Authors Night, the Hamptons literary highlight of the year, will be held digitally this year. Typically, event-goers have only one evening to mingle with the extraordinary guest authors, but the 2020 East Hampton Library benefit will take place over four spectacular evenings – Thursday, August 6 through Sunday, August 9.
We had the pleasure of speaking with Dennis Fabiszak, East Hampton Library Executive Director, about the virtual edition, this year’s featured writers, and much more.
Could you discuss the decision to go digital?
DF: It was really an easy decision because the Town is not giving out any mass gathering permits. But, we had decided early in April that even if the permits became available, it just did not seem like the right thing to do – to put on Authors Night and the free Children’s Fair, which we do back to back that weekend and bringing so many people together in one place with everything else going on with the virus.
What will the format look like this year?
DF: There’s going to be approximately 12 author conversations held on Zoom. We’ve tried to spread them out so that guests could attend more than one, if they choose. So, instead of it being a one day event, we now have it going on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday – and we have three separate time slots.
They’ll be set up sort of like the dinner conversation used to be – where there’s a host for the event. Obviously we’re not having dinner, but they’ll have an online host that will make some comments and then we have the author and an interviewer for each of the talks. They’ll do 30 to 40 minutes of conversation back and forth with the guests watching, and then we’ll open it up for questions from the guests that have purchased tickets for each event.
So, the audience will be able to interact with the authors.
DF: Yes. We’re planning to keep them at 20 guests for each event. They’re really intimate. We really want people that are attending to feel like they’re able to ask questions and have some interaction. Really like the way the dinners are. Dinners are much smaller than being under the tent and you get up close and personal with the author.
What authors can viewers expect?
DF: We have Allison and George Pataki, who was the governor. Allison is his daughter and is a novelist. They both have books, they’re doing a joint event. We have J. Courtney Sullivan, Philip Rucker, Harlan Coben, Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton, Neal Gabler, Darryl Pinckney, Mike Birbiglia – who Alec Baldwin is actually interviewing. Robert A. Caro being interviewed by Douglas Brinkley, who we’ve had in the past, he’s a historian and well established author in his own right. He will be doing a really interesting interview with Bob Caro. Steve Madden, the owner of the shoe company. We just added Eric K. Washington, who wrote a history book about the Red Caps in New York City.
Normally, Authors Night welcomes nearly 100 authors. How did you decide, in this more intimate atmosphere, who to include?
DF: We have an Authors Selection Committee. We’ve been meeting for months. We normally have 25 dinners. So, originally, we started working on that idea. But, then we realized that there’s people on Zoom all day long, and have been for months. We sent out invitations to a number of authors over the past month and a half and narrowed down the list of who is interested and who we wanted to interview them.
What will funds support?
DF: The funds from Authors Night go directly into the operating budget of the Library. Typically, we’ll generate 10 percent of our operating budget at Authors Night. Obviously, in a smaller online event, we’re not going to make as much money, but we’re encouraging people to make donations and our event hosts have been very generous and making donations to support the event.
We’re pretty excited about it. But, one thing that we’re not having this year is the books. In the past, the publishers donate books and then we sell them at the event, but we felt that it would be too difficult to get all the books and ship them out to everybody, and we didn’t really want to compete with the local bookstores.
What services and events is the Library currently offering – both in person and virtually?
DF: We’re doing all of our programming virtually right now. Also, we’re doing reference services virtually, through chat and through text. We started curbside pickup about a month ago. It’s been really, really popular. We’re getting ready to reopen for the public, we’re just finishing some construction things that are required of us to make the building less hands-on and moving furniture and things around. We’re excited about finishing that and having the public back in the building and following all the social distancing guidelines that we have. We’re having a large tent put on our property and the Village has extended a permit through September 15. So, we’re going to be able to do some programs outside, which we’re really excited about.
We’ve had a great response to the online programs and for children, we’re actually producing them a video so that parents can pick the time that the children are going to attend them – instead of them being live events. We’ve had a lot of positive response to that. Our electronic book circulation has gone up 70 percent over what it was last year. It’s amazing that there’s been that much of an increase.
We think we’ve transitioned fairly well. The thing that’s really clear to us is that all of these things that we transitioned to, we will need to continue along with going back to things we were doing before. Right now we’re working out how to begin doing programs and services in the Library, but also provide them virtually and even curbside pickup. We will continue that, probably for a long time because people have different comfort levels in going out in public. We don’t want to discourage other people from using us just because we’ve decided to start letting people come in. We still want to provide a safer alternative to anybody that wants to do curbside.
East Hampton Library is located at 159 Main Street in East Hampton. For more information, or tickets to Authors Night, visit authorsnight.org. For more information about the East Hampton Library, visit easthamptonlibrary.org.