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Albany Book Festival spotlight: Simon and Setsuko Winchester

We'll use this space to introduce you to featured guests coming to our 4th Annual Albany Book Festival, scheduled for Saturday, September 25, at the University at Albany.

Simon and Setsuko Winchester

Simon and Setsuko Winchester

Simon Winchester is a British writer, journalist, and broadcaster and the acclaimed author of many books, including The Professor and the Madman, The Men Who United the States, The Map That Changed the World, The Man Who Loved China, A Crack in the Edge of the World, and Krakatoa, all of which were New York Times bestsellers and appeared on numerous best and notable lists.

In 2006, he was made an officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Her Majesty the Queen.

Published in January, his newest book LAND: How the Hunger for Ownership Shaped the Modern World explores the notion of property—bought, earned, or received; in Europe, Africa, North America, or the South Pacific—through human history, how it has shaped us and what it will mean for our future.

"Exudes the comfort and charm of a beloved encyclopedia come to life."

New Yorker

"In many ways, Land combines bits and pieces of many of Winchester’s previous books into a satisfying, globe-trotting whole...Winchester is, once again, a consummate guide." — Boston Globe

Setsuko Winchester, an American of Japanese ethnicity, a ceramic artist, photographer and journalist, began her professional life working in finance on Wall Street until she made a mid-life career change to journalism after hosting an English Language program on NHK (the Japanese BBC). After graduating from the NYU Graduate School of Journalism, she worked as a segment producer at WNYC in New York City and assistant producer of WNYC's "On the Media" before being recruited to NPR in Washington, DC, to work on the shows "Morning Edition" and "Talk of the Nation."

In 2006, she moved to the Berkshires to pursue a life­long interest in ceramics and the visual arts. Together with her writer husband, Setsuko has embraced the rural life, learning how to make organic cider, harvesting honey, raising chickens, establishing a kiln and ceramic studio on their farm, and helping to found the local newspaper in her town of Sandisfield, Mass.

At the Albany Book Festival...

Simon and Setsuko Winchester will discuss their creative marriage, their works, and other topics, with WAMC's Joe Donahue.

Later in the afternoon, Simon will hold a conversation with Kendra Smith-Howard, associate professor of history at the University at Albany, where she writes and teaches about the intersections of histories of the environment, agriculture, health, and consumer culture. Her 2013 book Pure and Modern Milk explores the 20th-century history of dairy foods and the farms from which they came.

Schedule information will be updated at

The books

All of Simon Winchester's books are available at the local, independent Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza. Here's a link to his catalog:

Freedom from Fear/Yellow Bowl Project

In 2015, Setsuko created and took 120 hand-pinched yellow tea bowls (each representing 1000 individuals) to all 10 of the U.S. concentration camps that had been created during World War II to incarcerate the 120,000 U.S. citizens of Japanese ethnicity, and their parents or grandparents, who were excluded by law from naturalizing.

The tea bowls were glazed yellow to represent “The Yellow Peril” as Asians have historically been called, and made of clay because ceramic pieces are often the last remaining vestiges of a culture or civilization found in archeological sites. Each bowl was hand-pinched to symbolize the fact that these incarcerated people were individuals, and not one monolithic entity. In addition to the 10 U.S. concentration camps, other project sites include the steps of the Supreme Court, Four Freedoms Park in New York City, the Memorial to Japanese American Patriotism in Washington, DC., and Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

In the video below, Setsuko discusses her conceptual art work, Freedom from Fear/Yellow Bowl Project, an attempt to shine a new light onto an old aspect of America’s history with race and ethnicity, prejudice and bias and how they shaped this country’s ideas of freedom, justice and citizenship.

The video was uploaded to YouTube and has been viewed more than 800,000 times.

More Simon Winchester

and find him on social media at

"Mortuary Assistant Required," an NPR story in which Simon Winchester recounts one of his earliest jobs, recorder July, 2015

More Setsuko Winchester

"Freedom From Fear: A Journey of Remembrance", The Sandisfield Times, January-February 2016


About the Albany Book Festival

The fourth annual event, on Saturday, Sept. 25, at the University at Albany, will be held in-person for the first time since 2019. Events will begin at 10:30 a.m. and conclude at 5 p.m. All events are free and open to the public. More information at

The list of Albany Book Festival guests includes (subject to change):

  • Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah (Friday Black: Stories),

  • Ayad Akhtar (Homeland Elegies),

  • Robert Boyers (The Tyranny of Virtue: Identity, The Academy, and the Hunt for Political Heresies),

  • Elizabeth Brundage (The Vanishing Point),

  • Mary Gaitskill (This is Pleasure),

  • Garth Greenwell (Cleanness),

  • Farah Jasmine Griffin (Read Until You Understand: The Profound Wisdom of Black Life and Literature),

  • Janell Hobson (When God Lost Her Tongue: Historical Consciousness and the Black Feminist Imagination),

  • Quiara Alegría Hudes (My Broken Language: A Memoir, co-wrote the Tony Award-winning stage musical "In the Heights" with Lin-Manuel Miranda.),

  • Amitava Kumar (A Time Outside This Time),

  • Reif Larsen (Uma Wimple Charts her House),

  • Emily Layden (All Girls),

  • Ed Lin (David Tung Can’t Have a Girlfriend Until He Gets Into an Ivy League College),

  • George Makari (Of Fear and Strangers: A History of Xenophobia),

  • Bethany C. Morrow (So Many Beginnings: A Little Women Remix),

  • Peter Osnos (An Especially Good View: Watching History Happen),

  • Jay Parini (Borges and Me: An Encounter),

  • David Pietrusza (Too Long Ago: A Childhood Memoir. A Vanished World.),

  • Nathaniel Philbrick (Travels with George: In Search of Washington and His Legacy),

  • David Rohde (In Deep: The FBI, the CIA, and the Truth about America’s “Deep State”),

  • Ed Schwarzschild (In Security),

  • Dana Spiotta (Wayward),

  • Setsuko Winchester ( and

  • Simon Winchester (LAND: How the Hunger for Ownership Shaped the Modern World).

The book festival will also include a Local Authors Marketplace, readings by young local writers published in Skribblers magazine; and readings from banned books to help kick off Banned Books Week beginning September 26 with the theme, “Books Unite Us. Censorship Divides Us.” The festival’s children’s programming is organized by Skribblers and the Albany Public Library.

More information at

Albany Book Festival Sponsors

The NYS Writers Institute is grateful for the following individuals and businesses whose donations help fund this year's Albany Book Festival.


Bruce Piasecki & The Creative Force Fund


Pernille Ægidius Dake / George and Kathleen McNamee / Renaissance Corporation of Albany

Charles Touhey and Alice Green / University Auxiliary Services


Times Union / Ellen Jabbur / Stuyvesant Plaza


Laurie Bank and Stuart Freyer / A. Andrew Casano, MD & Bella Pipas / Bernard F. Conners Foundation / The Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza / Susan Novotny / CDPHP / Fenimore Asset Management / FAM Funds / Doris Fischer Malesardi / The Foy Fund / Henry Greenberg / Paul and Mary Grondahl / Heslin Rothenberg Farley & Mesiti P.C. / William and Dana Kennedy / William & Mary Jean Krackeler / Betsy Lopez / Mackin & Casey / Modern Press / Jeffrey Pollard / Janney Montgomery Scott, LLC / Roberta and Bob Redmond / Mary Scanlan / Herb and Cynthia Shultz / Jim and Teresa Stellar / Steve McKee Foundation / UAlbany William L. Reese Emeritus Center Three Voices Grant Program


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