Waterville woman organizes inaugural Maine Book Festival

Over 100 attended the inaugural Maine Book Festival, in Hallowell. (photo by Jonathan Strieff)

by Jonathan Strieff

More than 20 vendors from all over Maine filled the Stevens Commons lawn, in Hallowell, on Sunday, October 1, for the first Maine Book Festival. Well over 100 attendees circulated among the stalls of local authors, crafters, and book sellers throughout the day-long event in the warm autumn sunshine. Besides the vendors, the event featured book and poetry readings, presentations from varied literary organizations and live music.

The Maine Book Fest was created by Maddie Smith, a 22-year-old Waterville resident who operates The Banned Bookstore, an online and pop-up book store featuring titles that have been banned from schools or faced other forms of censorship. Smith said the idea to celebrate the rich diversity of writers, publishers, and readers in central Maine came from attending a similar festival near Cleveland, Ohio.

The morning began with a welcoming address by Virginia Marriner, the executive director of Literacy Volunteers of Kennebec. Marriner praised the enthusiasm of the event participants before detailing some of the work her group does. For 50 years, the mission of LVK has been to improve reading, writing and literacy skills of adults so each individual may reach their potential.

photo by Jonathan Strieff

Volunteer tutors offer learner-centered guidance for overcoming all kinds of barriers to literacy, from promoting family literacy and early childhood intervention, to working with English as a Second Language learners, adults with learning disabilities, as well as high school equivalency degree coaching. Marriner spoke extensively about the impacts low literacy can have on peoples lives, from poverty rates and employment challenges to increased incidences of incarceration, and encouraged participants to support the children’s programming LVK does to help create lifelong readers.

The group has installed “StoryWalks,” posted pages from children’s books, along popular walking trails in Augusta, Hallowell, and Gardiner, as well as built “little library” free book boxes throughout the city to help increase access to books. LVK will be hosting a children’s book giveaway Trick or Treat event on Saturday, October 28, from 1:30 – 3:30 p.m., at the Lithgow Public Library, in Augusta.

The next presentation was led by three members of Z about creating and maintaining a book club. The three members took turns speaking to both the joys and pleasures of participating in a book club as well as the logistics involved in managing the group. The Lone Pine Book Club meets in person monthly to discuss a selected book. A far greater number of members participating online using the Fable app to share their opinions between in person meetings. Besides the enjoyable discussions, and discovering books one would never otherwise read, the three members agreed the greatest aspect of book club participation was the sense of community built over time with the other members.

When asked, most festival goers included building community as a primary reason for attending the event. Will Neils, of Appleton, portrayed the value of the event in somewhat darker terms.

“I’ve traveled all over this land,” said Neils, “and I’ve never seen the level of belligerent ignorance out in society today. The only antidote to that is knowledge because knowledge is power.”

Jonathan Strieff is a freelance contributor to The Town Line.


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