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High-powered brain trust lined up for authors fest


Published: September 24, 2010

A SECRETARY of State, musicians, comedians, actors, economists, historians and other accomplished writers and thinkers will speak during the fourth annual Carmel Authors and Ideas Festival Sept. 24-26 at Sunset Center.

And the event warmup has a record 3,000 students from all over Monterey County meeting authors and attending talks Thursday and Friday, organizer Jim McGillen said. Julia Bolz, a lawyer who sidelined her career to build schools for girls in Afghanistan and has so far completed 18, is their keynote speaker, but the kids will also hear from other literary stars, such as Eric Schlosser (“Fast Food Nation.”)

McGillen and his wife, Cindy, always try to line up different award-winning authors and speakers, including New York Times best-selling writers, and Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winners, each year, and the fourth year of the festival is no exception.

“There will be book signings and opportunities to meet the well known speakers. Attendees can even expect casual conversations and informal exchanges with the speakers,” the McGillens tell prospective attendees. “We promise the weekend will exceed your every expectation.”

The biggest name in the lineup is Condoleezza Rice, the 66th United States Secretary of State under President George W. Bush and also the first woman to serve as National Security Adviser. Throughout the weekend, she will discuss “Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family,” described as the story “of a little girl trying to find her place in a hostile world and of two remarkable parents, and an extended family and community, that made all the difference.”

Schlosser, a Monterey Peninsula resident and investigative journalist who is author of the seminal “Fast Food Nation” and producer of the film, “Food, Inc.,” agreed to take part this year and is speaking to students as well as adults, according to McGillen.

“You talk about something that’s timely,” he observed, considering the recent food contamination scare involving eggs — just one example of the food production system Schlosser has criticized. McGillen said he did not “stalk” Schlosser — who does not often make such appearances and maintains a pretty low profile — in order to get him to participate.

“Over the past couple of years, we’ve had lunch three or four times,” he said. “And then he made the big mistake the last time of saying, ‘Is there anything I can do to help?’”

Of course, there was.

McGillen said another highly accomplished author is a last-minute addition to the lineup. Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, author of “The World is Flat,” and numerous other works, finally agreed to come.

“As of yesterday, my buddy Tom Friedman is going to drop in,” McGillen said Tuesday. When asked how that came about, McGillen said there are two versions of the story: his and Friedman’s. “He heard it was such a great festival, he wanted to be part of it. And his version is I pestered him, and he finally gave in in a moment of weakness.”

Taelen Thomas, best known for his portrayal of historical figures, has been wowing libraries all over the county lately with his depiction of Mark Twain, according to McGillen. A four-year participant in the Authors Fest, Thomas has been helping the festival in its support of The Big Read, a nationwide effort organized by the National Endowment for the Arts to get people more interested in books.

“The feedback I got from the librarians was he was terrific,” McGillen said.

Also appearing during the weekend are David Brooks, author of the New York Times bestseller “Bobos in Paradise” and “On Paradise Drive;” Dr. Reza Aslan, internationally acclaimed writer and scholar of religions, author of “No god but God;” Michael Krasny, host of KQED’s “Forum” and author of “Off Mike;” and Tobias Wolff, award-winning author with his newest collection, “Our Story Begins;” among many others.

‘So bloody brave’

A student will introduce each speaker, McGillen said — part of the festival’s connection with Monterey County schools.

The schools determine which students should handle the introductions, and the selected hosts research their speakers.

“It’s fascinating to watch,” McGillen said. “Some of the students have never been on a stage and never spoken in public, and some of them are so bloody brave, they just raise their hands and say they want to do it.”

The adult portion of the festival begins with registration and a reception Friday afternoon. The Sept. 24 opening night presentation in the main theater will star David Brooks, Bill Milliken, Liam Tiernan, Shannon Miller and the Teen Salinas Speaks poetry jam.

The next day, during coffee and pastries at 8 a.m., Rice and Brooks will sign copies of their books, and then breakout sessions will be offered with several different authors and speakers in small gatherings with attendees, while Rice will speak in the main theater. Small groups, main-theater lectures and book signings continue throughout Saturday, and Sunday’s schedule is similar.

The cost to attend is $550, but the ticket can be shared, so someone can attend certain events and then give the pass to another person who wants to sit in at different times.

For more information and tickets, visit