The Bay Area Book Festival was founded on principles of social justice. In light of current
events, we are proud to claim solidarity with everyone speaking up and doing the work to
dismantle a longstanding legacy of racial inequality.
Actions may speak louder than words, but words also have the power to change our hearts and
minds and inform our actions. Books can give us the ability to confront the truth and bear
witness—to our own lives, and to others. Our June picks address our strange and volatile times
to help invigorate, inform, and transport us:
Irish literary superstar McBride burst onto the international scene with her debut novel A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, which took six months to write and nine years to publish. Once it finally made its way into the world, it became a sensation, winning the Women’s Prize for Fiction and leading Anne Enright to designate McBride as “that old-fashioned thing, a genius.” Strange Hotel, McBride’s third novel, is just as convention-defying, delving deep into the singular consciousness of a woman who lives inside her own head, haunted indelibly by the past and seeking refuge in thought at the expense of emotion. A feat of profound psychological suspense and insight, Strange Hotel is the perfect novel for these decidedly strange and distanced times.
Catch McBride in a riveting Bay Area Book Festival #UNBOUND conversation with Brooke Warner of She Writes Press.
At a time when the meaning of “community” and collective accountability is a matter of urgent import, and when the role of law enforcement in our cities is under deserved scrutiny, We Keep us Safe offers a compassionate, hopeful re-imagining of what “public safety” really entails. Called “an enormously important contribution in the efforts to advance human rights in this country” by bestselling Just Mercy author Bryan Stevenson, this is a blueprint for the kind of community we need to create and sustain, now more than ever.
Catch Norris, the Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, with Conor Dougherty, Joe Wilson, and San Francisco Chronicle journalist Heather Knight in an #UNBOUND conversation about homelessness and the housing crisis, “No Place to Shelter: What COVID-19 Reveals About Inequality,” on June 25th at 7 PM.
National Book Award winner Finney’s latest collection is subtitled “Poems and Artifacts,” and it’s easy to see why: with its cast of ancestors, witness-stand testimonies, and relics from 400 years of black American life, this book gives new meaning to the term “docu-poetry.” In a starred review, Publishers Weekly says that “Finney’s skillful, sweeping epic ambitiously connects personal and public history.” This is a gorgeous, sweeping masterwork from one of contemporary poetry’s most original and visceral voices.
In these tumultuous times, we’re finding comfort and inspiration in revisiting this cathartic #UNBOUND conversation between Finney and Pulitzer Prize winner Jericho Brown, in which they talk about the murders of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, the role of identity in poetry, and the profound mission these remarkable poets share: the ability to bear witness through art.
Award-winning children’s book author Meg Fleming whisked us away on an adventure of shell-collecting, shoreline-exploring, and sand-castle-building. The delightfully exuberant rhymes and the sun-drenched, animal-filled illustrations of this picture book were exactly what we needed at the Bay Area Book Festival to bring us a sense of discovery, rejuvenation, and playfulness to beat the sameness of day-to-day. This book is as invigorating as a sea breeze.
Check out our recent conversation with the author and illustrator and pick up some Spanish along the way from Argentinian illustrator Paola Zakimi.
Two books we read in tandem. Because they are important. Bestselling authors Lois Lowry and Jan Terlouw write about war, heroism and humanity that transcends geography, nationality and time. With On the Horizon, two-time Newberry Award medalist Lowry draws from her own childhood memories of Hawaii and Japan in an honest and empathetic account of lives lost and forever altered by the twin tragedies of Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima. Jan Terlouw’s Winter in Wartimehas been in print for almost fifty years, for good reason: this beloved novel, based on Terlouw’s own boyhood in wartime Holland, is a young-adult classic with the suspenseful pacing of a thriller. Heroism, not war, takes center stage in these books: the everyday heroism of young people in extraordinary times. We need these voices, young and old to remind us of universal humanity.
On Saturday, July 11, will be featuring Lois Lowry and Jan Terlouw in conversation with seventh-graders Tej Wong and Quinn Boyd-Roberts in the episode ‘Heroism in the Face of Tragedy.’ Check out our upcoming schedule for details.
