Big City, Big Magazine, Big Festival

Timothy Schaffert

The New Yorker Festival, held every autumn at various New York City venues, attracts crowds that swell to rock-concert proportions. Last year, 15,000 people from 43 states and 12 countries attended. A panel discussion featuring veteran journalist and editor Roger Angell sold out in seven minutes. “Roger was our Bruce Springsteen,” says Rhonda Sherman, the New Yorker’s director of special editorial projects. But Springsteen himself wouldn’t seem out of place at this festival. Every year, musicians, movie stars, filmmakers, and politicos share billing with creative writers. The literary event, now in its fifth year, has turned into a pop-culture phenomenon.

This year’s festival will be held from October 1 to October 3, and will feature fiction and poetry readings, including a salute to poet Joseph Brodsky; panel discussions; lectures; and musical performances. On the festival’s opening night, pairs of fiction writers will give readings at various locations, including the New York Public Library and Town Hall. The pairings include Jonathan Safran Foer and Martin Amis; Jeffrey Eugenides and Antonya Nelson; and Chang-rae Lee and Edwidge Danticat. Attendees can also register for a master class on fiction with Sherman Alexie and George Saunders.

The festival follows the Republican National Convention in New York City and precedes the presidential election, and many of the events carry a political theme. Among these are “The Campaign and the Network News,” a panel discussion with Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings, and Dan Rather, and “The Literature of Politics,” a panel discussion featuring fiction writers Danticat, Dave Eggers, Cynthia Ozick, and Orhan Pamuk that will be moderated by New Yorker fiction editor Deborah Treisman.

“The purpose of the festival is to create a kind of community of all the publics of the New Yorker—the readers, the writers, the artists, and, in an appropriate way, the advertisers,” says Sherman. She had considered the concept of a festival for 10 years before it finally became a reality in 2000 as part of the magazine’s 75th anniversary celebration.

Tickets for individual events go on sale at noon EDT on September 9, and can be purchased through Ticketmaster. Sherman predicts a quick sellout for the discussion between the New Yorker editor David Remnick and Seymour Hersh, the investigative reporter who broke the Abu Ghraib prison abuse story; the discussion between artist R. Crumb and the New Yorker arts editor Francoise Mouly; and the annual culinary walking tour with food writer Calvin Trillin.

For more information, visit the festival’s Web site at

Timothy Schaffert is the author of The Phantom Limbs of the Rollow Sisters (BlueHen/Putnam, 2002). He lives in Omaha.