Sonoma Valley as Stage for World-Class Authors

Ginny & David Freeman, Founders of the Sonoma Valley Authors Festival  

Long before Sonoma Valley was a mecca for wine and food, the region was home to Jack London, one of the world’s greatest authors. He penned many of his most famous novels here. It feels fitting that this valley now hosts the Sonoma Valley Authors Festival, which attracts an array of world class authors for thoughtful discussions and presentations. This past August, in its fourth year, the Festival brought together hundreds of attendees at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn and Spa to hear a group of A-list authors, including Doris Kearns Goodwin, Isabel Allende, Amy Tan, Daniel James Brown, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Niall Ferguson, Dave Barry, Billy Collins, H.R. McMaster, Walter Isaacson, and more. We spoke with founders David and Ginny Freeman about their path to creating the Festival and its impact on their community of all generations. 

Husband and wife team Ginny and David Freeman, co-founders of the Sonoma Valley Authors Festival (Photo © Scott Chernis) 

HL: Tell us about the inspiration for the Sonoma Valley Authors Festival.  

GF:  There was definitely serendipity involved in the process. It actually all began with a gala event in San Francisco, where we and close friends bid on a Sun Valley condo. The only time we were able to schedule our visit was during the Sun Valley Authors Festival. Our first reaction was, “Uh, no, we want to have fun!” But we went and were amazed at the quality of the event and diversity of authors and genres. We loved it.  

After that, we continued to run into author events in places we were visiting: Pebble Beach, a short walk from our hotel, Rancho Mirage, and others. We were captivated. We had recently shifted to being full-time Sonoma Valley residents after dividing our time between our San Francisco home and a Sonoma base and were considering ways to contribute more deeply to our community. We both grew up with a great appreciation for books and storytelling through our parents and our own experiences. Sonoma certainly had its share of food and wine events and already had a wonderful film festival. We followed our instincts—and serendipity—and created this wonderful event four years ago.  

Forever a crowd favorite, Isabel Allende shared insights into her work and life in an exchange with PBS’ Jeffrey Brown (Photo © Bob Stender) 

HL: What helped to make this event a success for you?  

DF: There are so many elements which have helped to make this event a success. But it was really research, clarity, and relationships which have set us up well to succeed. We had the benefit of attending other established events and were able to see which programs were best suited to our vision and the Sonoma Valley community. For example: size. We wanted to keep our event smaller, allowing us to really curate an experience that felt connected, authentic, and accessible. And relationships. Once we had a well-vetted concept in hand, so many people stepped up to support us with introductions to the right partners to bring this to life. Having Elaine Petrocelli, founder and president of Book Passage, in our court gave us access to a range of really wonderful, top-notch authors, many of whom have returned with us. Our Student’s Day partner, 10,000 Degrees, a leader in the education equity movement, helped us create an impactful program for our students. Our venue partner, the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn, helped us create a well-organized and orchestrated event. And all of our amazing volunteers have helped the Festival to come together beautifully!  

Amy Tan discusses the shock of discovering family secrets through memorabilia that led her to write Where the Past Begins (Photo © Scott Chernis) 

HL: What are you most proud of when you look back over these past years since your first festival? 

GF: There are so many things we are proud of, but it’s our Student’s Day, which we orchestrate in tandem with 10,000 Degrees, that we are most proud of. Through this program, we have been able to facilitate interaction between Sonoma Valley students and our authors, including the handing out of books to all students present to enjoy. From this interaction, we have witnessed some truly remarkable, life-changing exchanges.  

HL: This year has remained challenging for many. You are graciously offering access to the event online for a limited time for those who still want to experience the Festival. Tell us more.  

DF: Yes, we want to be sure that folks unable to attend in person this year can still experience the wonderful author sessions from this year’s program. To that end, we are offering an all-access virtual pass between October 23 through November 20, 2021, for $149, which includes two books from participating authors. The link for virtual passes is You can follow us on Instagram @svauthorsfest and Facebook @svauthorsfestival for continued updates. We hope to see you online and next year! Thank you!  

Ginny & David Freeman (Photo courtesy of the Freemans)