OF BOOKS & BREW

WRITTEN BY ROBERT S. COCUZZO
PHOTOGRAPHY BY KIT NOBLE

How one woman turned pale ale and paperbacks into two celebrated
institutions on Nantucket.

In the summer of 1988, Wendy Hudson was working at the Bartlett’s Farm flower truck on Main Street. Her boyfriend, Randy, was living on a boat in the harbor, and as she describes,
“we were two groovy hippies, young and having fun.” Wendy discovered Nantucket as so many before her, by sail. Each summer, her family enjoyed making the 30-mile tack to the island aboard their 48-foot yawl, the Leonid. Then a philosophy major at Smith College, Wendy was quickly finding “the good life” she so often mused about, here on Nantucket.

Some twenty years later, Wendy Hudson eases into a smile as she recounts her life on the island.
“Beer and books—it’s all very straightforward and simple,” she sums up, “there’s no mystery about it.” Wendy and Randy went on to marry, and the two co-founded Cisco Brewers. “We cobbled together used equipment and started brewing in Dean and Melissa Long’s backyard,” she remembers. “Everyone joked that we were making moonshine.” Today, with the help of Dean and Melissa and partner Jay Harman, Cisco beers
are sipped all over the country.

About the time Cisco’s first kegs were being tapped, Wendy got a part-time job at Nantucket Bookworks. The cozy book nook on 25 Broad Street had long been a favorite haunt of hers, so it was no big surprise when she ended up owning it in 2000. Today, many look to Wendy as Nantucket’s official book lady. She drives around in a brilliant orange Mini that was once the vehicle for Penguin Publishing’s 25th Anniversary cross-country literacy campaign, its dashboard signed in metallic Sharpie by a gaggle of authors, its license plate reading: GOREAD. Most recently, Wendy extended her influence over the island’s literary landscape by taking control of Bookworks’ only local competitor, Mitchell’s Book Corner
on Main Street.

“I am really excited because Bookworks and Mitchell’s have always had such different personalities, but they also overlap a lot. So going forward, we can have them overlap a little less,” she explains. “We need to solidify our base of support and not split it up on Nantucket.” Wendy has grand plans for Mitchell’s, particularly its second floor, which she intends on using as a community space for book clubs, children’s programs, and theater troupes. “There are all these creative people and all these artistic angles to the business that I hope we can play up,” she says. “It isn’t just about me. It certainly is not a monopoly. It’s more a co-op.”

Interestingly enough, Wendy is not anti-tablet, -Kindle, or -iPad, as one might think a bookseller would be. In fact, she admits to being a “tech-junkie,” owning a network of computers and a collection of first edition digital readers. Nevertheless, Wendy believes physical books will defy the onslaught of glossy tech readers, because, as she argues, “E-Books do not give you pride of ownership. You can’t share them and they don’t look good on your shelf.” She adds, “There is still pleasure in a real book, and I think as the publishing world goes forward, it will be paying more attention to physical books.” However, for those who do enjoy reading Melville on the iPad, not to worry: Wendy offers
selections of Google e-Books at her stores as well.

And as if there wasn’t enough on her plate, the mother-of-two-teens serves as president of the Chamber of Commerce executive board. All her efforts, whether with the bookstores, the brewery, or the Chamber, are to keep Nantucket vibrant and growing both economically and culturally. On the cultural front, Wendy launches Nantucket’s first Book Festival this month. With the help of locals like Meghan Valero, Dick Burns, Mary Haft, Leslie Bresette, Fifi Greenberg,and Marsha Egan, authors like Nat Philbrick and Elin Hilderbrand, and philanthropists like Wendy Schmidt— Wendy Hudson introduces the Festival at a moment perhaps never more fitting or necessary. As she puts it, “What better time to remind people of the importance of good books than now, as all the media is hyping the death of the bookstore and physical books? It’s really alive and well, and we are going to bolster it.” Inspiration for the Festival came out of last fall’s three-day mind marathon, the Nantucket Project. “I just felt such a huge burst of energy,” she says, “and thought we have to do this more often, bring these great authors and share great thinkers with as many people as possible.”

This inclusivity may prove to be a defining element of Wendy’s Festival. Unlike the Wine Festival, Film Festival or even the Nantucket Project, the Book Festival seeks a casual, grass-roots appeal, with largely free admission or tickets otherwise moderately priced. “I wanted to do the Festival in a way that I would enjoy attending, so I keep picturing a beach picnic party and authors in bars,” Wendy describes. “We
are not going to be super uptight about it or off-putting.” In this way, the Festival harks back to Wendy’s earlier days as a fun-loving college kid, working on a flower truck, sleeping on a boat, brewing beer in her backyard. Down the road, Wendy hopes the Book Festival will grow to offer writing programs, seminars with agents and publishers, and the “many other different angles of the business that people are interested in.” Not to be forgotten, there will always be children’s programming, which Wendy is most passionate about.

Beyond the books and beer, Wendy Hudson joins a cadre of locals who are steering Nantucket towards a more creative, culturally rich future. Regardless of how history chooses to remember these contemporary movers
and shakers, Nantucket will surely be the better for their work. Moreover, Wendy exemplifies the oft-forgotten ethos: Do what you love and the rest will follow

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