A rock star, a home-town celebrity cat, an original opera, more than 300 authors, one monster and funnel cakes are among the plethora of delights are expected to attract tends of thousands of visitors to the sixth annual AJC Decatur Book Festival Presented by (AJC DBF) over Labor Day weekend.
An emphasis on fun and a festival that embraces music, dance and parades have turned Decatur’s home-grown book festival, Sept. 2-4, into the largest independent book festival in the country, and the fourth largest overall. Centered on the historic downtown Decatur Square, and with venues nearby, the event includes book signings, author readings, panel discussions, an interactive children’s area, live music, parades, cooking demonstrations, poetry slams, writing workshops, and more.
The festival will announce the complete lineup in the next week, but savvy bibliophiles can preview the author list on the Decatur Book Festival website.
Among this year’s authors at the festival are children’s author Avi, best-selling mystery writer Mary Kay Andrews of Avondale Estates, Rebecca Burns, Roy Peter Clark, Nathalie Dupree, Clyde Edgerton, , Atlanta freelancer Mickey Goodman, Margaret Haddix, Joshilyn Jackson, Anne B. Jones, Hank Klibanoff, Eric Litwin, Maryn McKenna, Cameron McWhirter of Decatur, Andisheh Nouraee of Decatur, Stephanie Perkins, Janisse Ray, Sonny Seiler, Karin Slaughter, Elizabeth and Ned Stuckey-French, Cheryl Tan, former Georgia Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond, Robert Weintraub of Decatur, and Fiona Zedde.
Festival Program Director Terra Elan McVoy said organizers have always strived to make the event “fun and different.”
“Our reputation has grown and grown as the festival has grown,” said McVoy. Publishers are fond of the crowds who flock to the open-air, charming small-town festival, with well-organized volunteers and a reputation for treating authors royally.
“Authors come and have a great time,” said McVoy, herself an author. “They go and tell their friends. And its definitely easier to get a wider range of authors. A lot more pitches are coming to us from publishers.”
Festival organizers realize that book lovers are diverse and interested in many things, such as art, dance, pottery, meditation, and they try to incorporate those elements into the festival, McVoy said.
“Book lovers aren’t just book lovers; they’re into other things,” said McVoy. The event highlights the insight that “a book is so much more than 280 printed pages bound by a cover. It’s full of imagination and creativity and can inspire you to do amazing things.”
Among the lagniappe at the 2011 festival are previews by the Atlanta Opera of an original children’s opera based on the tales of Brer Rabbit popularized by Joel Chandler Harris. The event will include the opera’s librettist and composer, a storyteller and some of the songs from the production that will premiere during the opera’s 2011-2012 season.
The days of the Jim Crow South will be told in scenes from a world premier drama The Green Book by Calvin Alexander Ramsey. The Theatrical Outfit, one of Atlanta’s oldest professional theater companies, will will perform scenes from the drama, which tells the story of the days when black tourists had to consult the Green Book to know where it was safe to dine and stay overnight, including “tourist homes” or private residences made available by African-American homeowners.
The Theatrical Outfit will also present a workshop performance of The Optimist’s Daughter, Tom Key’s stage adaptation of Eudora Welty’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel with original music composed and performed by singer/songwriters Caroline Herring and Kate Campbell. The performance is literally a work in progress, and audiences will get to shape the final version of the play.
Keynote speakers to kick off the Festival Friday, Sept. 2, at 8 p.m. at Presser Hall on the campus ofwill be Colin Meloy and Carson Ellis, the nationally renowned pair behind a new family-friendly book, Wildwood. This is the first in what will become a three-book fantasy series set in a world reviewers have compared to Narnia.
Known for his inventive and timeless melodies and lilting vocals, Meloy is the lead singer of indie band The Decemberists. Ellis, known for her illustrations of books such as The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart and The Composer Is Deadby Lemony Snicket, as well as album covers for The Decemberists, created illustrations for the fantasy novel of magic, wonder, and danger.
Other highlights of this year’s festival include:
A special Carapace event in recognition of the upcoming 10th anniversary of 9/11— “Persistence of Memory: Stories of Renewal from 9/11.” Inspired by The Moth in New York, Carapace is about raw, often funny, and sometimes disarmingly moving true personal storytelling by ordinary people with no notes. Their weekly events at Manuel's Tavern are a must-do around Atlanta, and their performance at the Festival in 2010, under the name Moth Up, was one of the most talked about events of the festival.
The Great Decatur Treasure Hunt—An interactive, location-based game that will lead players through the Festival grounds and nearby Decatur hot-spots will return for its second year. Prizes will include signed books, T-shirts, posters, and other goodies.
WRITE CLUB—A high-velocity competitive reading series taking the form of “literary blood sport” will take place on Saturday at the Festival. The event consists of three or four “bouts” between two opposing writers or ideas. Writers will receive a one-word assignment from host Ian Belknap, then create an original piece on that topic and read it live at the show. The audience then uses applause to vote for the winner of that bout. The net proceeds from each show are split evenly among the victors’ charities.
Theodore Boone & the Thrill of Rights—This interactive theatrical bus tour based on John Grisham’s middle-grade thrillers stars The Story Pirates, a nationally respected arts and creative writing organization founded in 2003 to celebrate the words and ideas of young people, to promote literacy as a vital part of education, and to preserve the spark of youthful creativity often lost in the transition to adulthood. The “legal comedy” takes place in a courtroom setting with Theo acting as his own attorney when he’s put on trial for stealing the Bill of Rights. This high-action, audience-participation drama will be featured on the Children’s Stage.
On the Same Page—Little Shop of Stories, in conjunction with the AJC Decatur Book Festival, , and the , will announce a new, citywide reading initiative during the Festival. On the Same Page strives to foster a community of readers by bringing families together around the same book. Each year, beginning this fall, On the Same Page will select a children’s book for local children and their families to read. This special book will be promoted around the city, and Little Shop of Stories will work with schools and libraries, coordinate book groups, lead discussions, and host other book-related events.