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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, August 6, 2009

World-class writers rally for a little library in a historic Helderberg town

By Maggie Gordon

RENSSELAERVILLE — It looked more like a college lecture than a library fund-raiser as scores of people, dressed in everything from madras shorts and flip-flops to sport coats and boat shoes funneled into the auditorium at the Rensselaerville Meeting Center on Saturday. At the very front of the room sat the featured speakers, local authors with worldwide reach — Andy Rooney and William Kennedy.

“Rensselaerville is a unique community, full of photographers, writers, and painters,” said Betty Reed, a library trustee who planned the weekend-long Festival of Writers as a fund-raiser for the Rensselaerville Library. “We’ve been doing the same things for years, and we felt we needed to shake things up a bit. We wanted to reflect the personalities, and utilize the resources of the village.”

Reed, along with Linda Miller and Elizabeth Britton, who are also on the library board, dreamed up the idea of the festival over a series of Thursday night meetings at the Palmer House Café on Main Street in Rensselaerville. “Fifty percent of the library’s budget comes from fund-raising, grants, and donations,” Miller said.

This year, the trustees decided to create a weekend-long festival with events that appealed to a variety of people. The festival kicked off on Friday night with a movie screening and street fair, fit for the whole family. Saturday featured a children’s event, one created for tweens, and several adult-oriented programs. “We really tried to have a spectrum of people, and a spectrum of prices,” Miller said. “It seems like it’s been a success.”

Miller alluded to the dozens of people who turned out for the sessions as well as the wide range of speakers and hosts – novelists, television personalities, poets, essayists and prize-winning journalists – when qualifying her success. “Everyone we asked said yes,” Miller said.

Paul Grondahl, a local author and features writer for the Times Union, said he was excited about the opportunity to sit with Rooney and Kennedy for the afternoon, and compared it to playing baseball with Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio. “When I got the e-mail, I hit reply in about five seconds,” he said.

Both featured speakers sent quick replies, too. “I did it simply because they asked me,” Rooney said after the 90-minute session. Most famous for his humorous commentary on the CBS News show 60 Minutes, Rooney has a home in Rensselaerville.

“I did it for Andy,” Kennedy said a moment later. “I’m very fond of Andy Rooney. I’ve known him for many years.”

Both Rooney and Kennedy spoke about their reasons for becoming writers. Rooney got the bug while he was a young student at Albany Academy. “My teacher told me I didn’t think very well, but I wrote beautifully,” he said. He reasoned that, if he was good at it, he might as well keep doing it.

Kennedy — a journalist who went on to write novels, including Ironweed, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1984 — decided to get into novel writing by reading about other authors. “I remember reading a review of On The Road by Jack Kerouac in Time magazine, while I was living in Miami,” he told the audience. “I thought, ‘I have to get on the road.’” Most of his novels, though, have been set in his native Albany.

When a father seated in the first row asked the three authors what kind of advice they could offer his young daughter about writing, Kennedy said it was important to read. “I had a library card when I was 10 years old,” he said.

As for the Rensselaerville Library, Miller hopes this fund-raiser will turn into a yearly tradition.

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