Amy Tan, Dave Barry and Billy Collins in conversation during the Sonoma Valley Authors Festival

The Aug. 28 event on the Sonoma Plaza is the only event of the festival that is open to the public – speakers include Amy Tan, Billy Collins and Dave Barry.|

Sonoma Valley Authors Festival

When: Aug. 27-29

Highlights: Talks and book signings by more than 30 authors and speakers. A three-day pass includes breakfasts and lunches during the festival at the Sonoma Mission Inn.

A free event for the general public in the Sonoma Plaza Aug. 28 features Billy Collins, Dave Barry and Amy Tan in conversation with Jeffrey Brown of PBS. At the back side of City Hall, along Spain Street.

Hours: Noon to 9 p.m. Aug. 27; 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Aug. 28 and 7:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Aug. 29. Free event on the Sonoma Plaza is 5 - 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 28.

Cost: $1,149 for three-day pass; $2,500 (50% tax deductible) for three-day VIP pass. $149 for separate virtual online version in October and November.

Where: Sonoma Mission Inn and the Sonoma Plaza


The price of a three-day ticket to the Sonoma Valley Authors Festival Aug. 27-29 runs to four figures to hear a powerhouse lineup of writers and thought leaders crossing multiple genres, from literature and history to technology and biography.

Bestselling historians Doris Kearns Goodwin, Niall Ferguson and Walter Isaacson; Stanford professor of medicine and genetics Dr. Euan Ashley; National Medal of Freedom recipient Isabel Allende; and Dutch-American and Somali activist and author Ayaan Hirsi Ali are among 30 authors and speakers tapped for the festival.

Tickets are $1,149 for a three-day pass to multiple breakout events, book signings and keynote talks with catered breakfasts and lunches at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn. A VIP pass includes an authors and sponsors dinner Friday night and other perks ($2,500, 50% of which is tax deductible).

But organizers are opening the festival to the community free of charge on Saturday night with an Authors on the Plaza event (5 - 7:30 p.m.) featuring three illustrious writers: humorist Dave Barry, two-time poet laureate Billy Collins and Marin-based author Amy Tan, who has been turning out bestsellers for more than 30 years beginning with her classic, “The Joy Luck Club.” Tan will appear in conversation with Jeffrey Brown, a senior arts and culture correspondent for the PBS NewsHour and a poet himself.

In another effort at inclusivity, festival organizers will make the entire program available virtually Oct. 22 to Nov. 20 for $149. Festival co-founder R. David Freeman said a team of six professional videographers will capture all the events without abridgment so people can watch the talks virtually at their leisure over the course of a month. The Virtual Festival (also included a live festival pass) includes two free books from a list of 15.

For those attending the live event, the virtual festival will take some of the sting out of having to choose among events to attend, since multiple talks will take place at the same time. And it will allow those who can’t afford a pass to enjoy talks from authors as diverse as Jin Lee, whose second novel, “Pachinko,” about a Korean family which migrates to Japan, was a National Book Award finalist and Daniel James Brown, whose narrative nonfiction, “The Boys on the Boat,” spent more than 150 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.

Brown’s latest book, “Facing the Mountain,” delves into the experience of a special Japanese American army unit that fought valiantly in World War II while their families were incarcerated back home. He said he’s excited to be in the company of such a distinguished group of authors and thinkers. But he’ll let his wife take the lead in deciding which talks to attend.

“She’s interested in Amy Tan, and I’m going to defer to her and let her lead me around by the nose,” said Brown, who splits his time between Washington state and Carmel Valley.

Tan, who spent part of her childhood in Santa Rosa and now lives in Marin, has a new book that opens a window into her writing: “Where the Past Begins: A Writer’s Memoir.” A documentary about Tan, “Unintended Memoir,” directed by the late James Redford, debuted at Sundance earlier this year and is streaming on Netflix.

Kicking off the free Saturday evening event will be Tan’s old bandmate, writer and humorist Barry, who played and performed with her in a just-for-fun band irreverently called “The Rock Bottom Remainders.” A former syndicated columnist, Barry won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary and has written more than 30 books.

Also at the mic during the free event will be Collins, reading from his latest book. Collins’ frequently witty and accessible poetry about common experiences has made him one of the country’s most beloved and well-known poets. This will be his third appearance at the festival.

No tickets are needed for the free-in-the-plaza event, but people are asked to register to help organizers plan for the size of the crowd. Registrants are entered to win a prize of 10 free books. People should bring their own blankets, chairs and picnic or pick up food from restaurants on the Plaza. To register, visit

You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at 707-521-5204 or OnTwitter @megmcconahey.

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