Lewes History Book Festival provides engaging atmosphere

After two years off due to COVID, event returns to in-person presentations
September 28, 2022

For the first time in three years, the Lewes History Book Festival welcomed people to the First Town in the First State for a jam-packed weekend of in-person book discussions with some of the nation’s top authors. 

“We didn't know what to expect given the realities of the continuing pandemic, but we were delighted to see so many people turning out in Lewes to hear our authors talk about history,” said festival co-chair Jen Mason, owner of biblion bookstore on Second Street.

The event hosted 21 authors over a 36-hour period. Both the keynote and closing addresses were sold out, and many other presentations were near or at capacity. An engaging atmosphere was appreciated by both authors and festival-goers, Mason said.

“Our authors loved the HBF audience – super inquisitive and engaged, asking great questions and really letting them know how excited they were about their books,” she said. 

“This year’s festival was, by all measures, a proud and exciting moment for those who worked so hard and selflessly to make it possible, especially when uncertainty as to COVID lingered in the air,” said festival co-chair Ronald Collins. “Our sponsors supported us generously, our board and volunteers pitched in valiantly, our authors performed superbly, and as far as we can tell, our audience received it all enthusiastically.”

While many felt most comfortable wearing masks indoors and making liberal use of available hand sanitizer, it didn't stop them from participating fully in the festivities, Mason said.

Mason said COVID really shaped author selection this year, as organizers chose authors who could travel to Lewes by car or train. They also chose books that were released earlier in the year because, like many other industries, book publishing is struggling with supply chain issues. 

Two authors tested positive for COVID just days before the event, but organizers worked with Mid-South Audio to transition from in-person discussion to a live, remote appearance. 

The 2023 event is slated for Sept. 29 through Oct. 1. Though work has already begun, Mason said, the core of the efforts will begin in January.

Keynote address

This year’s keynote address was presented by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Buzz Bissinger, author of New York Times bestseller, “The Mosquito Bowl: A Game of Life and Death in World War II,” a true story about a football game played between two Marine battalions in Guadalcanal, part of the Solomon Islands, in the Pacific theater. As with his other book “Friday Night Lights,” Bissinger said sports is only a small part of the overall story, as he follows the trials and tribulations of the soldiers’ lives during the war after the football game.

A sold-out crowd filled Bethel United Methodist Church’s Fellowship Hall Sept. 23. After a welcoming message from Collins and introduction from Mason, Bissinger took to the stage to tell a story that sounds destined to become a movie. 

The story of the Mosquito Bowl was little known prior to Bissinger’s book. But through research and more research, he uncovered the incredible tale. He learned dozens of Marines of the 6th Division who were training for the invasion of Okinawa, Japan, had played college football for prestigious programs. Constant trash talk among them led to the Mosquito Bowl on Christmas Eve 1944 on the bug-infested island of Guadalcanal. Some 1,500 Marines lined the field when the game was played.

“This was not a mere pickup game,” Bissinger said. “They built goal posts out of coconut. They built a regulation field on the parade grounds ... They had programs. They announced the starting rosters on the PA system. The game went out over parts of the Pacific on what they called the Mosquito Radio Network. They had officials. This was as close to the real thing [as it could be].”

The book follows five of the 65 men who played in the game – George Murphy of Notre Dame, Tony Butkovich of Perdue, Robert Bauman of Wisconsin, David Schreiner of Wisconsin and John McLaughry of Brown. Bissinger plainly admits the Mosquito Bowl is nearly a footnote. It’s a hook to tell a bigger story about the heroism and sacrifices made by young men who gave up their lives at home to fight for freedom and democracy. 

Of the 65 men who played, 15 were killed at Okinawa. Today, only one of those men is still alive. 


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