An Embarrassment of Riches

Inaugural literary festival brings locally, nationally and internationally acclaimed writers to Santa Fe Community Convention Center


Santa Fe is internationally known for the summer markets that bring Spanish colonial, folk and Native American art and thousands of visitors to the city. But this year the City Different kicks off its cultural season with the inaugural Santa Fe Literary Festival, May 20-23. The schedule is packed with dozens of events, from large gatherings with literary giants like Colson Whitehead, Margaret Atwood, Joy Harjo, Sandra Cisneros and George R.R. Martin to more intimate conversations between notable authors.

The festival was organized by two women with long experience in writing, publishing and book promotion: Julia Platt Leonard, a food writer with literary festival experience, and publicist Clare Hertel, a longtime Santa Fe resident.

“We’ve been talking about this for several years,” said Hertel. “We asked ourselves why, in a town with so many wonderful literary events, we hadn’t had a multiday festival that brought together national and international authors as well as many of our finest local writers. Finally, in 2019 we said, ‘Let’s do this.’ We wanted to launch it last year, but of course COVID happened.”

Mark Bryant, the third member of the team and husband to Hertel, is an editor and publisher with deep connections to the literary world. He is the author curator for the festival and a force behind the powerhouse lineup. “I’ve been fortunate to work with several of these authors over the years,” he said. “Some are old friends and colleagues. Others are simply people we’ve admired for their work and their character, and we think the world needs to know them. Some were already aware that New Mexico has been home for countless generations of artists and storytellers, beginning with the oral traditions of Native and Hispano peoples. All of them understand, after two long pandemic years, how important it is for people to come together and share stories that transport them across cultures, borders and worlds beyond their own. That’s what we — the authors, volunteer organizers and the many other folks in the community who’ve lent their time and expertise — are hoping to deliver.”

The three used their individual skills and connections to pull together a larger team of supporters, including area writers, cultural leaders, businesses and nonprofit organizations. “We’ve tapped this diverse group as an informal sounding board for our ideas, especially with regard to engaging the local community,” Hertel said.

Locating the festival in Santa Fe wasn’t just a matter of convenience for organizers who happen to live here. “We have other markets for the major arts here, like the International Folk Art Market, Spanish Market and Indian Market — but nothing big and national for the literary arts,” said Hertel. “That’s why we wanted it here. Santa Fe has such a rich storytelling history, and it’s a beautiful place to bring writers and readers together.”

The lineup of participating writers includes some of the biggest names in publishing. In addition to Whitehead, Atwood, Harjo, Cisneros and Martin, featured speakers include John Grisham, Don Winslow, Lawrence Wright and Jon Krakauer. These bestselling and prizewinning authors discuss their work with each other and with audiences during readings and book signings that span the long weekend. Topics range from politics to race, immigration to the environment. Genres include novels, narrative nonfiction, poetry, history, mystery, memoir and science fiction. “We considered the idea of focusing on one large topic and hanging everything around that, but it felt too narrow,” said Hertel. “This is a celebration of literature and ideas, and we felt that having a broad range of subjects and genres would be the best way to go for this first year, especially for the purposes of a long weekend. There’s hopefully something for everybody.”

Food for body and mind

Santa Fe may be as well known for its food as for its art, and the culinary arts are a central theme of the festival. World-renowned chefs, cookbook authors and food writers talk about their work at programmed meals and events. “We’re living in an age when you can find a recipe online for almost anything in seconds,” said Leonard. “But great food writing is more than recipes — it’s about telling a story or sharing a memory. It’s about capturing your imagination and making you hungry at the same time. And ultimately, great food writing is great writing.”

Participating food-world stars include Freddie Bitsoie, award-winning Navajo chef and author of New Native Kitchen; Asma Khan, author of Asma’s Indian Kitchen and the chef/owner of Darjeeling Express in London; Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich, owners of the London restaurant Honey & Co.; and Bryant Terry, a James Beard Award-winning vegan chef, food justice advocate and author of Afro-Vegan and Vegetable Kingdom.

“Our goal was to find incredible chefs and cooks who can weave a tale, take us into their world and leave us inspired inside the kitchen and out,” said Leonard. “I can’t think of five people working in cooking and food writing today who fit the bill more than these. Each one has a great story to tell, and we can’t wait for them to share it at the inaugural festival.”

Local culinary luminaries Cheryl Alters Jamison, four-time James Beard Cookbook Award winner with her late husband, Bill Jamison, and Deborah Madison, author of 14 cookbooks and the founding chef of Greens restaurant in San Francisco, are also on the program. Jamison leads an afternoon walk-andtalk to the Santa Fe School of Cooking on Sunday and a New Mexico-focused cooking and food writing workshop on Monday. Madison takes on a three-session sustainability and food study day at Albuquerque’s Los Poblanos on Monday.

