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What You Need to Know About the Decatur Book Festival

Streets will be closed as book-loving crowds throng downtown Decatur.

Get ready for the nation's largest independent book festival to bring tens of thousands of book lovers in our back yard.

The Decatur Book Festival is back. 

Saturday and Sunday's events include more than 300 authors and thousands of festival goers who will crowd the historic downtown Decatur Square to enjoy book signings, author readings, panel discussions, an interactive children’s area, live music, parades, cooking demonstrations, poetry slams and writing workshops. Organizers don't have exact counts, but they estimate at least 50,000 people attended last year.

Here's a guide about what to expect if you're going -- or if you plan to avoid the crowds.

PARKING: Expect most of the downtown Decatur streets around the Court Square to be blocked to traffic and free parking to be scarce. Locals are being encouraged to walk, bike or take MARTA to the events. But if you're worried about walking home with heavy bags filled with all the books you've bought, there will be parking. The courthouse/county Deck will be open and free all weekend after 5 p.m., as will the Manuel Maloof Parking lot off of Swanton Way. There's plenty of pay parking in metered spaces and paid private lots. Do not park in lots posted as "no parking." Your car will be booted or towed. The festival directs patrons to the city's web site for official parking advice.

BOOK SIGNING ADVICE: Big-name authors endeavor to sign as many autographs for fans as they can, but here's some advice to avoid disappointment. Take a friend who can stand in the autograph line while you listen to your favorite author speak. When the author is done, your friend has a prime place in line for book signing. Many authors will only sign books that have been purchased onsite at the official local bookseller.

FAMOUS AUTHORS: Some of the featured authors at this year’s festival include: Howard Wasdin (Seal Team 6), Hal Needham (Stuntman! My Car-Crashing, Plane-Jumping, Bone-Breaking, Death-Defying Hollywood Life), Ann & Jeff VanderMeer (The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities), Shirley Strawberry (The Strawberry Letter), Joshilyn Jackson (Backseat Saints), Gregg Hurwitz (You’re Next), George Pelecanos (The Cut), Robert Olen Butler (A Small Hotel), River Jordan (Praying for Strangers), Jennifer Haigh (Faith), James Swanson (Bloody Crimes), Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan (A Tiger in the Kitchen), Kim Severson (Spoon Fed), Holly Tucker (Blood Work), Tom Perrotta (The Leftovers), Mary Kay Andrews (Summer Rental) and Karen Russell (Swamplandia).

SPECIAL PERFORMANCES: Famed Southern writer Clyde Edgerton will talk about newest book, Night Train, and also do some singing and guitar playing as well.

Decatur-based singer/songwriter Caroline Herring, featured in 2010 on A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor, will share her songs inspired by children’s books (including The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter, The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton and Chicken Soup with Rice by Maurice Sendak) on the Children’s Stage.

The Theatrical Outfit, one of Atlanta’s oldest professional theater companies, will present two separate stage offerings, including Calvin Alexander Ramsey’s world premiere drama The Green Book, and a first ever workshop of Tom Key’s stage adaptation of Eudora Welty’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Optimist’s Daughter. Caroling Herring and fellow singer/songwriter Kate Campbell will provide a musical component to this event.

The Atlanta Opera will also present a special preview of their upcoming children’s opera based on the tales of Brer Rabbit – popularized by Atlanta’s own Joel Chandler Harris.

The popular all-women percussion ensemble ConunDRUMS will close the festival with a high-energy performance at 6 p.m. Sunday night on the Children's Stage. (Not Saturday, as erroneously printed in some programs.) The ConunDRUMS play instruments and music primarily from the traditions of the Malinke, Susu, and other related ethnic groups in the West African countries of Guinea, Mali, Sierra Lione and Cote D'Ivoire.

PARADES: The Festival will feature two children’s parades again this year. The Saturday morning parade will be led by Skippyjon Jones and followed by a presentation by Judy Schachner (Skippyjon Jones, Class Action). The Sunday morning parade will have a Pete the Cat theme, followed by James Dean and Eric Litwin sharing their new book (Pete the Cat: Rocking in My School Shoes).

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 raw, often funny and sometimes disarmingly moving true personal storytelling by ordinary people with no notes.

The Great Decatur Treasure Hunt—An interactive, location-based game that will lead players through the festival grounds and nearby Decatur hot spots. Prizes 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. The “legal comedy” takes place in a courtroom setting on the Children’s Stage on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. with Theo acting as his own attorney when he’s put on trial for stealing the Bill of Rights. 

ON THE SAME PAGE—Little Shop of Stories, in conjunction with the AJC Decatur Book Festival, the Decatur Education Foundation and the Decatur Rotary Club, will announce a new, citywide reading initiative on Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Children's Stage. 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 will work with schools and libraries, coordinate book groups, lead discussions, and host other book-related events.

CANCELATIONS: Authors who have canceled include Nikky Finney, R.A. Nelson and Liza Wieland.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Decatur Book Festival Presented by DeKalb Medical celebrates its sixth year this year. Printed festival programs will be available downtown detailing  variety of authors, books, art exhibits, music, food vendors and other vendors, events, and performances.

Steve September 03, 2011 at 12:19 PM
"The courthouse/county Deck will be open and free all weekend after 5 p.m., as will the Manuel Maloof Parking lot off of Swanton Way." How can you say "free parking to be scarce" with these spaces available? The deck alone has hundreds of free spaces. In fact, counting the deck, there are probably more free spaces than pay spaces for the weekend.
Tess Vismale September 03, 2011 at 01:30 PM
World renowned local writer, Tayari Jones will be there signing her nu book, "Silver Sparrow". #TayariJones
Ralph Ellis September 03, 2011 at 03:16 PM
You are right, Steve. The headline has been changed.

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