Labor Day used to mean the start of the school year. However, down here in the South, school started three weeks ago. As an adult empty-nester writer, the Labor Day now means something else entirely. Labor Day begins "Book Festival Season."
Until I became a published writer myself, book festivals were something that were just not on my radar screen. I don't know if they didn't exist, or if I just didn't know about them, but in 1999 I attended
the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville. I was hooked. Who knew you could spend a whole weekend listening to writers talk, going to book signings, and hanging out with other people who love books as much as you do? With the publication of Yankee Girl and My Best Friend, I was invited to appear at Southern Festival two years in a row. I thought I'd died and gone to Book Heaven.
Since then I've been a guest at any number of book festivals, large and small (who knew there were so many of them??). My local favorite, the Decatur Book Festival, is this weekend, just twenty five miles down the road. Alas, I won't be there. I will be at a festival of another kind...my 40th high school reunion. It was a tough call, deciding between the two events. True, I will never have another 40th high school reunion...but when am I going to see Meg Cabot, Kevin Henkes (my personal role model), David Levithan, Shannon Hale, Barry Lyga, Chris Raschka, Neil Schusterman all in one weekend? ...and those are just some of the children's and YA authors appearing. There are over 300 authors presenting over three days, both adult and juvenile authors. The best part? It's all FREE!!! Your biggest problem will be finding a parking place and trying to choose which authors you want to see. Oh well. There will be another one next year.
Another "don't-miss" event is the Southern Festival of Books, held the second weekend of October in Nashville. Even bigger than the Decatur Book Festival, this year SFB's children's headliners include
Katherine Paterson, Judith Viorst, and Ed Young.
Not to slight other areas of the country, the Brooklyn Book Festival, Sunday Sept 23, is a the literary Lollapalooza with countless writers all appearing on one day. Their children's and YA line up includes
Libba Bray, Marc Brown, Joseph Bruchac, Gordon Korman, E.B. Lewis, Carolyn Mackler, Wendy Mass, Jon Szieska, Lisa Yee and Paul O. Zelinsky. (Note: There are a number of "bookend" events in conjunction with the festival, that do charge admission and require advance ticket sales.)
That same weekend, the mother-of-all book festivals, the National Book Festival, will be in full swing on the (where else?) National Mall. This is the premier book festival (in my opinion) to meet and hear children's authors. Do any of these names ring a bell? Avi. Mary Pope Osborne. Patricia Polacco. Jerry Spinelli. John Green. Ellen Hopkins. Lois Lowry. Walter Dean Myers. Jacqueline Woodson. I thought so.
The Austin Teen Book Festival is one that I would love to attend as a teen (well, that boat has sailed!). This event connects teens with YA authors. Who's going to be there, besides a couple of thousand book-loving Texan teens? Elizabeth Scott, Marissa Mayer, Libba Bray, Neil Schusterman, Rachel Cohn, Guadalupe Garcia McCall...thirty-six in all.
Wisconsin's Book Festival in Madison, November 7-11 is still lining up their venues. Right now, their children's/YA roster includes George Ella Lyon, Patricia McCormack, Pat Schmatz, and Rita Garcia-Williams.
Book festivals are free, family-friendly events, with something for everyone. There are puppet shows, slam poetry readings, open mike readings, face-painting...and books. Lots and lots of books for sale and signing. Although I have mentioned only children's writers in this post, with the exception of the Austin Teen Festival, all of the others offer a variety of adult writers--every thing from poets and historians, to true crime and cookbook authors.
These are just a handful of the many, many book festivals slated for this fall. Check your local bookstore or university to find one near you.
Did I mention they were free? (except for a few events for marquee adult authors, parking...and whatever you consume in the way of kettle corn and funnel cakes.)
Go find a book festival this weekend.
Posted by Mary Ann Rodman
P.S. Book festivals make great cheap field trips.