Bibliophiles, take note! The nation’s largest independent book festival kicks off this weekend in one of Atlanta’s most charming ‘burbs. Starting Saturday, the Decatur Book Festival brings more than 300 authors to Decatur, a lit-loving city known for local shops and restaurants, a fab children’s book store, and an impressive number of resident authors.
The festival is free, open to the public, and inclusive of every genre in the book (so to speak). With more than 300 authors speaking on more than a dozen stages, it can be daunting for the first-timer. We caught up with executive director Daren Wang and program director Terra Elan McVoy for tips on navigating this world of wordsmiths. Here’s what to know:
1. Pick a Track. This year’s festival includes 11 “tracks,” groups of individual presentations with a common theme. From cooking to poetry, these themes will help you narrow down the list of what you want to attend. We recommend the Southern Issues track, which includes the editors behind the New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture as well as the author of a controversial new book called Better Off Without ‘Em: A Northern Manifesto on Southern Secession. Our must-see: Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson, who interviewed 1,200 people for her literary nonfiction masterpiece, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration. Her keynote at the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference earned a well-deserved standing-O.
2. Meet our new (Southern) U.S. Poet Laureate. Decatur’s most recent literary star is Mississippi-born Natasha Trethewey, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet who was appointed in June as the next U.S. Poet Laureate. She is unveiling her latest book of verse, Thrall. We’ve read an advance copy, and think her meditations on mixed-race unions (one of which she is a product) is relevant, timely, and elegant. Her keynote speech (the only event that requires a ticket) is sold out, but try to catch her elsewhere at the festival. She is the first Southern-born laureate since Robert Penn Warren, the first to hold this post in 1986.
3. Discover the next hot author. This festival arguably does as good a job as any of showcasing rising stars and success stories in the growing field of self-publishing (Did you know Fifty Shades of Gray and Moby Dick were both self-published before they were blockbuster hits?). The speaker lineup on the Emerging Writers Stage balances self-published phenoms with up-and-coming writers in traditional publishing. You can also meet indie writers at their booths in the street fair, another highlight of the festival.
4. Get the app. Download the AJC Decatur Book Festival App on iTunes to browse events by stage, create your own schedule, and get quick facts about an author featured at the festival. It will make your experience so much easier, and as much as we still love the print world, looks much cooler than carrying around a crinkled paper schedule.
5. Bring the kids. Brand-new this year, the Kidnote (a keynote for wee readers) features bilingual children’s author Jose Luiz Orozco, who will sing, dance, and teach your kids Itsy-Bitsy Spider in Spanish and English. From the children’s parades on Saturday and Sunday to special performances by the Center for Puppetry Arts, there are plenty of opportunities to engage young readers from kids to teens. Don’t miss the Print Big demonstrations, when artists from the Atlanta Printmakers Studio use a steamroller as a press.