OWHL Hosts First Abbot Book Festival, Inviting Off-Campus Speakers and Authors

The Oliver Wendell Holmes Library (OWHL) was bustling with speakers and students gathered around food trucks and workshops at the first-ever Abbot Book Festival. This year’s celebration, which took place on May 11, highlighted books such as “Binti” by Nnedi Okorafor and “The Disordered Cosmos” by Chanda Prescod-Weinstein and various other speakers came to share their work with the Andover community.


Anastasia Collins, Instructional Librarian and Geographer for the OWHL, was one of the key organizers of the event. Collins spoke about the process of organizing the event and noted the issues around engagement that the literary world was facing.


“Right at the start of last summer, a couple of the other library folks and I were talking about multiple things around engagement in the library, engagement with the collection, but also about sort of the uptick in book bans that we’re seeing happening and what that conversation looks like, in independent schools… and someone just asked, has there ever been something like a festival book fair here. And to the best of our knowledge, there hasn’t been — for lots of reasons. Some of [these] have to do with the role that the library used to play on campus in the history of Andover. But since it hadn’t happened before, we started thinking of what it could look like today,” said Collins.


A speaker at the event, K. Iver, a Writer-in-Residence at Andover, hosted a poetry reading during the Book Fair. Iver, a published author, read various works of the poetry they had written. Iver also participated in a discussion amongst faculty on some of the books displayed at the Book Fair, noting the interesting conversations that took place.

“It was great. I had a little mic, and people turned up and listened. I read a poem from my book that had themes of space in it, two of them actually have space themes, and that seemed to be the prompt for the festival. I read a poem about reversing grief, or the idea of reversing grief, in a way that lets one kind of grab pleasure and joy for two if someone you miss is no longer there to experience wonderful things with you, are there ways to make them more wonderful, as if you were grabbing joy for two,” said Iver.


Theresa Okokon, another one of the speakers at the event, had previously come to Andover to give a workshop on TEDxPhillipsAcademy. Laerdon Kim ’24, who gave a TEDx presentation earlier this month, expressed his excitement for the festival and welcomed Okokon back on campus. 


“I was really excited for there to be more activity around the library. I think that sometimes, on the weekends, it’s a little bit scarcer. But, overall, I was really excited for the readings and the different craft activities. And I had listened to Theresa Okokon from her doing a workshop on TEDx, so I was eager to see her return,” said Kim.


Along with the speakers, the book festival hosted a variety of hands-on and kid-friendly activities, ranging from zine, T-shirt, and button-making. Russell Robinson ’25, an attendee of the Abbot Book Fair, explained his enjoyment with the various events offered, including a demonstration by the Phillips Academy Rocketry Club, wherein a model rocket was launched. 


“The thing that I was most excited about was the free books. I personally picked up ‘Binti,’ but I was also really excited for the food and the poetry speakers,” said Robinson.


While the Book Fair took place on a Saturday and during Advanced Placement testing season, Collins noted her excitement at the overall turnout and how they enjoyed seeing the participation of a wider range of the Andover community beyond students who normally frequented the OWHL. 


“My expectations were so blown away. It’s spring, it’s the middle of May, and we’re in the middle of APs. I was hopeful that we would get some of the folks who regularly come to the library on Saturday. That they’d have this sort of extra fun thing to do. But the real turnout of people, not just not just students, but community members was so thrilling. And considering this was like literally a year’s worth of work trying to get it, it really felt like a great success. And I hope folks got out of it as much as we did and the fun we had putting it together,” said Collins.


Laura Mazarrelli ’27 noted how while they enjoyed the activities offered, the event could have benefitted from more diversity in the activities which could have made the festival even more exciting and engaging.

“Maybe adding more activities could be good. They were really focused on doing them all, but it all kind of felt under the same category. So maybe branching out from just crafts could be a positive change,” said Mazzarelli.