Diverse Array of Writers & Speakers at Sonoma Valley Authors Festival

By Catherine Barry

With its gorgeous landscapes, fine weather, even finer wines, and farm-fresh cuisine, do we need any more reasons to visit Sonoma? How about an intimate writers festival where leading writers in areas of science, medicine and technology join together with novelists and poets to provide three days of inspiration, engagement and learning.

That's the Sonoma Valley Authors Festival, taking place April 28-30, at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn.

Inspired by visits to Idaho’s Sun Valley Writers’ Conference, festival founders David and Ginny Freeman, successful corporate careers behind them, launched the festival in 2017.

"We look for diversity with genre and speakers, and try to include on authors who write about science, technology and medicine, appropriate in this epicenter of discovery that we live in," David tells SF/Arts.

This year, the world’s most widely read Spanish-language author, Chilean American Isabel Allende, whose 1982 novel “The House of the Spirits” launched a fruitful career, and 27 further books, takes center stage among other literary greats. Known for her vivid storytelling in the magic realism tradition, Allende’s upcoming “The Wind Knows My Name” weaves past and present with stories of two young characters affected by war and immigration in Vienna, 1938 and Arizona, 2019.

Ranked among the world’s most prodigious Russian history scholars, author and academic, Stephen Kotkin, may help shed some light on the psyche of Russia and the Russians that has bewildered Westerners for generations. Author of a three-volume biography of Joseph Stalin, Kotkin is a senior fellow at Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center. APARC Director Gi-Wook Shin says " Stephen is a remarkable academic and public intellectual whose work has transformed our understanding of Russian history and the historical processes that have shaped today’s global geopolitics.”

Chief Curator of Harvard Art Museums, Soyoung Lee has built an illustrious career as an art history scholar and a museum curator, including several years as curator in the department of Asian art Metropolitan Museum of Art. Born in Jakarta, Indonesia, Lee's research interests encompass cross-cultural exchanges in East Asian art and culture. At the Harvard Art Museums, Lee oversees the museums’ three curatorial divisions (division of Asian and Mediterranean art, division of European and American art, and division of modern and contemporary art), an active exhibition program, and the stewardship and development of Harvard’s world-class collections, among the largest in the U.S. When he’s not busy working as a physician, Professor at Stanford University’s Medical School, and Senior Associate Chair of the Department of Internal Medicine, Abraham Verghese finds time to write, and for that we are grateful.

Born in Ethiopia, where his expat-Indian parents were teachers, Verghese completed his medical studies in India, before pursuing specialty training in American at age 25. His first novel “My Own Country: A Doctor’s Story,” an enthralling family saga of Africa and America, doctors and patients, exile and home follows Verghese’s own story and his work treating AIDS patients in rural Tennessee. The book is used in medical schools across the world to educate about empathy, sensitivity and compassion.

Upon receipt of a National Humanities Medal from President Obama in 2016, the organization said that Verghese received the award for “reminding us that the patient is the center of the medical enterprise.”

Verghese's sweeping, emotionally riveting “Cutting for Stone” was a New York Times best-seller for two years, and now his widely anticipated second novel, “The Covenant of Water,” is upcoming in May. The book and others can be pre-ordered at the festival, through Book Passage, the festival bookseller. Festival regular and funny man, Dave Barry, is back this year to deliver more light relief from what he calls “…a world almost totally devoid of reason."

Barry might well have outdone himself with his new novel “Swamp Story,” which brings to Florida a story of treasure-hunting villains, a quirky monster of the Loch Ness variety, a mob of TikTokers and even a presidential hopeful on campaign thrown in.

Hugo Vickers, Britain’s royal historian and biographer, will guide the audience through the last years of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign, the death and funeral of Prince Philip, and the year leading up to and including the Platinum Jubilee. Mr. Vickers will talk listeners through the first months of the reign of King Charles III, tackling some of the issues he has had to face (including the  publishing of "Spare" by Prince Harry, The Duke of Sussex) as well as the lead-up to his Coronation on May 6.

Following in the footsteps of the country’s most celebrated poets, Ada Limón, from Sonoma, is the 24th U.S. poet laureate and the first Latina to hold the title. As an ambassador for the form, Limón says she uses poetry as a way of tuning in with the world. “Great poetry is the place where we get the strength to heal, to become whole and to then recommit to the world.” Her recent collection “The Hurting Kind” looks at our place in the natural world, our ancestors, the intellectual and the spiritual.

There are several other writers and speakers to enjoy at this year's festival, so visit svauthorsfest.org for a complete schedule. Tickets are required, but the founders are serious about giving back, hence the free authors events on the plaza, as well as a Students Day at the local high school. "That is very important to us," says co-founder Ginny. "We made sure we put that in place from the very beginning."

April 28 → 30
Sonoma Valley Authors Festival

Catherine Barry
Catherine Barry
Editor at SF/Arts
Editor at SF/Arts
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