The Perks and Faults of the Green Mountain Book Festival

What Burlington’s first annual Green Mountain Book Festival did well, and how it can improve before next year.


The Green Mountain Book Festival was advertised to have panels of renowned local authors, an open mic banned book reading, a used book sale with excellent prices, and a late-night poetry club. It was a dream come true for aspiring authors and book fanatics—both of which I am. However, many of the festival’s perks were also its faults. While the festival seemed a success, there are some significant spots that can be improved next year.

My book festival experience started Saturday morning with a panel of memoir authors, including Brett Ann Stanciu, Jay Parini, and Madeleine Kunin. The panel was insightful, didactic, and often very humorous. During the discussion of where memoir should be categorized, I caught a quote from Stanciu: “Anything processed by memory is fiction.” When asked whether it is better to tell in memoir rather than show, Jay Parini said that the idea of “show don’t tell” is “bullshit,” and he wishes he could go back and never teach it to his students. 

Many of the experiences at the book festival felt like this: charismatic and studious. Whenever I spoke with an author, it was an exciting experience and often felt like an honor.

The festival was also very well organized. The Fletcher Free Library did an excellent job of direction. Everywhere I looked, there was a sign, pamphlet, or poster that told me where I could find events, sales, or readings. The banned book open mic, which brought in crowds of three or four at a time, had a collection of banned books in case you did not sign up ahead of time or did not bring your own book. And if they didn’t have the book you wanted to read, a library assistant or the coordinator, Shelagh Shapiro, would find the book for you from inside. There, I read an excerpt of The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. The process was simple, and the sound system worked well. 

So what went wrong? What caused a sense of dissatisfaction at the end of my day at the festival? 

I think the first struggle came with the age range I was surrounded by. One of the first questions I asked my peers while walking to the festival was, “How do you think they’re going to bring in young people?” 

Unfortunately, young people did not feel like a major target. Much of the crowd was made up of either the older crowd of Burlington or my peers that had to attend for an assignment. 

I asked one of my peers that wasn’t required to be there why she had come. Her response was, “I’m mostly tagging along cause I didn’t have anything else to do. Plus there’s supposed to be a huge used book sale, right?” 

In defense of the Green Mountain Book Festival, nowhere was a “huge” used book sale advertised. There was a sale of one bag for twenty dollars that may have implied a surplus of books, but that was only guesswork. However, coming upon a tent of boxes full of primarily cookbooks, political biographies, and dust-colored covers made it difficult not to be pessimistic.

The thing that may have attracted many young people was the Lit Night Poetry Event at the Lampshade. This is upsetting as Lit Night seemed to be the least informed event, with the Lampshade website claiming to be age 21 and up only, and the actual event being 18 and up until certain hours. Beforehand, I asked many of the people involved with the event about it and was typically told to check the website because they were not sure.

I think the book festival can maintain the way it is, but it could be improved with some adjustments.

When I decided to sit at the author panels, I was frankly worried they would be boring and slow. But as I’ve said, they were entertaining and interesting. I feel that many younger people were not willing to spend their spare time without being enticed beforehand. I believe intrigue could be sparked with a Young and Upcoming Authors panel.

The used book sale could be so much bigger if they start collecting books sooner. It could start with a book drive of sorts, inspiring the community to donate their books to the Green Mountain Book Festival’s used book sale rather than donate their books to thrift stores, where they will sit for a month before being tossed into landfills. 

Another opportunity would be book trading. If you’ve ever been walking on a trail or suburban sidewalk, you’ve probably seen a library in a box—the book exchange boxes that almost look like birdhouses. I believe that the Green Mountain Book Festival could put on a large one of those to avoid the scrappy tent of used books next year.

Many times during the banned book open mic event, there were gaps in readers and audiences. This could be fixed by changing the event location to Church Street. One notable thing about Burlington’s beloved avenue is its live performers. I propose the festival set up a tent and speakers, weather permitting, and fill a wagon or box with a collection of banned books. I think opening the mic to a wider audience, the pursuers of Church Street, gives more opportunity to talk about banned books week and also brings in people who may not be aware of the festival.

Green Mountain Book Festival was cozy, fun, and an excellent opportunity for literature fanatics. I’m excited to go next year and see how they improve, or if it is comfortable with its niche audience, see what becomes of it.