An Epic Literary Festival
Growing up in Wiltshire, England, Aaron Hicklin had scant exposure to literary works outside of the British canon. “The public education system was focused on British fiction — Shakespeare, Dickens, Chaucer,” he recalls. “I didn’t have any Greek classics at school.” It wasn’t until last year, when Emily Wilson’s new translation of Homer’s “The Odyssey” was published, that Hicklin, 49, got his first taste of the epic. He was instantly enamored. “It’s such a great story,” Hicklin says of the poem. “When you read it for the first time, you realize how much of contemporary culture is rooted in ideas and characters and scenarios that were first described by Homer.”
This literary encounter became the springboard for Hicklin’s new project, the Deep Water Literary Festival, which kicks off today in Narrowsburg, N.Y., the Delaware Valley town where Hicklin, the editor of Out magazine, owns a home and also runs the bookshop One Grand. Throughout the weekend, all 24 books of “The Odyssey” will be read, relay-style, by a cast of talents both local and famous. Visitors, plied with themed cocktails — such as La Sirène, made of honey whiskey and preserved lemon — will be sent on a looping odyssey of their own through the town, listening to each portion at a different landmark while taking in video projections, culinary demonstrations and theatrical performances specially paired with select sections.
Odysseus’s journey to the underworld will be presented by the Man Booker Prize-winning author Marlon James inside a candlelit Lutheran church; his reunion with his son, Telemachus, will be narrated by the actor Mark Ruffalo, with a live drawing of the scene by the artist Andrew Ondrejcak. Other featured guests include A.M. Homes, Masha Gessen, Dylan Baker, Penny Arcade and Jake Shears of the Scissor Sisters. The festival’s main route will be illuminated by neon signs made by the local artist Wayne Heller, featuring iconic phrases from the text (“the wine-dark sea,” “sleep delicious and profound”).
“I wanted a festival that moves away from lots of people, usually gray-haired people, sitting in a room listening to someone read from their book,” Hicklin says with a laugh. “I was hoping for something engaging for people who might not consider themselves book lovers in a classic sense.” The Deep Water Literary Festival opens today in Narrowsburg, N.Y. The Odyssey readings are free and open to the public, deepwaterfestival.com — MIMI VU