The Nantucket Book Festival

For the opener of The Spring 2013 Guide to Inspired Writing Retreats, contributing editor Jeremiah Chamberlin traveled to Nantucket to get a feeling for an exciting new book festival that is growing on a beautiful island known primarily as a summer playground.

Approaching Nantucket Harbor on the ferry, the First Congregational Church is visible rising above town. Built atop Beacon Hill in the early 1700s, the church is located just a few blocks from downtown Nantucket, on Centre Street.

The festival is held in downtown Nantucket, seen here from the corner of Orange Street and Main, near Mitchell’s Book Corner, looking northeast toward Centre Street. The Pacific National Bank sits on the corner (left) next to the United Methodist Church, whose Greek columns are visible in the center of the photograph.

The Atheneum, Natucket’s library, was one of the primary venues for book festival events. Built as a private literary institution in 1834, the building—and all its contents—were lost in the Great Fire of 1846. But it was rebuilt in 1847, reopening only a year later. During the late 1800s such luminaries as Fredrick Douglass, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and others gave lectures here. In 1900 the Atheneum became a public library. And in 1996 the building was renovated, restoring the Great Hall on the second floor.

Wendy Hudson, founder of the Nantucket Book Festival and owner of the local bookstores Nantucket Bookworks and Mitchell’s Book Corner, inaugurates the festival at the Unitarian Universalist Meeting House.

Following Hudson's inauguration of the Nantucket Book Festival at the Unitarian Universalist Meeting House, Richard (Dick) Burns introduces the panelists for a conversation titled Time, Place, and Nantucket, moderated by Christopher Lydon and featuring authors Pam Belluck (Island Practice), Elin Hilderbrand (Summerland), Nathaniel Philbrick (Why Read Moby Dick?), and Nancy Thayer (Heat Wave). Burns is the comanager of Nantucket Bookworks, where he started working in 1989, back when the Claflins owned the store.

Andre Dubus III reads from his memoir, Townie (W. W. Norton, 2011) in the Great Hall of the Nantucket Atheneum as part of The Prose Writer and the Poet with poet Wyn Coooper.

This forty-six-foot skeleton of a sperm whale is suspended from the ceiling of the Nantucket Historical Association (NHA) Whaling Museum, which is located in a former candle factory on Broad Street. Built in 1846 by the Mitchell family after the Great Fire, it served as a candleworks until the 1860s, when the whaling era ended. In the years that followed, it served a variety of purposes: warehouse, office space, and eventually storage for antiques. In 1929 it was purchased by the NHA and converted into the Whaling Museum. It was renovated in 2005.

Nantucket Bookworks is just a few blocks away from the NHA Whaling Museum in downtown Nantucket. Patti Claflin and her husband, Prentice, opened the original store in 1972 in the basement of the Mooney Building. Not long after, they moved the store to 25 Broad Street, where it remains. Wendy Hudson, the current owner, first fell in love with the bookstore when she was twelve, after visiting the island aboard her grandfather’s boat. She began working as a part-time bookseller in the 1990s, around the same time she cofounded Cisco Brewers with her husband, Randy. Several years later, at the stroke of midnight as the new millennium was ushered in, she became owner of the store.

Mitchell’s Book Corner showcases books by authors participating in the Nantucket Book Festival. The store was founded in 1968 by Henry "Mitch" Mitchell Havemeyer and Mary Allen Sargent Havemeyer. After spending summers on Nantucket for a decade, the Havemeyers left suburban New York to live on Nantucket full-time, where they purchased the 1846 brick building located at 54 Main Street, on the corner of Orange Street. The Havemeyers both passed away in the 1970s, but their daughter Mimi (Mary Chilton Havemeyer Beman) kept up the business until Wendy Schmidt purchased it in 2008. In April of 2012, Wendy Hudson bought the store and its inventory and founded Nantucket Book Partners, which comprises both Mitchell’s and Nantucket Bookworks.