We were swept away across the high seas in Maggie Tokuda-Hall’s fantasy debut. Tokuda-Hall doesn’t shy away from connecting fantasy to history. In a world divided by colonialism and threaded with magic, protagonist pirate Florian, born Flora, and Lady Evelyn Hasegawa, high-born imperial daughter, cross lines of class and identity to fall in love, cross paths with haunting mythical creatures and double agents along the way to their shared fate.
Perhaps you caught this recent illuminating KQED story about how California arts nonprofits and individual artists/writers have sprung into action to support people who are isolated, traumatized, and scared in the midst of the pandemic. The Executive Director of Californians for the Arts, Julie Baker, used the term “second responders” to describe the role of the arts in times of crisis:
“A first responder comes in and saves a life. A second responder comes in and helps to rebuild a life.”
That’s what we’re trying to do with our virtual #UNBOUND author conversation series. After our May launch, we’re now looking at an uncertain summer. Our June programming offers a literary lifeline, centered on authors and books that bring you peace of mind, food for thought, and balm for the soul. Here are some of our favorites:
Trust bestselling author and historian Adam Hochschild to unearth one of history’s forgotten heroines and give her story the page-turning treatment it deserves. Russian immigrant Rose Pastor Stokes spent her first twelve years in America in a sweatshop, only to skyrocket to the upper class when she married an heir to a massive mining and real estate fortune. It’s a classic Cinderella story: that is, if Cinderella converted her prince to socialism, became an antiwar and labor activist, caused a scandal by promoting birth control access, and was dubbed “one of the most dangerous influences of the country” by a sitting President.
Want more? Check out our virtual conversation with Adam Hochschild on June 2, 7pm.
When Festival Writer & Development Manager Suzanne Rivecca first moved to San Francisco years ago, journalist David Talbot’s history of the city, Season of the Witch, opened her eyes to the political machinations, complex roots, cultural and social and racial intricacies, and utter, wild, unduplicated uniqueness of this topographical and emotional roller-coaster of a town. With Between Heaven and Hell, he once again takes an enormously complicated subject—sickness and recovery—and renders it not only digestible, but relatable and compelling. You might not expect a book about a major medical catastrophe and its aftermath to be uplifting, but this one is—as well as emotionally wise, funny, and raw in its honesty. A lifelong workaholic, Talbot says that his stroke ultimately made him a better person: more present, grateful, and mindful. It certainly hasn’t dampened the wit and rigor of his writing, which is as sharp and insightful as ever.
Want more? Check out our virtual conversation with David Talbot and Sir Michael Moritz on June 11, 7pm.
Elderhood, a finalist for the 2020 Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction, is a clear-eyed, empowering, and penetrating look at aging. Aronson brings her professional expertise—she’s a geriatrician and Professor of Medicine at UCSF—and her incisive voice to bear on a subject that’s all too often avoided, sentimentalized, or cloaked in fear. In a culture and a country that worships youth and averts its eyes from the realities and rewards of growing older, Elderhood is exactly the antidote we need to the misinformation and invisibility that we sometimes project upon the experience of aging. Aronson’s wish is for all of us to “look at the final third of life with the same concern, creativity, and rigor as we view the first two-thirds.”
Want more? Check out our virtual conversation with Louise Aronson and KALW’s Jenee Darden on June 18, 7pm.
“An art-positive story rich in love, determination, and delightfully big words for brains of all sizes,” is what Kirkus Reviews says in a starred review of this supercalifragilisticexpialidocious third book in Averbeck’s Sophia series, where precocious Sophia and her pet giraffe Noodle learn how to look at life, love, and art. And we, at the Bay Area Book Festival, concur. We’ll let you in on a secret: Our Children’s programmer, Mina Witteman, isn’t American or a native-English speaker, so she jumps at every chance to up her vocabulary. And Sophia’s empowering smarts and big words are just plain beguiling.
Want more? Check out our virtual conversation with Jim Averbeck and Yasmeen Ismail on June 27, 10 am.
