Colin Campbell: Sturgis Library’s Idea Man for the Vonnegut Festival

Colin Campbell at Sturgis Library.

Colin Campbell at Sturgis Library.


BARNSTABLE –  “Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterwards,” Kurt Vonnegut told biographer James Lundquist back in the 1970s.

Few events are likely to better reflect the author’s spirit than the Vonnegut Festival  which takes place in the Village of Barnstable during the weekend of October 10 to 12. The Festival is hosted by the Sturgis Library in partnership with the Vonnegut Family, Tales of Cape Cod, the Barnstable Comedy Club, the Cape Cod Art Association, the Barnstable Fire Department, St. Mary’s Episcopal Church and Barnstable Village businesses and organizations.

The idea began during a cocktail party several years ago while Barnstable resident Colin Campbell, a former journalist with the New York Times and the Atlanta Constitution, talked with fellow villager Patrick Ramage about books and writing. As they spoke, Ramage proposed a local festival in honor of Kurt Vonnegut.

“I thought it was an interesting idea for our village, especially since Vonnegut spent so much time here,” said Campbell, who served on the public relations committee of the Sturgis Library’s board of directors. Vonnegut once served of that same board, participated in community theater at the Barnstable Comedy Club and even sold Saabs in West Barnstable. Knowing that, Campbell pitched the festival concept to his committee.

“I mentioned it gently at first and then several times again and everyone liked it,” Campbell said.

In autumn 2013 the entire library board voted to approve a Vonnegut celebration and named trustee Bev Parke as chair of the festival.

Vonnegut poster.

Vonnegut poster.

“People have been covetous of the idea ever since and have contributed many ideas for the festival,” said Campbell. Among those people was former CBS News anchorman Morley Safer, one of Vonnegut’s friends and a fellow artist, who offered to contribute to the festival.  Safer ended up sending two of his own drawings, one a life sketch of Vonnegut, the second a posthumous portrait.

“Vonnegut was a serious writer but he also had a lively sense of humor. We wanted to reflect that in a festival that was neither too literary or grim and honor him in a kind of light-hearted way,” recalled Campbell.

Consequently the activities planned for next weekend were designed to reflect the author’s personality and work. Among them are a wine, beer and cheese reception, lectures, a jazz quartet, panel discussions, readings, a showing of the film Slaughterhouse Five, and a talk on the art of the “doodle” reflecting Vonnegut’s own drawings.

“We’re proud of the event and feel it will be an intelligent and enjoyable way to remember the most famous writer of the tiny town of Barnstable and the Sturgis Library as the institution that was the source of that celebration,” Campbell said.  “If it’s successful, maybe we’ll do it again another year.”
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