Reading is What? Fundamental!: Organizers Prepare for 2019 Decatur Book Festival

The Decatur Book Festival kicks off this Labor Day Weekend, and it’s all about reading to learn! Nearly 80,000 lovers of books are expected to converge on downtown Decatur in hopes to take in inspirational words from over 250 speakers.

Of these indoor and outdoor venues, eleven of those will be catering towards an adult audience, two of them for children, and one dedicated towards chef demonstrations. There will be exhibitions and performance of all artistic mediums, as well as a broad range of food trucks and venues available.

The annual book festival is celebrating its 14th year since beginning in 2005. It is the largest independent book festival in Atlanta and one of the largest in the entire country. The festival never fails to have a star-studded line-up of authors, journalists, poets, illustrators, and chefs who are locally, nationally, and internationally based. Labor day weekend there will be appearances from Atlanta’s own Stacey Abrams, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Sonia Sotomayor, New York Times staff writer Jenna Wortham, Téa Obreht, and the local legendary jewel thief Diamond Doris.

But this is just a glimpse into the ample amount of guests. The literary talent within the three days is astonishing. The executive director, Julie Wilson, says, “I have to give all the credit to our program director, Joy Pope, for putting together this year’s line-up. She was the mastermind behind it.” Over the phone, it is clear in her voice that she is ecstatic about the event.

Wilson took the seat as executive director after founder and executive director Daren Wang resigned in 2017. Within Wilson’s five years with the festival, she has held the position as program director and assistant program director prior to becoming the executive director. “I think one of the biggest challenges has been taking over the reign after the founder, Daren Wang, and figuring out where to go from there. He did such a phenomenal job. Assuring that the festival was put on in such a fashion while allowing it to evolve is one of my goals,” says Wilson.

Wilson expanded on the keynote speakers as well as the literary coverage. “We typically represent all of the genres. We have an extensive poetry track, LGBTQ collection, and cover a lot of bases on culture. We have the support from Mailchimp who has an author curated track (this year’s by Author, New York Times staff writer, Jenna Wortham), and we have also partnered with PEN America. This year, the topic we are focusing on is immigration — which will be our opening keynote.”

PEN America’s mission is to “protect the human rights and freedom of expressions.” The opening keynote presentation is taking place on Friday evening at the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts. The discussion will be focused on Latinx writers on immigration with appearances from author Rigoberto Gonzalez and executive editor of Publico Press Gabriela Baeza Ventura and moderated by Emmy award-winning broadcast journalist, Mariela Romero.

Along with voices on the events immigration tracks, there will be topical discussions that explore black culture, classism, social injustices, journalism, crime, history, science, religion, and LGBTQ, amongst others. Of the LGBTQ speakers, readers, and authors with LGBTQ based characters, there will be Madeline Ffitch, Jacob Tobia, Ocean Vuong, E Patrick Johnson, Jaime Manrique, Tim Murphy, Nicole Dennis-Benn, Tommy Pico, Jericho Brown, Tara Y, Coyt, Samantha Allen, Megan Volpert, Tupelo Hassman, and Richard Blanco.

One of Wilson’s goals has been to take independent writers who are narrowed into specific audiences and allow them to be more accessible in the market. But along with this pursuit, she also has other thoughts in mind. “I want to talk about the impact of our festival more, the idea of bringing together like-minded people who may have different opinions. It’s important to bring up particular topics to break down those barriers. We are in a time where this is important.”

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