In Collingswood, a festival by and about the book

Children’s author Cindy Irvin of Audubon will be among the guests at Saturday’s Collingswood Book Festival. (MICHAEL BRYANT/Staff Photographer)

In 2003, Jean Brennan and a few like-minded lovers of the printed word organized the first Collingswood Book Festival.

"We had maybe a dozen authors and 20 exhibitors," Brennan, 69, recalls.

"Over the years," adds the retired English teacher and longtime Collingswood resident, "it just grew."

This heartening expansion has encompassed the rise of social media, the explosion of self-publishing, the revolution of the retail book business, and downtown Collingswood's evolution into a regional destination.

On Saturday, the 13th annual outdoor event along Haddon Avenue (or at Collingswood High School, if it rains) will include appearances by 50 authors and 250 exhibitors from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Marquee names/local heroes such as Matthew Quick (The Silver Linings Playbook), Bernie Parent (Unmasked: Bernie Parent and the Broad Street Bullies), and my former Inquirer colleague George Anastasia (Gotti's Rules) will meet, greet, and sign and sell copies.

The festival also will include panel discussions and poetry readings. Exhibitors will offer novels, nonfiction books, cookbooks, local histories, self-help guides, poetry, inspirational volumes, and a potpourri of other print materials.

Many exhibitors are self-published authors, like Cynthia Irvin, a holistic health and wellness coach from Audubon, and Frank G. Schafer, a semiretired contractor who lives in Haddonfield.

"I'm honored to be a part of the festival," says Irvin, 40, who will be selling copies of Our Souls Shine, a nutrition guide for kids.

Her book features illustrations by Barrington artist Lisa Eiler and photographs of the author's 5-year-old daughter, Vera Meredith, and their dog, Bella.

"I wrote the book to teach children where real food comes from," Irvin says. "I'm doing this to spread the word about the condition of our food supply."

Schafer, 66, built his debut novel, Sammy, around its unusual title character, whom he describes as "the next leap in human evolution."

An avid reader who began writing eight years ago, when knee problems curtailed his running, Schafer credits his Linwood, Atlantic County, writers' group with helping guide him through the process.

"Instead of fooling around for the next five years writing letters to agents, I decided to self-publish," he explains. "I wanted to hold a book that I wrote in my hand."

Brennan, who credits her 30 hardworking volunteers with making the festival possible, is glad to provide self-published authors with a venue to connect with potential readers.

Once disdained as vanity, self-publishing has acquired a degree of acceptance. Consider Still Alice, which began life as a self-published novel and was transformed into an Oscar vehicle for Julianne Moore.

"I admire anyone who's taken the time to put all those words on paper. They deserve a chance to get their books out there," Brennan says. "With so much competition, it's tough to get a book read."

For writers, the festival also is a chance to connect with peers, says the novelist Joe Samuel Starnes. whose latest novel, Red Dirt, was published commercially in the spring by Breakaway Books.

"As a writer, you're always sitting in a room by yourself, mumbling and cursing," says Starnes, 48, of Haddon Township.

The author, who will discuss literary sports writing on a festival panel with Philadelphia writer Tom Coyne (A Gentleman's Game), is impressed with the expansion of the event.

So is TV producer and borough resident Richard Renner, who's been a public relations volunteer since the festival began.

In those pre-social media days, "we had a website, but mostly we were running around with festival brochures, dropping them off in local independent bookstores," Renner, 52, notes. "Many of those [stores] are now defunct."

In recent years, the festival has broadened and deepened its poetry and children's offerings. And the borough's continuing evolution - from sleepy bedroom community to hip, happening suburb - has boosted the event, and vice versa.

"We're very lucky to have the book festival," says Cass Duffey, the borough's director of community development, calling it "more than a garden-variety street fair."

Schafer likens the event to a race.

"I was a runner," he notes. "The festival is a 5K. You get a chance to show off what you've been doing. You get a chance to shine."

856-779-3845 @inqkriordan

For more information, go to