket includes a copy of the author’s latest work.

Lamb, author of four New York Times best-selling novels, began writing fiction in the midst of his 25-year career as an English teacher at his old high school, the Norwich Free Academy in Connecticut. A fistful of bestsellers later, he continues to teach, including a post as associate professor at the University of Connecticut, where he directed the English Department’s creative writing program.

His new book, out in November, is a delightfully-told treatise on the passage of time, our relationship with the past and the future, and the changing role family plays in personal identity as we age. In the very first passage of the prologue, we find film scholar Felix Funicello somewhat past oriented, demurely boasting that his cousin growing up was Annette Funicello, an original Mouseketeer:

“Mickey Mouse Club? Beach Blanket Bingo? No? Well never mind. Mark my words: someday when you’re my age, you’ll mention Miley or Bieber and some future youth will look at you blankly and say ‘who?’ Take it from me. The acceleration of time will astound you.”

By the end, Funicello has learned that he is to become a grandfather and Lamb shows the character putting aside Faulkner’s dictum that “the past is never dead” and setting his eyes squarely on the future. For Wally Lamb, writing a novel is an opportunity to shuck your skin and get into the skin of another person. “I go to work every day, shut the door and become somebody else,” he said. “I was an obese woman in one novel. I was the husband of a Columbine tragedy survivor in another. I go into these projects not knowing as much about these lives as I do when I come out of them.”

A good novel, Lamb argues, is an opportunity for both author and reader to go beyond the limitations of their minds, to grow. “That comes from my life as a teacher. Whether you teach kids or adults, what you hope is that you can encourage lifetime learning.” A great deal of Alice Hoffman’s learning came while growing up in Valley Stream. Maybe that’s why the celebrated author of 23 novels—one of which was made into a major motion picture starring Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman— often sets her stories on Long Island. Don’t be surprised to find some familiar scenes in Faithful like Route 110 and Book Revue in Huntington and Green Acres Mall in Valley Stream.

The soul-searching story is about a young woman struggling to redefine herself and the power of love, family and fate. Faithful, also out in November, tells the tale of Shelby Richmond, an otherwise ordinary Long Island girl who experiences an extraordinary tragedy that changes her life completely. Her best friend’s future is ruined, while Shelby walks away bearing only the burden of guilt.

Also intriguing is Hoffman’s sense of magic in the Long Island setting and her ability to rekindle that sense in her readers. “Growing up on Long Island I read a lot of magical tales—fairy tales, Mary Poppins,” she recalled. “But I also saw my world as magic. I think there’s a feeling of magic wherever you grow up. Of course there were no trees, it was old potato farms and lot houses built for GI’s. But I remember fireflies in summer. For me, magic and Long Island are interrelated.”

Magic. Love. Characters you can fall in love with. Characters whose stories inspire or challenge. They’re why we keep turning the page and keep picking up our next read. And they’re all for the taking at the upcoming Long Island LitFest events. It’s the kind of offer that’s hard for a lover of books to refuse.

Long Island Lit

Any basic claim to literacy in Long Island lit would include an A-list of works that need no introduction: The Great Gatsby, The Godfather or Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.

The Gold Coast, Nelson DeMille’s defining novel, is next in line, a book that explores the clash and collusion of old wealth and new on Long Island’s North Shore. DeMille turns over the rocks like an ebullient boy at low tide, discovering delicious admixtures of wealth, corruption, excess and ennui.

Want more? Try The Sea Lions by James Fenimore Cooper (1849), a tale of lost sealers, polar adventurers, set in a whaling community near Sag Harbor. Or Christopher Morley’s New York—essays about Manhattan in the 20s. It has an entire section devoted to the author’s life in Roslyn, which he considered a respite and natural retreat from the fast paced “vulgar beauty” of New York City.

Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck, starts out in a houseboat in Sag Harbor during Hurricane Donna in 1960. Pietro di Donato’s Christ in Concrete is one of the great early works of immigrant lit. Written by the Northport resident to expose the conditions of Italian-American laborers, it rivaled The Grapes of Wrath in popularity and importance when published in 1939.