Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Distance Learning: Midtown Scholar hosts its first virtual book talk.

Authors Katherine Stewart and John Fea

With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing people to stay home and businesses to close their doors, it seems as if the entire Harrisburg area has gone dim.

However, that didn’t stop Midtown Scholar Bookstore from bringing its famous book talks to the community. They just had to get a bit more creative.

On Wednesday evening, Midtown Scholar hosted its very first virtual book talk. The new series kicked off with New York Times bestselling author Katherine Stewart and fellow author and American history professor at Messiah College, John Fea.

Our event series is such a foundational piece of what we do here at the Scholar,” said Alex Brubaker, bookstore manager. “We couldn’t let it die simply because we couldn’t meet in person. If we can contribute some semblance of normalcy to our lives at this moment, it’s worth it.”

Almost 200 people tuned into the bookstore’s Crowdcast, a live video platform used for webinars, Q&As and more. Some audience members were streaming the book talk from places outside Harrisburg, as far away as Chicago and even Canada.

Stewart discussed her latest book, “The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism.” Fea, author of “Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump,” led the discussion surrounding religion, politics and their intersection with religious nationalism.

“It’s not just about evangelicals,” Stewart said. “[The religious nationalism movement] includes many evangelicals, but also excludes evangelicals and includes a variety of both Protestant and non-Protestant forms of religion.”

Stewart’s book dives into how America’s religious conservatives evolved into the Christian nationalist movement, which, she said, is better funded and more organized than many people realize. She reveals how the movement relies on think tanks, advocacy groups, pastoral organizations and even other religious nationalists around the world.

Both authors and Brubaker sat in their own rooms, with books lining the walls and dim lighting, almost giving the feeling of being back in the bookstore. Aside from very few technical hiccups, the conversation flowed smoothly. Audience members were able to chat amongst themselves using the live chat on the right-hand side of their screens.

For the Q&A portion of the talk, people were able to submit questions using the “ask a question” button at the bottom of the screen, and Brubaker then read them aloud.

“The live-stream was smooth,” Brubaker said. “The questions from the audience were thought-provoking, and the authors were on the top of their game. The outpouring of support and positivity from our attendees and viewers has been humbling, and we’re so, so thankful.”

The moments before closing Midtown Scholar’s physical store were surreal and scary, Brubaker said. However, it inspired this move to a more virtual presence, which can reach even more people.

“I think what makes indie bookstores so special is their presence in the community,” he said. “To see the wider network of indie bookstores still prioritize that sense of community and education to their customers in a time like this is really awe-inspiring. We’re all fighting. We’re all in this together, and we’ll continue to try to bring some sense of normalcy to our lives.”

During these tough times, the future of many small businesses may seem up in the air. According to Brubaker, the best way to support them is to make an online order or purchase a gift card. Midtown Scholar is currently adding an extra 10 percent to every gift card purchase.

“We’re still shipping books across the country, we’re still processing gift cards, answering emails, and we’re still hosting virtual events,” he said. “Tune in, buy some books, show us some love (even an uplifting note goes a long way!), and we’ll try to make it out of the other side of this thing.”

Next up in the virtual book talk series is author Casey Schwartz with her novel, “Attention, A Love Story,” on April 6 at 7 p.m. For more information, follow Midtown Scholar’s Crowdcast account at

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