In a recent conversation with Steph Opitz, the founding director of Wordplay, I learned that book festivals in the time of quarantine have at least one perk—the opportunity to host an abundance of international authors remotely.
“Helen Oyeyemi is one of my favorite authors,” Opitz said. “I’ve never been able to invite her in twelve years of organizing book festivals. Now she can call in.”
The all-virtual Wordplay book festival will be held from May 2-8, 2021. Each day of the free six-day festival will feature three livestream sessions: a morning program focused on children’s and young adult books, an afternoon program focused on international books, and an evening program featuring poets and authors in dialogue. Two happy hours are also planned.
National names like Chelsea Clinton, Dean Koontz, Cheryl Strayed, and Kazuo Ishiguro–plus local writers Kao Kalia Yang, Megan Maynor, and Douglas Kearney–are among the nearly 50 authors to join the third annual festival. (Click here for the complete list.) All featured authors have released a book within a year of the festival.
Opitz’s suggestion for how to approach the event? “Go for the person you’re excited about,” she said. “But be curious about other authors even if you haven’t heard of them. Some of these authors will be up for awards at the end of the year. Or you will catch an author at the beginning of their career and when they’re a big name ten years from now you can say that you heard them speak way back when.”
Attendees can register for programs at the Wordplay website. You will receive an email with a link to each event you register for. (The author presentations and question-and-answer sessions will be livestreamed on Crowdcast. Each event will also be livestreamed simultaneously on the Loft’s YouTube and Facebook channels.)
Enhanced ticket options are available for $35. After the evening sessions, enhanced ticket holders will have the opportunity to join a facilitated discussion with an expert and ask questions they didn’t ask the author.
When it comes to the future of book festivals, Opitz suggests that we will likely see some mix of live events and virtual broadcasting, since virtual formats make festivals more accessible for authors and attendees. “We can have someone in Tennessee attending our book festival in Minneapolis,” Opitz remarked. She also mentioned that audience questions can be more carefully curated and focused in the digital age, a change that many authors and attendees appreciate.
Andy Belmas is a board member of the Minnesota Book Publishers’ Roundtable. He is the lead marketing communications specialist at Llewellyn Worldwide.