The Boston Book Festival is celebrating its tenth anniversary in 2018, and we’re doing something big. For the first time ever, we’re bringing all the lively readings, discussions and festivities to two cultural centers of the city, East Boston and Roxbury!
The Neighborhood Festivals will be on the same day as the Copley Festival, Saturday, October 13, and some of the most nationally celebrated writers will be heading directly to you, including Oprah Book Club favorite Tayari Jones and New York Times bestseller Daniel Jose Older!
We’ll also feature local icons, such as ESPN sports writer Howard Bryant, Black Arts Movement leader Askia Toure, popular poet Simone John – and even music by Boston’s first-ever all female mariachi band!
We talked with BBF’s founder and executive director, Deborah Porter, and deputy director Norah Piehl to learn more about this new initiative and to a sneak peek from them on what’s to come.
How did you come up with the idea to start the Neighborhood Festivals?
DP: I have been frustrated for years at the relative lack of diversity among attendees at the BBF, despite a fair number of diverse voices presenting year after year. I finally realized that for the BBF to reach a broader audience, we should forge partnerships in other neighborhoods with the goal of bringing great programming to more people.
Why did you choose East Boston and Roxbury?
NP: In part, at least for last year’s pilot in East Boston, the decision was a practical one—we were looking for a Boston Public Library branch that was open on Saturday, that had enough space to host programming, that had a library staff who were excited about working with us, and that had the technological capacity to do things like project live-streamed programming.
But more broadly than that, we were looking to reach neighborhoods that have historically had relatively low attendance at the BBF in Copley, which is definitely true of both of these neighborhoods. We thought that in both cases, residents of these neighborhoods might benefit from having a fun, book-centered event take place right around the corner, rather than having to travel to Copley on a busy Saturday, especially for families where one or both parents might work on weekends.
What do you hope to achieve with this new initiative?
NP: We hope that the curated programming in each neighborhood allows attendees to see themselves and their neighbors reflected not only as part of a community of readers, but also to see authors, illustrators, and other brilliant, creative people—many of them creators of color—featured and celebrated in this way. And we hope that these two neighborhood festivals are just the beginning of what might become a true citywide celebration of books and reading!
Have you been surprised by the reception?
NP: I’ve been really gratified by the response to the programs, both in East Boston and in Roxbury. In Roxbury, in particular, because the Dudley Square BPL branch is currently closed for renovations, we’ve needed to establish other types of partnerships, and I think we’ve all been really excited by how many groups and individuals have wanted to get involved in shaping the program, spreading the word about the festival to their networks, and, in general, just helping the festival succeed as a real neighborhood-based event.
Where do you see this going in the future?
DP: I see the neighborhood festivals as being an eagerly anticipated event in the community, just as the main BBF is at Copley.
Any not-to-be missed sessions?
NP: In East Boston, besides all the great book-related programs, I’m really excited about the performance by Veronica Robles and her all-women mariachi band. One of our goals of festival day is to create a truly festive atmosphere, to make this day that’s centered on books and reading also feel like a celebration or a party. Having a wonderful musical performance by Veronica’s group will certainly achieve that goal! In Roxbury, I’m personally excited about the conversation between playwright and performer Liza Jessie Peterson and Black Arts movement pioneer Askia Touré, about the intersections between artistic production and social activism. It’s going to be a really vibrant discussion led by David Dower of ArtsEmerson, a long-time partner of ours who have really positioned themselves as leaders when it comes to producing theatrical work that also serves a social purpose.
DP: All the sessions are not-to-be missed! Some of our most amazing authors from the main stage in Copley are appearing at the neighborhood festivals, as well as outstanding local talent. It should be a fun day all around!