- Courtesy Of Karen Demas
- Theo Padnos
Journalist Theo Padnos traveled to Turkey in the fall of 2012 to report on the civil war in Syria. Instead of writing stories about the conflict, though, he was captured by the Free Syrian Army and passed between Syrian prisons for two years.
Padnos spent a large part of those two years being blindfolded and beaten relentlessly in various prisons across the country, as he chronicled in his 2021 book Blindfold: A Memoir of Capture, Torture and Enlightenment. He spent the later part of his captivity writing a novel about an insurgency like the one in Syria — only this one happened in Vermont.
"There is a potential for craziness here in Vermont," Padnos told Seven Days by phone. "We still have some cults in Vermont. They get themselves all enthusiastic about some prophecy or passage in their sacred literature, and before you know it, they have declared themselves a sacred entity."
Padnos will present his in-progress novel on Friday, June 24, to kick off Woodstock's 14th annual Bookstock, which bills itself as the "Green Mountain Festival of Words." Padnos said he hopes he can be informative about his experience in Syria while also showing that an insurgency in Vermont is not so far-fetched, given recent events such as the January 6, 2021, riot.
Put on by Yankee Bookshop, Norman Williams Public Library, Pentangle Arts and a couple of other Woodstock-based organizations, the three-day nonprofit book festival, from June 24 to 26, will feature presentations from roughly 60 authors. Among them are former Central Intelligence Agency covert operations officer Valerie Plame (center of the 2003 "Plame affair"), best-selling suspense novelist Jennifer McMahon and Vermont poet laureate Mary Ruefle.
In addition to author talks, the event will have a lively space on the village green with an exhibitor tent of self-published authors, virtual reality demos, a Benjamin Franklin impersonator and a large secondhand book sale.
For Peter Rousmaniere, chair of the Bookstock board, a priority is welcoming authors of all experience levels, from Pulitzer Prize winners to those who have never attended a showcase before.
"We have a very inclusive idea about authors," Rousmaniere told Seven Days.
The event will draw authors from places as distant as California and Vancouver, while also hosting a large number of Vermonters. "Vermont is crazy-loaded with talented authors," said Joni B. Cole, the festival's program director and author of two craft books for writers.
- Courtesy Of Sharona Jacobs
- Sarah Stewart Taylor
One such Vermont-based writer is Sarah Stewart Taylor of Hartland, author of the Sweeney St. George and Maggie D'arcy crime fiction series. The final book in her Maggie D'arcy trilogy, The Drowning Sea, was published on June 21. Taylor will present her new release at the festival, as well as discuss the writing process with fellow Vermont crime novelist Archer Mayor.
Taylor, who has presented at past Bookstocks, said the event always gets an excellent turnout. "It is great to connect with readers. People love to come to Woodstock in the summer," she said.
As another way of showcasing the state's literary talent, the festival board selects an annual winner of the Vermont Literary Inspiration Award, chosen for their "outstanding inspiration to the literary prosperity and traditions of Vermont," according to the Bookstock website. This year's winners are Michael DeSanto and Renee Reiner, owners of Phoenix Books, which has locations in Essex, Burlington and Rutland.
The festival returns to an in-person format this year after the Bookstock board and Norman Williams Public Library conducted modified Zoom events in 2020 and 2021.
According to Rousmaniere, past in-person festivals attracted about 1,000 attendees, two-thirds of whom he estimated were from Vermont, the rest from surrounding parts of New England. This year, though, he anticipates a larger turnout because of increased promotion and more activities on the green space, such as live music and food stands.
He said the majority of attendees are people older than 50 with lifelong reading experience.
Though one might think that phones and computers have decreased the popularity of reading, Rousmaniere believes interest in literary festivals remains as high as ever. "What one would have thought in 2010 about books becoming less read — that has not happened," he said.
Cole has been struck by the excitement of the authors scheduled for this year's festival. "I am so grateful for their generosity and enthusiasm," she said. "I am just gobsmacked with how generous the authors are with their time."
She expects the attendees to be just as enthusiastic, she said.