Readers and writers gather for local festival

Bridget Higdon, Assistant Arts Editor

As an English major, I am always looking for ways to further indulge my love of reading and writing.

I found such indulgence at the 13th annual Burlington Book Festival.

This festival was held at several locations downtown Sept. 15-17 and it was a celebration of all things literary, bringing writers and readers together.

The Burlington City Arts Center on Church Street, typically a traditional gallery space, showcased a different kind of artist Saturday: the writer.

I made my first stop of the day on the second floor Roth Gallery, where award-winning poet and musician J. Mae Barizo read a sampling of her work. A small audience was gathered on metal folding chairs.

A recipient of fellowships and awards from Bennington College, Barizo has a special place for Vermont in her heart, she said.

“Scratch the surface of any writer, and they’ve got a story to tell you,”

— Garrison Nelson

“Coming back to this area causes the synchronicity of the senses,” she said.

Most of the poems Barizo read were from her book “The Cumulus Effect,” which was published in 2015, according to the publisher’s website.

“The book acts as an intersection between geography and memory,” she said. “I am fascinated by places that have been marked by history.”

Barizo read in a soft voice, almost a whisper. Her simple black dress and minimal jewelry allowed her poetry to take center stage.

Barizo’s poetry is not all that has received critical acclaim. Her talent as a pianist and violinist has allowed her to perform with Jay-Z, Beyonce and Bon Iver, according to her website.

Next, I made my way up to the fourth floor. In the Vermont Metro Gallery, Angela Palm was in the midst of reading from her memoir, “Riverine.”

“There was certainly a blood-on-the-page aspect to writing this book,” she said, because the memoir forced her to deal with painful events from her childhood.

The book took three years to write and another year to edit, she said.

Although she grew up in Indiana, Palm now lives in Burlington. “Reading here at the festival was a great homecoming,” she said. “This is a comfortable, safe space to be.” selected “Riverine,” published in 2016, as a “Powerful Memoir by Powerful Women.”

Back on the ground floor of the BCA Center, the authors’ books were available for purchase.

Seated next to the makeshift bookstore, two individuals who were happily chatting caught my attention.

They were UVM political science professor Garrison Nelson and Amy Braun, a recent graduate from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Both were BBF volunteers.

“Anything literary I like to be a part of,” Braun said. She wore bright pink glasses, and sat sewing.

Nelson told me he would be presenting his latest publication, “John William McCormack: A Political Biography” later in the day Saturday.

“Nothing is more solitary than writing,” he said, his Boston accent still prominent. “Writers write all day and then all they want to do is hang out with people, which is why the book festival is so perfect.”

I sat and talked with them for a long time. Our conversation meandered, and soon Nelson began telling Braun and I the story of how his parents met.

“See,” Nelson said laughing, “you scratch the surface of any writer, and they’ve got a story to tell you.”

The Burlington Book Festival was full of writers sharing stories and readers who earnestly soaked up every word.

“Through writing, the poets and writers were able to articulate common struggles and make them relatable for readers from all different walks of life,” sophomore Winter Seyfer said.

I stepped out of the BCA Center and out onto Church Street feeling completely inspired as I slid my sunglasses to the bridge of my nose. The Burlington Book Festival was for me an unexpected gem — sparkling with meaningful encounters and worthwhile listening.