Last February, Linda Hellstrom attended a book festival while vacationing in Savannah, Georgia. The author lineup was impressive, including Al Gore, Gregg Allman and best-selling novelist David Baldacci. “It was like going to a feast,” says Hellstrom, a Morristown resident for 43 years. As a trustee of the Mayo Performing Arts Center, she immediately began envisioning something similar for her hometown.
After a year of planning, the first of what Hellstrom hopes will become a local literary tradition kicks off September 26. The inaugural two-day Morristown Festival of Books will feature 22 local and national authors. As executive director, Hellstrom stuck with the mantra, “Keep it small. Keep it simple. Do it well.” To help cover costs, local book clubs chose an author and donated money to pay for their expenses. The event will be dotted along South Street, with question-and-answer sessions at Mayo PAC, the Morristown Library and local churches, and author signings on the Vail Mansion lawn.
The keynote author is William D. Cohan, a Duke University alum whose nonfiction work The Price of Silence (Scribner, 2014) examines the 2006 false rape accusation against members of the Duke lacrosse team. Hellstrom felt Cohan’s work would appeal to the local community and parents of potential college athletes.
“Cohan looks into the culture of these sports teams and the predisposition to judge them guilty,” Hellstrom says. “What if it was the chess team?”
Other speakers include New Jersey resident Lisa Colozza Cocca, author of the young adult novel Providence (Merit Press, 2014); human-rights activist Ishmael Beah, author of the best-selling work A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007); Pulitzer Prize-winner Dan Fagin, author of Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation (Bantam, 2013); and Morristown High and Harvard graduate Allyson Hobbs, author of the forthcoming A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing (Harvard University Press, 2014).