Dinosaurs existed. That’s a fact that we accept today. But not so long ago, the concept that these giant creatures could have roamed Earth millions of years before humans even existed was unfathomable. People believed that what we now know are dinosaur bones were the bones of giant humans. Or large elephants. Or angels, even. In The First Dinosaur: How Science Solved the Greatest Mystery on Earth Ian Lendler takes you on a skull-and-bone and fossil filled journey that will unearth Earth’s greatest mystery.
Want more? Check out our virtual conversation with Ian Lendler and amazing 11 year-old Aria Sindledecker on June 6, 11 am.
Girls Garage is the only book you’ll ever need for a lifetime of building and repair. Packed with over 175 illustrated tool guides, 11 how-to projects, 21 essential skills, and 15 inspiring stories from real-world builder girls and women, this 300 page compendium will inspire you to fill up your toolbox and get building! With a background in architecture and construction, Emily Pilloton started the nonprofit Girls Garage to give girls the tools to build the world they want to see. Since 2013, girls ages 9-18 have come to Girls Garage’s workshop eager to use power tools and build real-world projects for their community. The Girls Garage book puts that same power into girls’ hands around the world, inviting them to join a thriving, diverse, and fierce movement of fearless build.
Since its inception in 2015, The Bay Area Book Festival has built a reputation for the quality of its literary programs, its international scope, and its commitment to informed public discourse, empathy, and open-mindedness. Although we’ve had to cancel our in-person Festival (May 2-3), we’ve gone virtual with the Bay Area Book Festival #UNBOUND, launching over the weekend of May 1-3. We’re dedicated to continue sharing the works of great authors, supporting booksellers, and engaging the literary community. During these trying times, books make us feel much less alone, no matter how far from home (or from each other) we are. In this monthly column, we hope to bring you a slice of literary goodness in the form of new books to enjoy, share, and discuss – even if it’s from a distance.
To have an assignment, Pastor Vern said, you have to be a woman of blood. Thus begins Chelsea Bieker’s first novel, the tale of a suddenly motherless young woman whose life has been upended by a charismatic cult. Our Director of Literary Programming, Kisky Holwerda, was enraptured by this debut, which Entertainment Weekly called “fiercely written and endlessly readable…a godsend.” This riveting story of trauma, resilience, and feminist awakening has earned comparisons to works by Margaret Atwood and Emma Cline; but the vision and voice of Godshot is entirely Bieker’s own.
This illuminating exploration of San Francisco’s historic, unparalleled housing crisis, by New York Times economics reporter Dougherty, does justice to the complexity of a situation we Bay Area denizens are all too familiar with. From low-income renters to displaced communities of color to affluent techies, everyone has a stake in this issue—and, as Dougherty shows, the factional voices threaten to drown one another out. The New Yorker recently lauded Golden Gates for shedding light on the counterproductive nature of tribalism and the need for concrete, workable solutions to a crisis that impacts us all.
Since the shelter-in-place order began, our Executive Director, Cherilyn Parsons, has been dipping into Hirshfield’s ninth volume of poetry for a daily dose of transcendence and beauty. Hirshfield’s work is a bracing tonic for troubled times: Ledger‘s first poem, “Let Them Not Say,” was circulated widely, as a source of prescient, bittersweet solace, on the day President Trump was elected in 2016. Fittingly, Publishers Weekly praised the book as “both a paean and a heartbreaking plea.”
Is there a book that celebrates being outside in a timelier way than Outside In? We don’t think so. This gorgeous picture book by New York Times bestselling author Deborah Underwood is an exquisite celebration of the outdoors. It shows us how outside is inseparably connected to inside and, more importantly, how we can still enjoy the beauty of nature while inside. We see, we hear, we experience nature in its full glory. Might you doubt the book’s power? It garnered not just one, but FIVE starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, and other literary trades, and it is bound to become a classic that deserves a place in everyone’s library!
Most of us are stuck inside now; and we know just how hard that can be: even if we share a native tongue with those we’re sheltering in place with, , it can sometimes feel like we don’t speak the same language. In this adorable picture book, two grandpas, Abuelo and Opa, can’t communicate due to a language barrier. Their grandson’s clever thinking finds a way for everyone to share the day. How? With music! Reading this book with your little ones will make everyone sing and dance together again.
