Best-selling authors and local readers joined in a discussion of literature, community and the arts at the 13th Boston Book Festival Oct. 15 to Oct. 23. The hybrid festival included virtual keynote speeches, panel discussions and in-person activities for a variety of Boston readers and residents.
The festival featured over 100 presenters and presentations and 21 headliners, ranging from nationally renowned writers, activists, poets, filmmakers and state representatives. In addition to the virtual sessions, participants could enjoy StoryWalks, where families could read featured books and explore their connection to the city while strolling through Boston’s neighborhoods.
Norah Piehl, executive director of the festival, said this year’s festival was an “adjustment” as the increase of COVID-19 cases from the Delta variant forced organizers to cancel about half of the planned in-person programming.
“We tried to still have a balanced program in terms of representing different genres, and trying to maintain a diverse group of authors and themes and subject matters, and all this stuff that people value about the book festival but just on a smaller scale,” Piehl said.
Danielle Jones, program director at Mass Poetry — an organization that partnered with the BBF to plan this year’s poetry sessions — said although she was initially “a little disappointed” the festival moved to mostly online, it provided some unexpected positives.
“Virtual events are a little bit more accessible for people,” Jones said. “For people with mobility considerations, people with lower incomes, it does provide a more equitable way for everyone to attend a reading.”
Piehl said the format of the festival brought in audiences from the West Coast, Europe and Australia. She added that authors who initially declined the in-person event because of travel expenses or safety concerns were able to participate after the festival made the switch to virtual.
“It enabled us to bring together authors from all over the place and audiences from all over the place,” Piehl said. “All these people who would probably never have flown to Boston to see an in-person festival but were able to participate in these great conversations virtually.”
This year’s festival provided programming for readers of all ages and sessions highlighting numerous literary genres.
“I love that it’s multi-genre,” Jones said. “I love that there are events for readers and writers. There’s a lot of workshops, but then there’s also a lot of readings for people who don’t write and just want to attend and see their favorite author.”
Bianca Stones, author of “The Möbius Strip Club of Grief,” spoke at the “Poems & Pints” session, which brought together poets to share their latest work and read from their collections in a “casual, free-flowing setting,” according to the festival’s website.
“Book festivals are wonderful and a great opportunity to have a lot of readers at one time in one place,” Stones said. “It’s very condensed, it’s very full, and you can get a lot in a short period of time.”
The book festival facilitated conversations between authors and readers, Jones said, an aspect she “loved.” Stones added that the event also increased readers exposure to presenting writers
“Any reading that has people listening to it is an opportunity to get a wider readership, even if it’s just one or two people that really feel taken and impacted by your work and pursue it,” Stones said. “That makes it completely worth it.”
Individuals who couldn’t participate in this year’s festival will be able to watch archived videos on the festival website if they have an interest in a particular author or if they missed a conversation they want to hear.
“I love that the city, when it is live, becomes part of the festival,” Jones said. “The city just comes to life around the festival.”