“How can we take this festival to the next level?”
That was the thought following last year’s Harrisburg Book Festival, even after a long weekend filled with acclaimed authors and thousands of guests, according to Midtown Scholar co-owner Catherine Lawrence.
She and Alex Brubaker, the bookstore manager, pondered how to make the festival even better. Well, a Grammy-nominated artist, an Oprah’s Book Club winner and President Barack Obama’s former speechwriter just might do the trick.
This month, Midtown Scholar hosts the 2018 Harrisburg Book Festival, the sixth such celebration of all-things literary, featuring a wide variety of book readings, signings and discussions, as well as children activities and more.
“We have exceptional novelists, historians, children’s authors,” Lawrence said. “The schedule is packed with the most interesting choices we could find. That is the important part of last year’s book festival that we definitely wanted to continue.”
Opening the festival is New York Times bestselling novelist and Oprah’s 2018 Book Club Selection author Tayari Jones, who will read from her novel, “American Marriage.” Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter—and now published poet—Mary Lambert will read from her new book, “Shame Is an Ocean I Swam Across.”
For the more politically minded, Beck Dorey-Stein, author of “From the Corner of the Oval,” is returning to Midtown Scholar, just months after her first visit. She will talk with another former White House employee and friend, David Litt, an Obama speechwriter who now is head writer for the comedy website and film company, Funny or Die. They will discuss what it was like coming of age in the Obama White House.
Another highlight will be Crystal Hanna Kim, who will read from her debut novel, “If You Leave Me.” Inspired by her grandmother who survived the Korean war, “If You Leave Me” follows the story of a young Korean refugee named Haemi Lee, who fled her home in the midst of the war. In the book, Lee grapples with her home crumbling, taking care of her widowed mother and younger brother and being in love with two other refugees.
“She’s a willful, independent, intelligent young woman,” Kim said. “But she’s living under the duress of poverty, hunger and violence.”
Kim also will converse with her friend and fellow debut novelist Lucy Tan of “What We Were Promised.” The pair will discuss the theme of home and how it is laced throughout their stories.
“I’m really excited to go to Harrisburg,” Kim said. “It seems like it is a really cultural city. And from what I heard, Midtown Scholar seems like such a strong cultural force in the city. I’m really excited to explore and be a part of a strong local community for the weekend.”
For Midtown Scholar, part of reaching “the next level” is pulling back on the number of events and authors this year. Rather than packing every hour with activities, the festival will space out events to give guests time to explore the bookstore and Harrisburg.
And, despite the major names on the schedule, attendees will have the same up-close-and-personal experience they’ve come to expect gathered around the bookstore’s stage.
“You might go see Tayari Jones in a venue of a thousand-plus attendees, but it’s easy to feel detached from the author,” Brubaker said. “We’re bringing in the same high-quality authors as these internationally renowned festivals—only in a much more intimate and personal setting—an independent bookstore.”
With so many acclaimed writers, Brubaker said that they expect more than 4,000 attendees, double last year’s number.
Aside from the opening and closing keynote speakers, the Harrisburg Book Festival is free and open to the public. For those who are not able to come out to the festival, Midtown Scholar will offer a podcast of the events the following day.
“One of our core missions at the book festival is to recognize that solitary act of reading and connect readers with not only the authors, but other readers in our community,” Brubaker said. “We want to throw a party to celebrate these books, these authors and our readers. We want to celebrate it with thousands of other book lovers across central Pennsylvania.”
The 2018 Harrisburg Book Festival will run Oct. 11 to 14 at Midtown Scholar Bookstore, 1302 N. 3rd St., Harrisburg. For more information, including a complete list of events, visit www.hbgbookfest.com.
The 2018 Harrisburg Book Festival features numerous book- and literary-themed events, including appearances by the following writers and authors:
- New York Times bestselling novelist Tayari Jones (opening keynote)
- Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter and poet Mary Lambert
- National Book Critics winner and New York Times bestselling critic Carol Anderson
- New York Times bestselling historian Liza Mundy
- President Barack Obama’s speechwriter David Litt and stenographer Beck Dorey-Stein
- Caldecott honoree Lauren Castillo
- Emerging novelists Crystal Hana Kim and Lucy Tan
- Joe Beddia, whose pizza was named Bon Appetit Magazine’s “Best Pizza in America”