“Honest and tender…a must-read,” says Kirkus Reviews in its starred rave for this middle grade novel by Ernesto Cisneros: a story that tugs at your heartstrings from the first page. Cisneros takes you deep into Efrén’s life with his hard-working but undocumented Mexican parents. When his mother is deported by ICE, Efrén has to step up and care for his younger siblings, juggling schoolwork, caretaking, and intense worry about his mother’s fate, while trying to figure out who’s trustworthy and who’s not. In this exceptional debut, Cisneros shows us the grit, courage, and resilience of our nation’s immigrant communities in a time of widespread injustice and uncertainty.
“A singular voice in the world of literature,” bestselling YA author Jason Reynolds proclaims on the cover of Randy Ribay’s new YA novel. A National Book Award Finalist and an NPR “Best Book of the Year”(amongst a long list of other distinctions), Ribay’s novel follows Jay Reguero, whose pre-college plans consisted of biding his time and playing video games. Everything changes when his cousin Jun is killed by the police in the Philippines. Jay has no choice but to return to his home country and reckon with painful truths about his family, himself, and the story behind this tragic loss. Ribay pulls you into Jay’s and Jun’s life stories unflinchingly, without shying away from the emotional and political complexities and dangers of this fraught and riveting terrain. A truly remarkable book.
Well, it’s been one year since we opened our doors to the public. The thing I distinctly remember was Ross pushing to open today and me still painting the two window boxes as the Downtown Partnership crew was walking through the door to see what we had created, camera in hand. I was still wearing my painting clothes, which doesn’t mean much because, after 90 days of renovating, literally all of our clothes had become painting clothes.
While this is a far stretch from what Ross and I imagined our 1-year anniversary would look like, we’re even more proud of what we built over the last year—and in particular—in spite of the COVID-19 shelter-in-place order that hit in mid-March. There are many things we had planned (Find Waldo, author events, Children’s Book Week, book festivals) that have now been impacted by this awful virus, but I’d rather focus on all that we accomplished instead.
During the holidays, it felt like we were hitting our stride. Our book sales were pretty steady, although still unpredictable. We learned that what we anticipated that our Downtown customers would want (politics and current events) were not the most popular genre. The top-selling genre is general fiction, as opposed to non-fiction. While many bookstores around the country find success offering non-book items, we learned that you guys don’t want the sidelines so much. You’re hard-core readers, and that says a lot about Sacramento. We are the literary city that too many publishers think doesn’t exist in Sacramento. We’ll leverage this to our advantage in attracting big-name authors to our bookstore once we’re able to hold events again. We were also seeing interest in the cooperative events we were doing with the Crest Theater. Proof that our business plan will work.
We were fortunate that we had already invested in a robust website and Point of Sale system prior to opening last April. That positioned us nicely for the sort-of organized chaos that began in March. Our challenge was effectively operating with only half of our staff. For safety reasons, we furloughed all of them, leaving only Heidi and Ross to run things…while our business increased. It hasn’t been easy, but we keep tweaking things to make it run more efficiently. We’ll be bringing back all of our staff when it’s safe.
What this last year taught me—that I hadn’t anticipated—is how many customers would become friends. Not only have we learned many of your names and faces, but we remember when new babies were born or due dates, your children’s names, what types of books you enjoy, and where you work. It’s what I miss most during this shelter-in-place period.
We wanted to acknowledge our wonderful staff and volunteers—Tommy, Megan, Anara, Nicole, Erica, and Shae. It didn’t take COVID to make us realize how much we already appreciated them, but we sure do miss their faces (and help) around the store during the quarantine.
On the horizon for us:
We will survive this and be even stronger for it. Soon, we’ll begin the process of renovating the second floor to become what we’ve been promising clients for the past year: wine, beer, coffee and books. We’ll start with the books part and add the other stuff as we get licensing and permitting. The upstairs will expand on the Art Deco of the first floor, but add more of a Miami Beach flair to it. It’s going to be really fun up there with Flamingos (not real ones) and lively colors.