Other food-related events include ticketed sit-down lunches on Saturday with Terry and on Sunday with Bitsoie; afternoon tea with Packer and Srulovich on Saturday and with Khan on Sunday; and tequila tastings at Sazón with chef Fernando Olea and The Great Margarita Book author Al Lucero. There are a limited number of tickets available for afternoon tea. Currently, lunch and tequila are offered only to VIP all-access pass holders; space may open for others to join the events for a fee at a later date. Box lunches are available to all and may be reserved through the online ticketing system.

The program, in brief

The festival kicks off Friday evening, May 20, with Colson Whitehead, author of The Underground Railroad, The Nickel Boys and Harlem Shuffle and winner of two Pulitzer Prizes and the National Book Award.

Weekend mornings begin with meditation, led by author and teacher Henry Shukman of Mountain Cloud Zen Center on Saturday and by activist, author and Buddhist teacher Roshi Joan Halifax of Upaya Zen Center on Sunday. After meditation on Saturday morning, Margaret Atwood takes the stage at 9:15 a.m., followed by crime and mystery writer Don Winslow at 11 a.m. On Sunday, Lawrence Wright talks at 9:15 a.m., followed by George R.R. Martin at 11 a.m.

Afternoons offer two different sessions with three choices each, Hertel said. “First we’ll have one of our sit-down lecture events. Second we have these small walk-and-talks, just two each afternoon with a 15-person limit — first come, first to buy tickets online, first serve.” Saturday afternoon speakers include Phil Klay, Ashley C. Ford, Emily St. John Mandel and William deBuys. Sunday features Valeria Luiselli, Jon Krakauer and three dual events: Douglas Preston with Hampton Sides, Anne Hillerman and James McGrath Morris paying tribute to Tony HIllerman and N. Scott Momaday with Kirstin Valdez Quade, moderated by Carmella Padilla. Native writer Rebecca Roanhorse leads a panel on speculative fiction. Each night features a keynote in the convention center’s Sweeney Ballroom. “On Saturday it’s John Grisham with Hampton Sides as the moderator,” said Hertel. “On Sunday Joy Harjo and Sandra Cisneros will be sharing thoughts on their work, the state of the world and their friendship of nearly 50 years.”

She continues, “We’re also introducing a program called Story Ladder, a pilot program that will extend beyond the festival, partnering with local schools and nonprofit organizations to help Santa Fe’s young people tell their stories. As part of that, the Witter Bynner Foundation for Poetry, a festival partner, is working with us to organize a youth poetry slam on the community stage [in the convention center courtyard].”

Monday, May 23, the last day of the festival, is set aside for free community events, including an appearance by Sandra Cisneros at the Southside Santa Fe Public Library, as well as a series of paid literary day trips. These full- and half-day excursions, still in the planning stages at the time of publication, will give festivalgoers the chance to extend their stay, join an author knowledgeable about the area and the issue, and experience Northern New Mexico’s culture and landscapes.

Offering such a mix of events over one long weekend is an experiment, Hertel said. “We’ll learn a lot this first year. We’re excited to see how it all rolls out.”

Launching the inaugural festival with a roster of heavy hitters has been a boon, Bryant said. “The collection of authors came together much more smoothly than we might have expected for a first-year effort. The mix of authors — national, international and closer to home — should give readers plenty to choose from, and their work covers a range of genres. Some of the writers are world famous and some are on their way. All of them are important voices in the world, especially in this time of so much turmoil and division. The festival’s goal over the next few years is to bring to Santa Fe an increasingly diverse, robust gathering of storytelling, ideas and points of view. We see this first event as just the start.”

The festival kicks off Friday evening, May 20, with Colson Whitehead, author of The Underground Railroad, The Nickel Boys and Harlem Shuffle and winner of two Pulitzer Prizes and the National Book Award.

If you go

Inaugural Santa Fe Literary Festival

May 20-23

Santa Fe Community Convention Center

201 Marcy St., 505-474-6783, sfliteraryfestival.org

See the festival website, sfliteraryfestival.org, for more information, including a list of walk-and-talks, literary day trips and additional programs. Many free events — including book signings and poetry readings— take place on Monday, May 23. The festival website offers a complete list.

Tickets to all events may be purchased via the website. Prices for individual author events range from$15 for students and $25 for New Mexico residents to $75 for nonresidents. A limited number of tickets for the afternoon tea events, which include nibbles and a book, are priced at $150 for nonresidents and $125 for New Mexico residents. Boxed lunches are $27.50. Tequila tastings are open only to all-access pass holders. Prices for literary day trips range from $125 to $650. There are also a number of free community literary events around town. For those who want it all, the $1,700 allaccess weekend pass gets the ticket bearer into all events.

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Santa Fe New Mexican