Sonoma Valley Authors Festival Connects Big-Name Writers with Readers

New authors festival at the Lodge in Sonoma will feature 26 speakers including David Brooks, Billy Collins, Amor Towle, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and astronaut Scott Kelly.

“Velocity needs direction,” is how Ginny Freeman wryly describes the dilemma she and husband David Freeman found themselves facing once they’d retired from high-powered jobs in San Francisco and moved full time to Kenwood two years ago. David, especially, was a man in need of a project, and as the couple pondered what they might take on as their next adventure, Ginny posed a question. “What is the thing we’ve done that made us happiest?”

The answer? Attending some of the country’s most prominent authors festivals — including the Sun Valley Writers’ Conference, the Pebble Beach Authors and Ideas Festival and the Rancho Mirage Writers Festival. There the Freemans listened avidly to the likes of Anthony Doerr, Colson Whitehead, Mary Roach and Robert Gates, talking about everything from key elements of their awardwinning novels that never made it to print to longheld frustrations with federal bureaucracy.

“When we were thinking about why we like these conferences so much, it’s because we love to learn,” says Ginny. And so the lightbulb went on: Why not create an authors festival here in Sonoma?

They’ve now done just that, with the Sonoma Valley Authors Festival set to launch May 4-6 at The Lodge at Sonoma Renaissance Resort & Spa, featuring 26 authors and speakers including David Brooks, Billy Collins, Amor Towle, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and astronaut Scott Kelly.

At the outset, the Freemans took their authors festival concept to an expert on such matters: Elaine Petrocelli, who with husband Bill Petrocelli co-owns the Book Passage bookstores in Marin County and San Francisco. Book Passage has long held multiple author events and writers workshops, and Petrocelli knows a good idea when she hears one. She was quick to sign on to help the Freemans with both selecting and securing participating authors and promoting the event.

“One thing that impressed me the first time I met Ginny and David was that they’d already done the research — by going to other festivals and seeing what was working and what wasn’t,” Petrocelli says. But what excited her most was the Freemans’ desire to involve students.

Festival passes for the full weekend are $750, not including lodging, for non-student attendees, who are limited in number to 550. But on Friday, May 4, nine of the authors will address 2,700 students from Sonoma Valley High School, Adele Harrison and Altimira middle schools, Hanna Boys Center and Sonoma Academy. The student component of the program, which will mainly take place at Sonoma Valley High, was orchestrated in large part by 10,000 Degrees, a Marin-based nonprofit that focuses on bringing books and stories to students from low-income households in Sonoma and Marin counties.

“What they’re introducing to the community, introducing to these students and their families, is a huge gift,” says Kim Mazzuca, president and CEO of 10,000 Degrees, of the Freemans and their new festival.

For her part, Petrocelli sees a big future for this little conference that could.

“I think it won’t be long before people are coming from all over the world to attend this festival.”

Sonoma Valley Authors Festival, May 4-6, The Lodge at Sonoma Renaissance Resort & Spa, Sonoma. A Single Pass for the festival weekend is $750 per person.