Once the shelter-in-place order lifts, we’ll continue to offer book delivery (with a small fee) and curbside pickup for those who don’t want to hassle with parking. But please don’t think of us as your Amazon alternative with these services. The whole point to a brick and mortar shop is for that human interaction. Please continue to come in as much as you can. It’s what makes our store special.
We also plan to host an anniversary party for those who supported us during the quarantine period (when it’s fully safe to gather). From the bottoms of our hearts, Ross and I can’t thank our customers enough for an amazing first year. When you come by, you’ll get to see our new sign that was installed on Tuesday. Now you’ll be able to find us even easier.
Resilience: “The ability of a substance or object to spring back easily into shape.” The Oxford English Dictionary could have been describing this year’s Bay Area Book Festival, because that’s exactly what they’re doing. Although the beloved festival only announced its cancellation due to COVID-19 safety concerns on March 11th, festival director Cherilyn Parsons and her indomitable team have already developed an online alternative: Bay Area Book Festival #Unbound. The restructured event will feature several lecture tracks: voting rights (the original headliner for this year’s festival), health and wellness, and the power of literature during times of crisis.
Beginning on May 1st, virtual attendees can browse the Festival’s website to access #Unbound’s stimulating programming. Live Zoom workshops include “Vote by Mail,” a voting rights discussion with New York Times editorial board member Jesse Wegman, author of Let the People Pick the President: The Case for Abolishing the Electoral College and Amber McReynolds, co-author of the book When Women Vote. “Restoring Democracy,” an additional panel with Carol Anderson, Jeff Fleischer, and Elizabeth Rusch, educates young adults about the American election cycle, why voting matters, and how they can participate.
Health and wellness highlights include a panel on end-of-life planning with local COVID-19 expert Dr. Sunitra Puri and Shoshana Berger and BJ Miller, coauthors of A Beginner’s Guide to the End: Practical Advice for Living Life and Facing Death, as well as “Parenting in a Time of Crisis,” featuring psychologist and New York Times best-selling author Madeline Levine.
#Unbound’s literary lineup delves into diverse topics from mysteries to children’s creative writing and women’s literature. “Queens of Mystery: Writer-to-Writer with Rachel Howzell Hall and Meg Gardiner” is the first installment in the festival’s writer-to-writer conversation series, which will continue through the end of June. “Ready, Set, Write: NaNoWriMo Middle Grade & Young Adult Challenge with the Bay Area Book Festival” is a one-hour challenge for young creative writers designed to help them finish the first draft of a novel. The Festival’s year-round Women’s Lit program will debut its virtual version, Women’s Lit Lunch Hour, with a conversation between novelist Chelsea Bieker and Brooke Warner, publisher of She Writes Press and SparkPress.
Streaming events through Zoom or posting interviews to YouTube might seem straightforward enough, but the Bay Area Book Festival is aiming higher than spur-of-the-moment uploads. Director Cherilyn Parsons recently paused from her flurry of planning to chat with Capital Booksabout what to expect from #Unbound, as well as what emotional support readers and writers can offer each other during the COVID-19 crisis.
Edited excerpts from the conversation appear below.
Capital Books: Your cancellation statement came out pretty recently. Can you tell us about everything that went into the original festival?
Cherilyn Parsons: Yes, it came out March 11th, and we were supposed to go live with the schedule on March 20th. We start planning the year’s festival in the previous July actually, because you have to book the authors that far in advance. We were watching the news, and were hugely concerned about public health, and not wanting to risk anyone. We’re a nonprofit festival and this is a public service, and the last thing we would want to do is create any kind of risk. At first, a few days before the full cancellation, we had decided internally to cancel the outdoor festival. We have a big outdoor fair, which has a San Francisco Chronicle stage which seats about 650 people, we have a big children’s area, then we have a couple hundred literary exhibitors, and then we have a bunch of literary programs which are indoors. First we canceled the outdoor fair, but it became clear that we just had to cancel [the festival]. But we wanted to make sure the authors heard from us before they heard about it on Twitter. Same thing with the exhibitors. There’s a lot of constituencies: our board, major donors, the venues. It’s like a thousand people directly involved in putting on a festival like ours. These are our partners, and we wanted to communicate to everyone.
