AUTHORS FESTIVAL OPENS MAY 1

32 speakers include McMaster, Susan Choi, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Mac McQuown

Story by David Bolling

It remains a remarkable thing, that in a town of 10,000, in a Valley of 40,000, an event with the magnitude of the Sonoma Valley Authors Festival (SVAF) should even be attempted.

Now entering its third year on May 1, the festival conceived and produced by David and Ginny Freeman offers another compelling line-up of internationally acclaimed authors to share their stories, insights, and experiences in person and at close range.

This year’s program will feature 32 authors, including General H.R. McMaster, former National Security Advisor to Donald Trump; National Book Award-winning author Susan Choi; Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-born best-selling author, women’s rights advocate, Dutch legislator, freedom fighter, and Stanford University fellow; Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin; internationally acclaimed author Erik Larson; Michael Pollan, one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world; Chilean author and philanthropist Isabel Allende, who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama; PBS newscaster William Brangham, the son of Sonoma civic leader Suzanne Brangham; and Sonoma’s Mac McQuown, the index fund pioneer who has also created the self-sustaining Stone Edge Farm which generates and stores all its own energy.

This year, as last, a special Student’s Day program on the opening Friday of the festival will distribute more than a dozen featured authors into classrooms and campuses around the Valley and into Santa Rosa, to give some 2,700 students in middle and high school the opportunity to hear and interact with them. And through these student-author interactions, 4,000 to 5,000 books will be donated to students to enjoy over the summer and beyond. Sponsors for Students Day are still being sought to underwrite the estimated $150,000 cost.

SVAF Students Day has been designed especially for middle and high school students to be a celebration of community, literacy, and inspiration.

Students Day is held on Friday, the first day of the Authors Festival, before the festival events begin in the afternoon. Students Day typically takes place at Sonoma Valley High School and Sonoma Academy, with students from Archbishop Hanna High School attending. Adele Harrison and Altimira Middle Schools also host an author with students from the Kenwood School participating. Partners in the special program include 10,000 Degrees and the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation.

Each featured speaker has a compelling story.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Somali-born Ayaan Hirsi Ali was raised in a strict Muslim family and survived civil war, female mutilation, brutal beatings, and adolescence as a devout believer during the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood. She lived in four troubled, unstable countries ruled largely by despots, escaped from a forced marriage, and sought asylum in the Netherlands, where she became an outspoken, pioneering freedom fighter.

She became infamous when her life was threatened by an Islamist extremist after her filmmaking partner, Theo van Gogh, was brutally murdered following the release of a film he made about her. Hirsi Ali was a member of the Dutch Parliament from 2003 to 2006, where she focused on furthering the integration of non-Western immigrants into Dutch society and defending the rights of Muslim women.

Susan Choi

Susan Choi

Susan Choi Choi’s bestselling fifth novel, Trust Exercise, won the 2019 National Book Award for Fiction and was named one of the best books of the year by The Washington Post, Vanity Fair, Buzzfeed, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, Publishers Weekly, Bustle, and TIME magazine, among others. It is currently being developed as a television series.

Jeffrey Rosen
Dacher Keltner

Jeffrey Rosen

Jeffrey Rosen is the President and CEO of the National Constitution Center, a law professor at George Washington University  and a contributing editor for The Atlantic. He was previously the legal affairs editor of The New Republic and a staff writer for The New Yorker. Rosen is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, where he speaks and writes about technology and the future of democracy, often appearing as a guest on National Public Radio.

He is the author of the eagerly-awaited book, Conversations with RBG: Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Life, Love, Liberty, and the Law.

Dacher Keltner

Dacher Keltner was the scientific consultant for Pixar’s hugely popular film Inside Out, and his studies have focused on the social functions of emotion, arguing that emotions enable individuals to respond adaptively to the problems and opportunities that define human social living. He is a professor of psychology at UC Berkeley, director of the Berkeley Social Interaction Lab, and serves as the faculty director of the Berkeley Greater Good Science Center. He is the author of The Power Paradox, as well as the bestseller Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life. His research focuses on the biological and evolutionary origins of compassion, awe, love, and beauty, as well as power, social class, and inequality.