The word is out that this year’s Long Island LitFest has an ambitious roster of great authors, stimulating readings, book signings and inspiring workshops. Now in its third year, the all-day event will occupy Madison Theatre at Molloy College in Rockville Centre on Sunday, March 26.
To get the back story on LI’s first regional literary festival, we spoke with its founder and producer, Claudia Gryvatz Copquin, a journalist, author and essayist, whose work has appeared in the Long Island Press, the New York Times and Newsday.
Long Island Press: What did it take to get this off the ground and why now—and why Long Island?
Claudia Gryvatz Copquin: Several years ago I got a group of writer friends together. I booked the six of us in many venues on Long Island—Guild Hall, The Nassau County Museum of Art, Cinema Arts Centre, as well as in NYC and Brooklyn venues. We were a little band of writers on tour, if you will, and we read our personal essays under the name, “Living, Out Loud: Writers Riff on Love, Sweat and Fears.” We drew audiences wherever we read and that was the inspiration for a literary festival on Long Island, which for some reason that escapes me, we’ve never had! And because there are so many literary events in Manhattan, I wanted to offer Long Islanders a convenient way to see their favorite authors, right here, on a stage.
LIP: Where did you start?
CGC: In 2015, we held our first Word Up: Long Island LitFest at the Sands Point Preserve in Port Washington. We sold out. Over 200 people came to hear Dick Cavett, Roger Rosenblatt, Susan Isaacs, Alan Zweibel, Henry Alford and many other stellar writers. Each author took a turn at the microphone and read. We also had the Book Revue in Huntington as our pop-up book seller, offering copies of the authors’ latest books. This was a huge hit. So now Long Island LitFest is an annual event. In 2016, our home was the Madison Theatre at Molloy College in Rockville Centre, which is an easy commute from New York City and the outer boroughs, so that’s where we will hold Long Island LitFest again on March 26, 2017.
LIP: How do you do it?
CGC: It’s a huge undertaking but this is my passion project. I love the challenge of booking best-selling authors. But I don’t do this on my own. I have a fantastic advisory board made up of professional writers who are on stand-by at all times for advice and input. They are wonderful because they volunteer their time and energy to help me with this endeavor, and I’m extremely thankful for them.
LIP: What are your goals for the LitFest?
CGC: One of my goals was to expand on our signature event, our full day of author readings and book signings, so in 2016 I booked a couple of authors for intimate book club discussions, such as Brenda Janowitz and Bob Morris. And I also produced ‘Long Island LitFest Presents…,’ which are single-author events. Wally Lamb read from his latest book on November 30th. We also presented Alice Hoffman in early December. Both of these events were at the Madison Theatre and included an audience Q&A and book signings. My plan for 2017 is to host more of these throughout the year.
LIP: Do people read books anymore in this age of Fake News?
CGC: Based on our ticket sales—all of our events are bundled, meaning, admission includes the author’s book—yes! There are so many book clubs here on Long Island. Just ask the Book Revue. They offer discounts on their books to book club members. Ask all the libraries. If people didn’t read, we wouldn’t have any! Look at Manhattan venues such as the 92nd Street Y or Symphony Space. Their author events are always sold out. But a clearer indication is that Amazon is now experimenting with brick and mortar book stores. Books are back! And people want them.
LIP: What power do words still have?
Copquin: Well, without speaking in tired clichés, words are everything. And especially now, when people are so stressed out about our future, a good book has the power to take you away to another world, one where you can literally forget your troubles. Reading is more important now than ever.
LIP: Who is your audience is and how many folks you expect to show up?
CGC: Our audience is anyone who enjoys reading and who wants to spend a few hours away from their house or place of work and engage with like-minded individuals. We like to say Long Island LitFest is a day to disconnect from gadgets and connect with each other. Connecting face to face is critical these days. It’s why Jerry Seinfeld is still touring and has a residency at the Beacon Theater. It’s why Billy Joel has a residency at the Nassau Coliseum. We need and seek out human contact and Long Island LitFest offers that—via the written and spoken word. And who wouldn’t want to meet Pulitzer Prize winning humorist Dave Barry or internationally acclaimed author of Passages Gail Sheehy? Personally, I can’t wait!
Here’s a brief description of the writers who have already committed to lighting up Long Island LitFest this year:
Dave Barry, Pulitzer-Prize winning humor writer whose columns and essays have appeared in hundreds of newspapers over the past 35 years. He’s also written a number of New York Times bestsellers. His latest, For This We Left Egypt, a parody of the Passover Haggadah, is co-authored with Alan Zweibel (and Adam Mansbach), an original Saturday Night Live writer, who has won multiple Emmy and Writers Guild of America awards for his work in television, which includes It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, Late Show With David Letterman, and Curb Your Enthusiasm. He has also won a Tony Award and the Thurber Prize.
Gail Sheehy is author of 17 books, including internationally acclaimed best-seller Passages, named one of the 10 most influential books of our times by the Library of Congress. She will be in conversation with Cathi Hanauer, editor of the New York Times bestselling essay collection The Bitch in the House: 26 Women Tell the Truth about Sex, Solitude, Work, Motherhood and Marriage and the recent The Bitch Is Back: Older, Wiser, and (Getting) Happier.
Friars Club historian and LitFest emcee Barry Dougherty, author of several comedy books, will interview Kelly Carlin writer, actress, producer, monologist, and Internet radio host, and author of A Carlin Home Companion: Growing Up with George.
Steven Gaines is co-founder and a past vice-chairman of the Hamptons International Film Festival and author of numerous books, including Philistines at the Hedgerow and his memoir, One of These Things First.
Caroline Leavitt is author of the novel Cruel Beautiful World and New York Times bestselling author of Is This Tomorrow, Pictures of You, and many other works.
Bill Scheft was an Emmy-nominated and longtime staff writer for David Letterman and is the author of five humor novels, including his latest, Shrink Thyself.
General admission for the festival, which begins at 1 p.m., is $40. Before the main event gets under way, two free introductory workshops on essay writing and storytelling will both begin at noon. Iyna Bort Caruso, a New York-based Emmy Award-winning writer, will run the Intro to Personal Essay Writing workshop, which promises to teach participants—even those with no prior writing experience—how to give voice to their experiences in a way that is “both intimate in its details and universal in its message.”
Tracey Segarra, a Moth Radio Hour GrandSlam champ as well as a marketing and communications professional on Long Island, will lead the storytelling workshop for beginners who want to be “a more effective public speaker or just spin a good yarn at a party.”
For the latest news on the growing list of authors lining up to participate, go to www.LongIslandLitFest.com