Kenwood residents present inaugural Sonoma Valley Authors Festival
When David and Ginny Freeman retired to Kenwood from San Francisco in 2015, they hoped to do more than schedule tee times and putter around the house. And that they did. After two years of planning, the Freemans, along with other local partners, will bring to Sonoma the first-ever Sonoma Valley Authors Festival, a weekend featuring some of the world’s foremost authors and thought leaders sharing their ideas, creativity, and inspiration.
The Sonoma Valley Authors Festival takes place May 4-6 at the Lodge at Sonoma Renaissance Resort and Spa in Sonoma. During the three days, 28 authors and leaders in science, technology and medicine will discuss their books, their work, and their lives. Genres range from fiction, to non-fiction, biography, politics, adventure and more.
The idea for the festival was conceived after the Freemans, both passionate readers, chanced upon attending the Sun Valley Writers’ Conference, held in Idaho in July. After having that eye-opening experience, the Freemans then attended the Pebble Beach Authors & Ideas Festival and the Rancho Mirage Writers Festival. When they returned to Kenwood, transformed, Ginny and David wanted to bring something similar to their new home. “We wanted to contribute something that was different to the valley,” said David.
Not knowing anything about the publishing world, the Freemans contacted Elaine Petrocelli, founder and president of Book Passages, which has grown to three locations – Corte Madera, The San Francisco Ferry Building, and Sausalito – in its 40-year history. “Not only did Elaine say, ‘this is a great idea,’” said Ginny, “she said, ‘I’ll help you.’ We never expected that.” In addition to operating her successful bookstores, a must-stop for authors on book tours, Petrocelli, along with her staff of 45 people, organizes 900 speaker events each year.
After making that first connection, a network of friends of friends began forming and the Freemans got an expedited introduction to many talented people who call the North Bay and Sonoma Valley home.
The weekend festival is structured to maximize the exchange of ideas. It will feature keynote speakers followed by breakout sessions where attendees will have the opportunity to interact more closely with an author or speaker of their choice.
Keynote speakers include political and cultural commentator and New York Times columnist David Brooks, American biographer, historian and political commentator Doris Kearns Goodwin, astronaut and author Captain Scott Kelly, and Niall Ferguson, a Scottish historian and the Laurence A. Tisch a professor of history at Harvard who speaks about economic, financial and international history and British and American Imperialism. New York Times bestselling fiction authors Jesmyn Warm, Lisa See and Amor Towles, will also share their work and ideas, plus many other award-winning authors of nonfiction and poetry.
The Freemans underscore that the festival goes far beyond writing and writers. It’s designed for lifelong learners, those who feed on the exchange of inspirational ideas. Festival attendees can follow several “tracks,” which will curate the speaker lineup for them, including “Science, Medicine & The Brain: Promise and Peril,” “Inspirational Nonfiction: A Road Less Traveled,” and “The World: Russia & The Middle East.”
A session called “Voices that Need to Be Heard” will include local Kenwood author Rebecca Rosenberg.
Ginny, who said she’s really a nerd in disguise, is most excited about the line up of inspiring leaders in science and medicine, like Pedro Irazoqui, Ph.D., the director of Purdue’s Center for Implantable Devices. His group develops wireless biological implants and neural prosthetic devices, opening novel avenues for the treatment of neural disorders through miniature, wireless, electronic prostheses. Clinical applications being explored by Dr. Irazoquis’ lab include epilepsy, spinal cord injury, and glaucoma. Dr. R. Sanders Williams, president of Gladstone Institutes, will present on CRISPR technology, a game-changing, efficient and customizable alternative to other existing genome editing tools, and what it means for future research into diseases such as cancer and mental illness.
“We have a diverse group of speakers who will appeal to a lot of people; it’s a multicultural lineup,” said David.
In addition to the festival calendar, the Freemans are excited to bring some of the same great authors and speakers into local schools to interact with Sonoma Valley students, as part of the festival’s Student Day – which kicks off the weekend on May 4.
Student Day is a full-day mini-festival of 11 authors and speakers on the Sonoma Valley High School, Hanna Boys Center, and Sonoma Academy campuses. About 27,000 Sonoma Valley students from those schools, plus Adele Harrison and Altimira middle schools and Kenwood Elementary School will get the chance to meet, interact with and be inspired by innovative writers and leaders in science, technology and medicine. Speakers at the Student Day include two-time poet laureate Billy Collins, astronaut Captain Scott Kelly, and best-selling authors R.J. Palacio, Lisa Fenn, and Daniel Rodriquez.
“We are thrilled and honored to have our 6th grade students included in this wonderful learning opportunity,” said Kenwood School Principal Bob Bales. “This will be an incredible experience to hear from renowned authors sharing their craft and encouraging our students to continue developing their own writing skills as they make the important transition to middle school in the fall.”
“In some ways, this will be more important to the valley than the festival – and that’s really important to us,” said David. Both David and Ginny have a love of discovery and reading, and relish getting to share that with a new generation.
While living in New York City, during his 30-year career working in financial services, David was also a board member of Cities in Schools (now Communities in Schools), a program developed as a safety net to help underserved youth stay in school.
Ginny grew up all over the country, often living out of a trailer, as the family followed her father’s job as a seismologist and geologist for the oil and gas exploration industry across the United States.
Ginny and David dedicate the festival in honor of their mothers, both of whom were lifelong readers and learners.
To find out more about the festival visit www.svaf.info. Weekend passes are $750 per person. This year's festival is already sold out.
Updated on Monday, April 2, 2018: The original article did not list the price of the festival tickets. Tickets sold out after the article went to press.
Sarah Phelps is an editor and reporter. She was raised in Kenwood and has a BA from Loyola Marymount University.