Scranton native and author Jay Parini, left, and noted British-American author Christopher Hitchens, right, participate in the “Authors of Argument” forum moderated by attorney Morey Myers during the second annual Pages and Places Book Festival on October 2.
RICH HOWELLS / GO LACKAWANNA
‘Pages’ made Scranton place to be
By Rich Howellsrhowells@golackawanna.com
SCRANTON – The second annual Pages & Places Book Festival on October 2 filled the streets of downtown Scranton with book lovers from across the country who attended discussion panels, book singings, and other literary activities throughout the day, many to see one of the festival’s biggest draws – controversial author Christopher Hitchens.
A total of five panels, with topics ranging from feminism to neuroscience, informed and entertained until after 6 p.m.Following a “Prologue Party” on Friday evening at The Colonnade, where most of the festival’s sponsors, organizers, and panelists gathered for drinks and hors d’oeuvres, Pages & Places began at 9 a.m. with a panel on international literature at ArtWorks and activities, such as live author readings and a Kids’ Fest, on Courthouse Square that continued throughout the day.
At noon, authors large and small met with fans and signed their work, including the festival’s major draws, Scranton native Jay Parini, whose novel “The Last Station” was adapted into a major motion picture last year, and British-American author and journalist Hitchens, who just published his memoir, “Hitch-22,” in June.
The two literary heavy hitters met again a few hours later for a panel entitled “Authors of Argument: The People, Books, and Debates that Shape American Civic Life” in the Scranton Cultural Center’s Shopland Hall, moderated by local attorney Morey Myers.
In the beginning of the program, Parini acknowledged Hitchen’s metastatic esophageal cancer, a condition that has spread to his lymph nodes and lungs, and wished him better health, which was met with a room full of applause and cheers.
Despite his condition, Hitchens was his notoriously outspoken and controversial self, targeting, among other topics, organized religion, terrorism, Prince Charles, and Mother Teresa. Parini and Hitchens briefly discussed the literature they felt shaped American life, but spent much of the hour debating the invasion of Iraq and the War on Terror.
Both quick-witted authors debated fiercely and passionately, but remained friendly and cracked jokes throughout.
The panel was followed by a brief Q&A session, with most of the questions focusing on religion and the United States’ involvement in the Middle East.
One of the final questions of the day was from Justin Vacula, co-organizer of the NEPA Freethought Society, directed at Hitchens, himself an atheist.
“What is the best advice that you would have for anti-theists today fighting back against religion?” Vacula asked.
“Don’t keep the faith,” Hitchens wryly replied.
Pages & Places co-organizer Elizabeth Randol said that more than 2,000 people attended the festival, with about 1,100 at the panel discussions alone. The Kids’ Fest, a new addition to the festival this year, drew over 250 on its own.
Some attendees came as far away as California and Ontario, Canada.
“Pages & Places grew tremendously in its second year and has hopefully established itself as a significant contributor to the literary arts scene in Scranton and the Northeast,” Randol said.
“We are already looking forward to our third year and anticipate an equally, if not more, successful event next October.”