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Warm Summer Air Carries Writers’ Voices to the Upper Valley

Poet Charles Simic, shown here at the City University of New York in 2003, is one of three former U.S. Poets Laureate who will read at this summer's Bookstock festival in Woodstock next month. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Poet Charles Simic, shown here at the City University of New York in 2003, is one of three former U.S. Poets Laureate who will read at this summer's Bookstock festival in Woodstock next month. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

The way some of us who still enjoy driving will from time to time sit back and trust the wheel to another pilot, devoted bookworms in the Upper Valley this summer will find many opportunities to leave the reading to the authors.

And not just on tape or iPod: At 7:30 on Thursday nights in July, the parade of writers into the Canaan Meetinghouse include naturalist Bernd Heinrich and best-selling novelist Sue Miller (While I Was Gone).

On Thursday nights at 7 in August, Strafford’s Town House Forum will host a lineup that includes poets Jane Shore and Jeffrey Harrison and Wicked series novelist Gregory Maguire.

And over the final weekend of July, Woodstock’s sixth annual Bookstock festival will again pose all manner of dilemmas over whose readings, panel discussions and presentations to attend, from a Versifiers Row of former Poets Laureate — Billy Collins, Louise Gluck and Charles Simic — to New Yorker cartoonist Harry Bliss, novelist Anita Diamant (The Red Tent and Good Harbor) and Lyme-based bear-whisperer and author Ben Kilham.

“We really scored on the poets this year,” Bookstock coordinator Ron Miller said this week. “We’re excited. I think maybe our reputation is expanding, at least some of it from word of mouth. Woodstock is a desirable place to come. The festival almost speaks for itself now. It’s been building on itself, but we don’t want to grow a lot more.”

After the 2012 season of the Meetinghouse Readings at Canaan Street, bibliophiles were worrying less about growth of the popular series than about survival, with the departure of longtime coordinator William Craig. Then former University of Michigan Press director Phil Pochoda of Lyme Center took the reins, and on opening night 2013, they nearly filled the meetinghouse to its historic rafters for readings by novelist/short-story master Joyce Carol Oates and Dartmouth poet-professor Cleopatra Mathis.

“We typically bring in 150 to 200 people,” Pochoda said. “For this one, it went up to about 250, and we had to use the balcony.

“The people who have read here will testify that it’s been a wonderful experience. And there are families who have come for years. People who like to hear good writing read beautifully. The setting is sublime and the space is magnificent.”

For readers feeling literary and architectural withdrawal symptoms after the Canaan series closes July 31 with readings by food writer Abigail Carroll and novelist Paul Harding, Strafford — in the third year of its third incarnation as the Strafford Town House Forum — will provide a fix in August.

“This summer’s series will feature combinations of writers from varied genres, with each presentation followed by conversations among the guests and their audiences,” host Jonathan Stableford said.

Both at Canaan and at Strafford, the Norwich Bookstore will sell copies of the authors’ past and current works for the writers to sign. And if you happen to miss Harrison’s appearance in Canaan on July 17, he’ll be in Strafford on Aug. 28.

For more information on each of these literary happenings, including full lists of authors and dates, and driving directions, visit bookstockvt.org, townhouseforum.com and meetinghousereadings.wordpress.com.

A little farther afield, two reading series will continue through the summer.

Starting Saturday at 5:30 with readings by Rick Bass and Jane Brox, both best known for nonfiction, BigTown Gallery in Rochester, Vt., starts a series of readings that run through August. The readings include a celebration of live readings on July 6, co-hosted by the New England Review, and a reading by poets Cynthia Huntington, Michael Collier and Cleopatra Mathis on Aug. 3. For a complete listing, see www.bigtowngallery.com.

And The Frost Place in Franconia, N.H., every summer invites teachers, poets and poetry aficionados to a range of conferences and seminars. Along with those conferences, which start this month, are readings that are open to the public. For a schedule visit frostplace.org/eventscalendar.

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304.