In late February, I flew up to NYC to visit publicists during what has been an annual trip for DBF staff since Tom Bell and Daren Wang first ventured north to present the idea of a book festival in this then little-known city of Decatur, GA.
On the plane, the woman in the seat next to me was wearing a mask. The virus was just appearing in the news but I hadn’t been thinking much about it. The mask surprised me. Did I need one too? My mind had been elsewhere during the weeks before this trip. I’d been studying publisher’s catalogs and making lists of authors I wanted to secure for the festival. Also, I had an idea.
I wanted to find out more about what the NYC publishing world thought of the Decatur Book Festival, and about Atlanta as a book tour destination. I was curious about how we measured up.
At the beginning of each of the thirteen meetings I had planned during the week, I asked about this. The responses from publicists were universally the same: Decatur is one of the four tentpole book festivals in the country, up there with Miami, Los Angeles, and Texas, and it’s one that visiting authors regularly rave about.
As the week progressed, my notebook filled up with the names of authors and the titles of their books. Wonderful authors, wonderful books. I carried copies around in my backpack and read in coffee shops between meetings, then back at my hotel in the evenings. From the looks of it, our 15th anniversary festival was going to be terrific.
On the last day, in a big-window, 81st floor Wall Street office overlooking the East River, I listened to two publicists pitch smart nonfiction books about social justice, climate change, and Hip Hop and I thought about how when I was a college student in Oregon, anytime Georgia ended up in the news it was either because of an ice storm or traffic. I was proud of my state.
That afternoon I flew back to Atlanta unaware that a pandemic was simmering across the land below. Now, like everybody else, we are adjusting to a new normal we all hope is temporary. And while it looks like we may not be able to have a physical festival Labor Day weekend, we are in the process of reimagining the DBF and how we might bring books and conversations to Atlanta this year.
We’d love your input so if you have ideas about what we might do with all the good that is the DBF, send us an email: firstname.lastname@example.org