Capital Books: Your original cancellation statement pointed participants toward the 2021 festival, so it’s amazing you’re developing an online festival on such short notice. Can you tell us what to expect?
CP: We previously had 265 authors and 130 programs, and there’s no way we can do all of that online. We respect the authors so much that we want to give them a really solid platform and high production value. So rather than putting two people up in front of laptops with Zoom and then slap it up on YouTube, we wanted to prepare them and make sure of the lighting and sound, so we have now a full system and platform for doing high-quality production for the sessions. We’ll launch it on May 2nd and 3rd, and we’ll likely do one live event on Saturday night that would a fundraiser, but I don’t know all the details yet. We’ll probably do the first program on the Friday night before the festival weekend [the 1st], then we’ll have a kids’ program on Saturday morning, then the fundraising top-billed, author head-liner event that Saturday night, then another kids’ event on Sunday morning, then another event on Sunday night. And then the plan is to go to Tuesdays and Thursdays, probably around 7pm, festival events, and then we’ll do kids’ events. And we’re trying to figure out still the best days, whether like a weekday, or a Sunday morning is a best, but we’ll have at least one kids’ program a week as well. We’re planning to continue through July at least.
CB: Something that stood from last year’s festival was your author interviews that were led by kids and high schoolers. Is there still going to be a chance for kids to do that this year?
CP: Absolutely! We would welcome engagement on that front. So there are these four areas of the Festival this year: There’s the Voting Rights, Wellness, the pure Literary, and then the fourth area is Children’s. And we are looking at the same kind of thing that we were going to do at the Festival, which is picture book writers doing story times with the kids and little performances. And then [we’re going] to have young people interview authors, middle-grade and YA. So exactly the same thing.
CB: How do you think readers and writers can support each other during this time? We’re used to FaceTiming friends and family, and many of us have attended the Festival in person. But this whole idea of connecting with your favorite author online, how do you see facilitating that inspiration?
CP: Books themselves seem like a very solitary, interior kind of experience. Usually it’s just you engaging with the book. When the writer is writing the book, it’s just the writer delving deeply into their own heart, soul, mind, what they care about, and then they channel that and put that on the page. They can write the book and read the book at different times and different places but you have this sort of amazing connection between two human beings: the writer and the reader. In a sense it’s already a little bit of virtual reality. You’re entering into this space, and yes, the “screen” is your imagination, and yet that’s sort of what reading is like. When we bring the author into a virtual space and the audience is there, it’s sort of “unbound,” to use our term for the festival this year, in that you can ask questions of the author in real time. And I think we’ll get to hear some of the magic that went into creating this book: how they wrote it, what they were thinking about, what some of the challenges were, what the inspirations were. And the fact that it is sort of live does give you a feeling of participating. For example, you can also do that chat on the right-hand side…I love those! It really creates a sense of community of people who are watching. So in many ways, the online experience offers something the in-person doesn’t offer. Even if we have a physical festival, which of course we hope we do, we’re planning to do this again next year.
Cherilyn Parsons may fill her answers with the pronoun “we,” but it’s obvious that the Bay Area Book Festival #Unbound owes its lightning conception to her own resilient innovation. This same optimistic creativity led her to resign from her leadership role at the Center for Investigative Reporting and found the Bay Area Book Festival in 2015. Although this would have only been its sixth year, the Festival had already ballooned to 25,000 attendees, 250 authors, and 200 exhibitors as of 2019. This year’s guest list included literary stars such as Saeed Jones, Rebecca Solnit, Pico Iyer, Garth Greenwell, Lidia Yuknavitch, Percival Everett, and Terry Tempest Williams, several of whom will still appear in #Unbound’s online panels. If we can learn anything from Parsons and her resilient attitude, it’s that sheltering at home doesn’t have to be restrictive. We can reimagine ourselves and rediscover literature from inside our increasingly-too-familiar living spaces. And logging into the Bay Area Book Festival #Unbound is a fabulous place to start.