A Bigger, Better Bay Area Book Festival

A Bigger, Better Bay Area Book Festival


The Bay Area Book Festival brings noted authors, poets, and films to the forefront.

This year’s gathering for bibliophiles brings 300 authors, dozens of poets, erotic literature, films, and children’s programming to Berkeley on June 4-5.

A cavalcade of literary talent is heading into the Bay Area the first weekend in June, to open our minds with stories, poems, and ideas at the second Bay Area Book Festival. Last year’s inaugural event was a smashing success, and organizers say this year’s festival will be bigger and better in many ways.

Start with some extracurricular events like the evening at Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse with performance poets Saul Williams and Chinaka Hodge. Sidestep into the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive to witness Auteur, Author: a collection of literary films including the breathtaking original Walter Farley’s The Black Stallion. Giggle or blush through the saucy presentation of Shipwreck’s Literary Erotic Fanfiction, based on The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (not for children).

“Poetry is going to be really exciting this year, with no less than three U.S. poets laureate participating. But watch for the younger poets especially. We’ve got an incredibly diverse slate of poets from all sides of the bay reading and speaking about their first and second books,” said poet Rachel Richardson, who is appearing on two panels.

“Poetry at the festival this year is taking a big piece of the limelight, and is taking on all the major topics of our day, from politics to desire to the zeitgeist of the now.”

California acts as a muse for many writers, and for no one more than poets. The festival, which runs June 4 and 5 in downtown Berkeley, will feature more than a dozen poets this year with voices of innocence or experience. Attendees will hear Kay Ryan in conversation with Dana Gioia, enjoy current U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera reading from his recent work, and watch Robert Hass introduce a slate of new poets everyone should be reading now.

But it’s the vastly expanded children’s programming that takes center stage, according to Cherilyn Parsons, executive director and founder of the event. “It’s super rich with fabulous authors,” she said, “all family-friendly.”

Visiting authors include Sherman Alexie with his first children’s book, Thunder Boy Jr., on stage Sunday in conversation with Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket); Inshallah, a panel featuring Muslim stories and children’s authors with Hena Khan, Zahra Noorbakhsh, N.H. Senzai, and Zareen Jaffery; and storytelling, puppets (Punch and Judy!), and music on the Kids’ Stage all weekend. There are panels on what books to read to your tiny “readers,” and some hands-on activities including how to make a book for the elementary-age group, and some writing assistance for aspiring teen writers from 826 Valencia.

The Journeys stage will showcase travel writing, memoir, and stories of place, like the panel of Irish authors who will speak about the cultural impact of Ireland in their writing: Sara Baume, Belinda McKeon, and Colm Tóibín, with Ethan Nosowsky as moderator. This session, set for Saturday at 1:15 p.m., is a tribute to the Irish students who died or were injured in the Berkeley balcony collapse a year ago. Stories of outsiders and misfits from Baume, Amara Lakhous, Jung Young-Moon, and Johanna Sinisalo also shine on the Journeys stage, as does Andy Steves, son of famous travel writer Rick Steves, talking about a student’s guide to budget travel in Europe.

Parsons was delighted to add these travelers’ tales to the roster. “Books have opened portals of imagination, so let’s have a Journeys stage—for books as a way of transporting [ourselves] to other cultures.” Authors from a dozen countries beyond our borders will share their writing, she said. “Diversity is a priority, and is a norm—we’ll have a lot of writers who reflect our audience and the world at large.”

A full slate of literature on film is planned for the BAMPFA program; besides The Black Stallion, look for films on Czeslaw Milosz, Orhan Pamuk, Elizabeth Bishop, Nelson Algren, and erotic poetry by Carlos Drummond de Andrade. (Visit the link for details: www.BayBookFest.org/content/festival/filmseries.html.)

Saturday’s event takes place side by side with the regular downtown farmers market, but on Sunday, that space becomes a vast chalk-drawing space with room for anyone who wants to draw. Some 220 vendors will have books and literature-related goods for sale (T-shirts, journals, and the like). Food trucks and live music plus street performers like clowns and rope tricksters add to the festivities.

And don’t miss the art installation called Lacuna. This temple made from books premiered last year; the books were donated, and are the very walls and roof of the temple. But please, take home some of these tomes. By festival’s end, there will be none left. Last year’s Lacuna was a delight; this year’s, the organizers hope, will be as successful and charming. Free books—how does it get better than that?

The indoor-outdoor Bay Area Book Festival takes place June 4-5, indoors and out, all ages, and much of it is free. Some extra events require tickets or nominal charges; check the website to request a free tickets to ensure your spot or purchase. The festival is centered at Civic Center Park and nine surrounding blocks. Street parking is a challenge, so use public transportation, walk, or bicycle to the events. www.BayBookFest.org.