April 4, 2018

War and Migration Are Themes At Third Annual Literary Salon

By Anne Levin

The four authors who will speak at the Salon on Stockon literary festival on April 13-14 have one major thing in common: war.

British journalists Sally Magnusson, Neal Ascherson, Lynne Olson, and Christopher Dickey — prominent authors all — have each covered wars, and lots of them. So it made sense for the organizers of the third annual festival to present them together, in an event that begins Friday evening, April 13 and continues throughout the following day, at the Center for Theological Inquiry (CTI) on Stockton Street.

Themed as “4 Writers on War + Migration,” the festival includes interviews with each of the writers, followed by a panel discussion. With attendance limited to about 40 people, it affords an intimacy that might not be possible in a larger setting.

“Doing a book festival in this town is a crazy thing in one way, because every day is a book festival in Princeton,” said William Storrar, director of CTI, which co-sponsors the event with Morven Museum & Garden. “But what makes this one unique is that people get to spend the whole day with the writers. It’s more of a salon than a festival.”

The CTI and Morven are neighbors on either side of Stockton Street, and the organizations know each other well. Storrar, who served on Morven’s board for several years, had been thinking about doing a book event, and discussed the idea with Barbara Webb, currently Morven’s special projects director and previously the museum’s communications director.

“I raised the idea of holding an intimate book festival here, to reflect both of our lovely buildings, for one thing,” said Storrar. “I was thinking of a small event encompassing both of our institutions.”

The first festival, with all British authors, turned out to be especially charged because it took place immediately after the Brexit vote in which the U.K. opted to leave the European Union. “It was very emotional for the authors because they didn’t expect the vote to turn out the way it did,” said Webb. “And they were really struggling.”

Among the writers at that first festival was Magnusson, who returned the following year and will be back for the upcoming event. A famous broadcaster in Scotland, Magnusson can’t go anywhere in the U.K. without being recognized. “She loves Princeton. She loves sitting in Small World [Coffee],” said Storrar, himself a native of Scotland. “So she comes a week early and enjoys the anonymity.”

Magnusson will focus on her recent novel, The Sealwoman’s Gift, about abduction and slavery in 17th century Iceland and Algiers. Dickey, known for his writing for Newsweek magazine and The Washington Post, and currently world news editor of the website The Daily Beast, will talk about his book Our Man in Charleston, the true story of a British diplomat and secret agent during the Civil War.

“He has been focused on the Middle East and Syria, and that fits in with our over-arching theme of the Princeton Migrations Project,” said Storrar. “He and all of the authors will speak about migration in the context of war.”

Olson’s Last Hope Island is about how Britain became the base for the exiled leaders of Europe in their struggle to reclaim their continent from Hitler. “She is familiar to Princetonians because she spoke at Morven about the Lindberghs,” said Webb. “She is also known for her book Citizens of London, about John Gilbert Winant, whose grandson lives here. Her husband, the writer Stanley Cloud, the veteran journalist, is on the panel Friday night.”

Ascherson is the author of The Death of the Fronsac, a novel about sabotage, betrayal, and exile in wartime Poland. “He fits well because he’s written a novel about what Lynne Olson writes about,” said Storrar. “So it all knits together beautifully, about displaced lives during war. The panel at the end of the day on Saturday is about writing on this subject.”

Of that final panel, Webb adds, “That is one of the most interesting parts of the day — when the authors come together. It’s not just one speaking after another. They all stay and listen to each other. These are journalists and authors sharing their own experiences. For people who love books, it’s just a wonderful opportunity.”

The festival will be held at CTI’s Luce Hall, 50 Stockton Street. Participants will cross the street to have lunch at Morven, catered by Jammin’ Crepes. Tickets range from $10 per session to $50 for a meet-the-authors reception. Visit morven.org for details and reservations.