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Nantucket Book Festival Highlights Island Issues

Book authors of all genres are featured at this year's festival.

WGBH's Henry Santoro interviews Maddie Hjulstrom, executive director of the Nantucket Book Foundation. Below is an edited version of their conversation. To listen to the entire interview, click on the audio player above.

Henry Santoro: Maddie Hjulstrom has spent her career surrounded by books. For 15 years, she was a business development manager for Barnes and Noble, and last year she was hired by the Nantucket Book Foundation to be its executive director. It's a pleasure to welcome Maddie Hjulstrom to WGBH's Weekend Edition and to 'Henry In The Hub.' Good morning, Maddie.

Maddie Hjulstrom: Good morning, Henry. Thank you for having me.

HS: It's my pleasure. Your duties at the Nantucket Book Foundation include overseeing the upcoming Nantucket Book Festival, which is now in its sixth year, to enhance literacy on the island, primarily with school students. Do people still love books the way they did when you began your career at Barnes and Noble?

MH: They do. There was a time when people were talking about how books were going to go digital and we were going to lose the written page. And that never happened. People are passionate about reading. The festival points that out every year with the size of our audience getting bigger and bigger each year.

HS: Nantucket has two bookstores -- the Nantucket Book Works and Mitchell's Book Corner. Both are right in town. How do they play a role in planning and the execution of this festival?

MH: Well, Mitchell's and Nantucket Book Works are part of Nantucket Book Partners, which are owned by Wendy Hudson. She is one of the founders of the festival. Back in 2012, she and a handful of other people on Nantucket decided to finally bite the bullet and produce a festival. And fortunately, with Wendy having such a thumb on the pulse of the publishing world, we were able to attract some prominent authors that first year and we continue to bring really strong talent to the island.

HS: We should also mention that our sister station, WCAI in Woods Hole is one of the festival sponsors. What are some of this year's highlights for you and what are you looking forward to?

 MH: We are very much looking forward to finally having Diane Rehm on the Island -- NPR's own. She is going to be speaking about her recent memoir and also revealing a little bit of a surprise to the people in the audience. Ruth Reichl is well known as a food critic and former editor of Gourmet magazine....

HS: And it's breakfast with her. Am I right?

MH: There's breakfast with her on Sunday but there's also an event that's free to the public on Saturday. Somebody who I think really merits some attention -- not just because of his astonishing novels, but because of his service -- is Elliot Ackerman. He has served five tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, is a former White House adviser, a Purple Heart award winner and his books just blew the committee away, so I really hope that the audience comes out and supports him.

HS: You mentioned Diane Rehm will be there, in addition to a PBS guy, Carl Safina.

MH: Yes. And that brings up an interesting point. This year, we really researched what the Nantucket residents wanted us to talk about at these festivals, especially topics that are important to the Cape and the Islands. So Carl Safina, the noted environmentalist, is coming as a result of that, because we are so interested in hearing his perspective on what's going on in the environment and nature. We've also got Dr. Jim O'Connell, one of your Boston natives, who is well known as the doctor to the homeless. A surprisingly high population of people live below the poverty level on Nantucket year round.

HS:That's something that not a lot of people would believe.

MH: Exactly. So it's important to shine a spotlight on those issues and these authors are coming to do just that.

HS: That's great. The Nantucket Book Festival is happening June 16-18.


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