A searing and exhilarating new collection from the award-winning author of The Boys of My Youth and In Zanesville,who “honors the beautiful, the sacred, and the comic in life” (Sigrid Nunez, National Book Awardwinner for The Friend)

When “The Fourth State of Matter,” her now famous piece about a workplace massacre at the University of Iowa was published in The New Yorker, Jo Ann Beard immediately became one of the most influential writers in America, forging a path for a new generation of young authors willing to combine the dexterity of fiction with the rigors of memory and reportage, and in the process extending the range of possibility for the essay form.
 
Now, with Festival Days, Beard brings us the culmination of her groundbreaking work. In these nine pieces, she captures both the small, luminous moments of daily existence and those instants when life and death hang in the balance, ranging from the death of a beloved dog to a relentlessly readable account of a New York artist trapped inside a burning building, as well as two triumphant, celebrated pieces of short fiction.
 
Here is an unforgettable collection destined to be embraced and debated by readers and writers, teachers and students. Anchored by the title piece––a searing journey through India that brings into focus questions of mortality and love—Festival Days presents Beard at the height of her powers, using her flawless prose to reveal all that is tender and timeless beneath the way we live now.

What's Inside

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Reader Reviews

Praise

“Ferocious… Beard [is] a towering talent… Perhaps instead of an essayist we should think of her as a poet-naturalist, wedding intuition and observation, and forming from this union something unaccountably yet undeniably real… a book as forceful as it is fine, leaving us both awed and unsettled.”—Leah Hager Cohen, New York Times Book Review
“Beautiful… Beard’s power comes from phrasings and insights that aren’t just screaming for likes. Few writers are so wise and self-effacing and emotionally honest all in one breath… Over the course of nine beguiling pieces—which seamlessly meld observation and imagination—she effects an intimacy that makes us want to sit on the rug and listen.”—Sara Lippmann, Washington Post
“[Beard’s] books are worth the wait. A master of sensory details, she also writes with humor, melancholy and a love of animals that never borders on saccharine… In her work, even everyday moments gleam with significance.”—Michele Filgate, Los Angeles Times
“A master of creative nonfiction, Beard explores life’s most salient moments through facts that she sometimes fractures.”—Amy Sutherland, Boston Globe
“Intimate, intelligent, intense—and ultimately comforting… Like a hot water bottle for grief, these honest, beautiful essays and stories take on the death of a beloved animal, a friend’s illness, getting dumped by a partner and other tragedies few escape.”—People (Book of the Week)
“Charged with fine detail… Beard is so good at what she does… In Beard's book, writing works like compound interest, each experience building on the last, which built on the one before.”—Ellen Akins, Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“A book so good you have to put it down, then pick it back up… The most indelible stories in Festival Days observe just as unflinchingly as Beard’s characters face the extremities of life and death. I can’t think of a writer who puts words to our most difficult moments as adroitly as Beard—who so steadfastly refuses to cut away when things get tough.”—Dan Kois, Slate
“Beard’s syntax is immortalizing… An acute quality in Beard’s work makes the stories feel lived, even alive, as if they are still happening. Sometimes, as writers, we see things for real only once we are writing them, and Beard’s title essay distills this fact beautifully.”—Rachel DeWoskin, Los Angeles Review of Books
“Beard shows her dazzling skill at finding universal truths in singular situations. Beard is not just a master of the short form—she’s a master of phrase and sentence, too.”—Bethanne Patrick, Washington Post
“A new collection from the masterful storyteller Jo Ann Beard is always reason to celebrate, and Festival Days marks her long-anticipated return to the essay. Written with clear-eyed empathy, these nine pieces have the luminous glow of fireflies caught in a child’s hand.”—Chicago Review of Books

“Beard renders her own life and the lives of others with characteristic precision… With each piece, she presses the essay form into new, more intimate territory.”

Poets & Writers
“An absolute marvel… as Beard demonstrates in her writing, life as we know it is full of bizarre, sad, beautiful, unbelievable, indescribable things—events that transform our real lives into surreal experiences.”—Chelsea Hodson, Bomb Magazine
"An impressive return... [Beard's] topics range from the quotidian to the fantastic, but all are anchored by observant, beautifully written prose that's sure to rank among the year's best."—Town & Country (Must-Read Books of Winter 2021)
“Imaginative and precise… These sharp essays cement Beard’s reputation as a master of the form… [she] can evoke many emotions in a single stroke.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Festival Days shimmers with emotional intensity… evoking the flashes of memory that come to those pausing on the threshold between life and death… Allowing her work to exist beyond the labels of fiction or nonfiction, Beard’s metaphorical patterns evince the imaginative truths that underlie her writing”—Catherine Hollis, Bookpage (starred review)
“Beard's keen eye for novelistic detail subtly transforms pure fact into art… Vital and diverse, Jo Ann Beard's second collection is an intriguing blend of fact and fiction.”—Harvey Freedenberg, Shelf Awareness
“Beard is known as a nonfiction essayist, but her work often reads like suspenseful fiction… this collection of nine essays… continues that formidable track record.”—Bookpage
"Festival Days is profoundly observed and impeccably phrased. No surprises there, then, given Jo Ann Beard’s formidable talents. But it’s actually full of audacious narrative surprises, is darkly moving and, at times, unexpectedly—almost unbearably—suspenseful.”—Geoff Dyer, author of Otherwise Known as the Human Condition and White Sands: Experiences from the Outside World
“‘I love how you love things,’ someone who loves her tells Jo Ann Beard. That love is one reason Festival Days is such a great book. Another is her flair for describing those things in vibrant and felicitous prose. Beard honors the beautiful, the sacred, and the comic in life, and for life’s inescapable cruelties and woes she offers the wisdom of a sage.”—Sigrid Nunez, author of What Are You Going Through and National Book Award-winning The Friend
Festival Days is an artistic triumph—vividly peopled, elegantly written, and full of surprises. Each essay and story is an electrically-charged tale of loss and partial redemption. Reading Jo Ann Beard is like setting out on a walk with a curious and intelligent friend who is determined to show you how seemingly unrelated things share a secret kinship.”—Adrienne Brodeur, author of Wild Game
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