A Weekend at the Boston Book Festival

Written by S-L Street Team Member, Kelsie O’Flanagan

Earlier this semester, the Street Team promoted the Boston Book Festival – an annual event that allows book-worms across Boston to join together for a day to celebrate both reading and 826 Boston (one of our beloved Community Partners). I had a chance to connect with Executive Director Norah Piehl, a member of the dream team behind the execution of the Boston Book Festival, to find out how the day went. Norah’s role was working on the fiction and youth programming as well as all festival communications and oversight of neighborhood initiatives.

Please see her recap below:

“The tenth(!) annual Boston Book Festival took place on October 12-13, 2018. In the absence of Lit Crawl this year (but mark your calendars for its 2019 return on June 6!), we hosted a city-wide #BBFBookHunt featuring photo clues for BBF 2018 authors’ books, shared on Twitter and Instagram during the lead-up to the festival on October 8 and 9. On Friday, October 12, we were also pleased to work with the Wondermore organization to have author Meg Medina visit the King K-8 School in Dorchester, which was the recipient of this year’s Shelf Helpbook donation. Meg’s travel was delayed thanks to Hurricane Michael (more on that later!), but she arrived in time for a festive presentation with a large group of enthusiastic King students.

Official BBF festivities kicked off Friday evening with a kickoff keynote featuring Michael Pollan’s new book on the science of psychedelics, How to Change Your Mind. Pollan’s insightful conversation with On Point’s Meghna Chakrabarti set the tone for the full day of presentations to follow.

The BBF’s years-long run of perfect weather came to an end on Saturday, as the remnants of Hurricane Michael brought chilly sprinkles to Boston for the first part of the day. The gray skies didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of BBF attendees, however, who showed up in force and even braved the rain for a morning dance party, an outdoor story time performance by Jef Czekaj, and literary walking tours by Boston By Foot. 75 exhibitors, food trucks, cold brew coffee samples, Berklee College of Music performers, and a half-dozen costume characters helped brighten attendees’ moods.

Although sessions on horror fiction, romance novels, feminist historical fiction, Renaissance art, seasonal cooking, and Mr. Rogers helped leaven the mood, BBF attendees and authors alike were ready to discuss the serious topics with which we’re grappling this year. As a result, sessions on youth activism, sports activism, climate change,  authoritarianism, and America’s legacy of racism proved especially popular. A session on poets’ responses to gun violence, inspired by the anthology Bullets into Bells,also included a performance of handbell music by the Back Bay Ringers. Certainly a highlight of the day for the 800 attendees lucky enough to snag a ticket to the sold-out event at Old South Church was the session “On Leadership,” featuring a conversation among Doris Kearns Goodwin, John Kerry, and Samantha Power.

In addition to BBF Unbound sessions and workshops on poetry revision, writing as a mode of recovery, telling complicated personal stories, queering the canon, and more, we welcomed sessions developed by the Mystery Writers of America, Massachusetts Center for the Book, Christian Science Monitor, National Book Foundation, and Zephyr Press, as well as three sessions featuring French and French Canadian authors at the French Cultural Center. MIT Press also produced a Pitchfest, in which aspiring authors presented their proposals for new science and technology books to an all-star panel of guest judges. This year, we presented programming at several new venues, including Eataly and the Boston Architectural College, whose two locations each hosted a full day of sessions, many of them focusing on art, urban planning, and design.

As usual, there was plenty to keep kids and teens busy all day at the BBF. Many families started their BBF day by attending a live performance of the storytelling podcast Circle Round, and then stuck around the BPL to attend readings by picture book authors and illustrators, listen to panel discussions by award-winning authors, participate in cartooning and map-making workshops, or hunting for Waldo around the library. Kids’ keynote speaker Kate DiCamillo charmed attendees with her child-focused Q&A, and joint YA keynote speakers Becky Albertall iand Adam Silvera shared their funny, inspiring stories to a huge crowd.

But the scene in Copley Square was far from the whole story at BBF 2018, since two other vibrant Boston neighborhoods served as hosts for festival programming. We returned to the East Boston branch of the BPL for a fun-filled day that featured a workshop by Daniel José Older, a story time reading by Sheetal Sheth, an appearance by Pete the Cat, and even a performance by Veronica Robles’s all-female mariachi band.

And, for the first time, we launched the BBF in Roxbury, as the Bolling Municipal Building served as the beautiful venue for an exciting day of interdisciplinary programming for all ages. Highlights included a session with BBF fiction keynote presenter Tayari Jones, a mini-comicon with Comics in Color, a poetry reading, an appearance by sportswriter Howard Bryant, and a session on arts and activism featuring a curtain-raiser performance by playwright and performer Liza Jessie Peterson. Kids were also front and center in Roxbury, as they had a chance to beat Ben and Tonya Mezrich in a paper plane design contest, meet Curious George, design a robot with 826 Boston, and participate in an egg drop challenge coordinated by the Roxbury Innovation Center. See below for a brief video that captures the excitement of the day!

This year’s annual Poems & Pints session–coordinated in partnership with Mass Poetry–was held for the first time at Room & Board furniture store and featured a live musical performance by author/singer/songwriter Robin MacArthur and readings by five poets, not to mention delicious seasonal snacks and beverages. The Red Sox might have been kicking off their playoff run down the street, but the capacity crowd of enthusiastic poetry fans knew that they were at the real Saturday evening party. It was the perfect capstone to the tenth annual BBF and propelled us into our second decade in style. Thanks to everyone–our donors, volunteers, board members, partners, presenters, and attendees–for making BBF 2018 the best one yet.”

If you didn’t get a chance to attend the event this year, look out for it again in 2019! You can find information about the Boston Book Festival on their website.

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