The AJC Decatur Book Festival Rises Again
Long-awaited festival focuses on local Atlanta authors and artists this year
THE RENAISSANCE we’ve all been waiting for, October marks the return of the AJC Decatur Book Festival Presented by Emory University. The event has a legacy of sparking curiosity and excitement around reading, writing and other variations on the written and spoken word.
Since 2006, the festival has served as a hub of this writing buzz by connecting people of all walks with authors, good reads and local businesses each Labor Day weekend.
COVID-19 complications put this literary community gathering to the test, prompting the team to make some crucial adaptations to keep the festival spirit alive.
According to festival organizer Jeff Steely, the pandemic brought on significant, but temporary, restructuring of the festival.
“Last year, due to COVID-19, the AJC Decatur Book Festival Presented by Emory University shifted from the typical big street fair to an ambitious online event,” Steely said.
“It was very well received, but not a sustainable model, especially as so many of us have developed ‘zoom fatigue.’”
Now, with widespread re-evaluations of public safety standards, the festival faced new challenges.
“With the uncertainty around the pandemic, the board initially considered hitting the pause button for this year,” Steely explained. “However, as vaccines became widely available and several other Decatur festivals were looking to resume the in-person experience, we decided to pursue a middle course – to present a carefully – curated, small-scale event.”
This more contained festival will consist of six sessions throughout Saturday, Oct. 2, pooling the creative genius of eight authors, two illustrators and select talented moderators at the First Baptist Church of Decatur. The 2021 festival’s theme is “Diverse Voices Building Community,” with sessions ranging from political analysis to children’s illustration.
According to Steely, these sessions and the artists that comprise them were handselected to bring a well-rounded view of Atlanta’s literature scene.
“The task force planning the event sought authors who bring a variety of life experiences and perspectives to their writing. We decided to draw upon the deep pool of gifted writers who live in the greater Atlanta area. This was in part a practical decision, because it removes uncertainty about pandemic travel from the planning process. But we also knew of so many outstanding recent and forthcom- ing works that we could select from.”
By focusing the events on a singular location, the festival is able to cultivate a more accessible experience for those unable to attend.
“The First Baptist Church of Decatur is an incredible partner!” Steely said. “They are facilitating a live stream of the event, so anyone can participate, even if they can’t physically attend, whether from concerns about COVID-19 or because they live at a distance from Decatur. Our relationship with area independent booksellers is also in our DNA. We are pleased that they will join us with pop-up booths to sell books by festival authors.”
The festival has also shifted from Labor Day weekend to the first weekend of October, a move the organization was considering before the pandemic hit.
The October timeline aligns harmoniously with the fall book publishing calendar, where the earlier festival was too early for many autumnal releases. With this later date, the festival can draw from the talented pool of authors touring each fall to promote their newly released work.
“I expect the future DBF to be significantly bigger than this year’s festival, but that future depends in large part on support the festival is able to enerate. The DBF has some wonderful, generous, longterm sponsors, and would not exist without them. But a healthy, vibrant festival is only possible with greater financial support,” Steely added.
With its eye on the prize this year, the Decatur Book Festival shares its new weekend date with the three other festivals participating in the post-COVID-palooza, Festival Weekend 2021. In this convergence of Decatur’s most beloved festivals, attendees are sure to get the full festival package and more.
“Attendees at the AJC Decatur Book Festival presented by Emory University will be able to enjoy art, music and craft beer all within a few blocks of our venue,” Steely said. “While the Decatur Book Festival board decided this was not the year for us to produce a big street fair, I think the co-located festivals will create a similar ‘big festival’ atmosphere.”
Find more at decaturbookfestival.com.
SESSIONS AT A GLANCE
- New York Times bestselling author Carol Anderson chats with moderator Rose Scott about the intricacies of the Second Amendment and how it is structured in opposition to the rights of Black Americans.
- Author/illustrator team Carmen Agra Deedy and Jim LaMarche, along with illustrator Laura Freeman and moderator Jerry G. White, offer crucial insight into themes of finding self, community and identity through vibrant storytelling and illustration practices.
- Literary fiction panel features Anjali Enjeti and Nicole Stamant and their new books.
- A young adult literature panel is anchored by co-authors Gilly Segal and Kim Jones and their new book, “Why We Fly.”
- Martin Padgett shares his dynamic, profound story of 1970s gay Atlanta with its enchanting drag clubs and burgeoning rights activism
- Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Olen Butler’s new work, “Late City,” which undertakes a 115-year-old man watching the 2016 election unfold from his deathbed.