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Star-studded lineup at Authors Festival

Mary Roach, Chris Gardner, Nikki Erlick, other literary minds to flood Sonoma next week



Hear from Pulitzer Prize winners, Poet Laureates and dozens of New York Times bestsellers when the fifth-annual Sonoma Valley Authors Festival returns. The self-described exclusive, curated and intimate “vacation with a purpose” takes place at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn next weekend, Aug. 26 to 28.

The three-day event features

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25 authors and speakers covering broad range of genres, from poetry and fiction to astrophysics and technology.

Festival founders David and Ginny Freeman first launched the event back in 2018 with a mission to “stimulate the minds and nurture the souls of readers.”

“I wouldn’t even call myself an avid reader — I’m an avid learner!” Ginny said. To enjoy the weekend, attendees just need to buy a ticket and come ready to expand their minds, she said.

The Freemans created the festival after attending several other lecture series and literary events. Both of their mothers were voracious readers and learners, and the couple decided to honor them with a weekend that combined the best aspects of the events they’d attended, all set in Sonoma.

The founders aim to have “something for everyone” over the course of the weekend. A complete list and write-up of each speaker can be found on the homepage of the festival website but some featured speakers include:

■MaryRoach,NewYorkTimes bestseller and author of “Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law.”

■ChrisGardner,NewYorkTimes and Washington Post #1 bestseller for his book “The Pursuit of Happyness.”

■ArmorTowles,authorof the Washington Post Book of the Year — “The Lincoln Highway.”

■TracyK.Smith,22ndPoetLaureate and Pulitzer Prize-winner for her poetry book, “Life on Mars.”

■Dr.DavidEagleman,CEOand co-founder of Neosensory and adjunct neuroscience professor at Stanford University.

■ Nikki Erlick, author of instant New York Times bestseller “The Measure.”

Erlick is also one of eight speakers participating in Students Day — a part of the festival designed specifically for Sonoma students. To inspire younger readers, that day authors will give talks to different groups of students from schools around the county.

As a 26-year-old breakout author, Erlick has a unique perspective to lend to the youth.

She remembers wanting to be a writer when she was in high school less than 10 years ago, and if there’s anyone in the audience with that dream, she hopes to inspire them with her talk. Erlick plans to open up to students about her struggle with anxiety, and how a lot of the themes in her novel reflect her personal challenges. “Finding other readers who resonate with that message has been amazing,” said Erlick. She plans on sharing her journey through getting laid off in the pandemic along with the message of surrounding oneself with good people that help to maintain confidence throughout the writing process.

“It’s going to take a lot and feel like you’re betting on yourself but it’s worth it,” said Erlick.

Eagleman will speak with advanced science students, Roach will present to physics and history students, Smith and Erlick will present to English students, with each talk customized for the class. This division by subjects is meant to allow students gain the most out of each session based on their areas of interest. Every student won’t see every speaker, but they’ll all get to see at least few.

The festival has been doing students day since the festival began, and the impact lingers.

The Freemans donate books by the speakers each year with the help of sponsors. They are giving almost 3,000 books to the school this year, ensuring that every student that attends a presentation will get at least one.

“After they see the speaker, they come running to the library and say; ‘ Do you have the book from that speaker?’ I think it really encourages them to read books,” said Janet Henson, chief librarian at SVHS.

Some of the books from the authors get selected for class material each year, and the students get more invested in the materiel after attending Students Day.

“Some of these speakers are really eye-openers for the kids, and they talk about it for a long time after,” said Henson.

Students day kicks the weekend off on Friday morning, and the official festival kick-off starts at 1:15p.m.withwelcomeremarks from the Freemans. This year’s event features the keynote and breakout sessions, lectures, interviews and book signings that attendees enjoyed in years past. New this year, evening events will be offered with a fireside poetry reading with Tracy K. Smith and Jeffrey Brown on Friday, and stargazing with astrophysicist Alex Filippenko on Saturday. Author’s on the Plaza, a free event for the local community, is also on the schedule for Saturday, Aug. 27, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. This family-friendly event will feature Dave Barry, Roach and Towles all giving talks in the square. The festival will provide a small number of folding chairs, but encourages people to bring their own seating and food to the event.

Those who register will be automatically entered in a raffle to win free books. Signing up in advance is encouraged at festivalyear/2022. Passes for the three-day festival range from $1,250 to $100,000 for tickets with sponsorship access. Sign-ups will be open until the start of the event.

COVID-19 regulations for the event will be in accordance with Sonoma County guidelines, and all festival personnel will be required to show proof of vaccination before working the event.

After having over 3,500 people register for their free virtual festival in 2020, the Freemans decided to offer a recording of the festival each year for purchase. This year’s recording will feature nearly every event on the schedule. It should be available on the website in early September and will cost $59.

In 2023, the festival will return to it’s pre-pandemic springtime event schedule, and planning has already begun.

“It’s like painting the Golden Gate Bridge — the minute you finish you start all over again,” said Ginny.

Mary Roach

Chris Gardner

Tracy K. Smith

Dave Barry

Nikki Erlick

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