The Pebble Beach Authors and Ideas Festival returns on Friday, bringing some 20 of the country’s top authors and speakers to the peninsula to showcase a variety of topics.
Jim McGillenco founded the festival with his wife, Cynthia, after listening to Irish-American writer Frank McCort give a talk at Sun Valley and being inspired to organize a similar event in Carmel.
“Initially we thought we were only going to do it for a year and we thought that would be enough,” he said. “But the feedback has been very positive and we decided to do it for our second year, and now we’re going to 16.”
Produced by the nonprofit Carmel Ideas Foundation, the 16th annual festival will take place Friday through Sunday at the Carmel High School Performing Arts Center.
Some of this year’s presenters include: David Eagleman, Stanford University neuroscientist, international bestselling author and Guggenheim Fellow; Indre Viskontas, musician, neuroscientist and host of the popular Inquiring Minds podcast; Alan Shipnuck, Carmel resident, sports journalist and best-selling author; and Deepak Srivastava, president of the Gladstone Institutes, an elite biomedical research institute.
McGillen said the best part of setting up the festival — and the most tedious — is finding 20 of the year’s top speakers. A lot of time and care goes into selecting people to be invited to speak at the Festival of Authors and Ideas, McGillen explained. First, he and his wife call universities and other lecture series across the country and ask who they think gave the best presentations that year. Next, McGillen researches the suggested choices before deciding who to invite to the festival.
This year’s festival is taking place in a new venue – the Center for Performing Arts at Carmel High School – due to two other events taking place over the weekend: the 2022 PURE Insurance Championship Impacting First Tee Golf Tournament and the 65th Annual Monterey Jazz Festival.
Last year’s event was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, with restrictions limiting attendance and many speakers presenting virtually. And although the 2020 Festival of Authors and Ideas was held entirely virtually, McGillen said it was perhaps “one of the best”.
“Every year is a challenge, especially when you’re approaching 90, it happens to you,” said McGillen, who is 82. “But it’s just great. It’s invigorating and I think (from) the feedback we’ve had for 15 years, the community appreciates it.
While the festival is credited with bringing renowned speakers and authors to Carmel, McGillen said the most important aspect of the festival is the student portion through the Student Ideas Festival.
He explained that for the first year of the festival, he and his wife had invited some teachers and students from the community after the fact, but regretted that more students could not participate in the event.
“After that first year, we both decided, ‘let’s dedicate as much as we can to the students,'” McGillen said. “That’s why we’re doing everything we can to invite underserved school districts.”
The Pebble Beach Festival of Authors and Ideas partners in a variety of ways with students and school districts throughout the county.
McGillen invites school districts across the county to bring students and teachers to the event, starting with districts that don’t typically receive invitations to similar festivals. This year, McGillen said he expects nearly half of the festival attendees to be teachers and students.
For students unable to attend, the Pebble Beach Authors and Ideas Festival will send some of the event speakers to various schools throughout the year. The program, called Festival 2 Schools, is in its 10th year and partners with underserved school districts where only one in three students in grades six through eleven have advanced English skills.
New this year, the festival kicks off Friday morning with seven speakers delivering their presentations to students at the Monterey County Office of Education in Salinas. The talks will also be recorded and streamed to schools across the county, reaching more than 20,000 students.
“I think from the students’ perspective, the lecturers inspire them that there’s a different world out there,” McGillen said. “For me, it’s the student part and the student festival that are the most important.
But for McGillen, the highlight of the weekend will come Saturday morning, when students who participated in the annual Migrant Education Region XVI Speech and Debate Tournament introduce the day’s speakers.
McGillen said he asks all speakers at the festival to spend at least 30 minutes with the student introducing them, and many past speakers at the event have stayed in touch with the students.
“Since we began our collaboration, the Authors and Ideas Project has provided migrant students from across Monterey County with an exciting and unique opportunity to hone their public speaking skills and stage presence,” said Specialist Robin Cohen. of the migrant program for the Monterey County office. Education, in a letter on the event. “One of the most rewarding aspects is watching these informal interactions between students and speakers, observing how the featured speakers put students at ease and make them the center of their attention, build their confidence and s assure that they see themselves as a valuable part of the event.”
Tickets for the event remained at the same price as 15 years ago, according to McGillen. From September 25 to December 1, tickets for next year’s event will cost $500 and once those tickets sell out, the price will increase to $1,000.
McGillen acknowledged that ticket prices can be high for many. He said that for those who cannot afford to attend but would like to come to the festival, he has a unique proposition: write a letter.
“All I ask is that you (not) email me. You have to put it on a letter or a card and you have to take it to the post office,” he said. he said. “Just say on the note, ‘I’m on a fixed income and if possible, I’d like to have two tickets to (the) festival. And we will, no questions asked.
Letters can be sent to PO Box 509, Pebble Beach, CA 93953.
But for those who purchased tickets to this year’s event, McGillen is confident that the 16th Annual Pebble Beach Authors and Ideas Festival will not disappoint.
“We’ve always said from the very beginning, if you buy a ticket and it’s not one of the best weekends you’ve ever had, I’ll give you your money back,” McGillen said. “And in 15 years, we’ve never had to return any money or tickets.”