BBF 2020: Politics and Poetry

Quite some time ago, it sank in that the 2020 Boston Book Festival would take place just a couple of weeks before a crucially important presidential election. “What a wild time that will be,” we said, back in 2019 or 2018. Little did we know just how wild things would get. Even though this year’s festival is virtual, our commitment to helping inform readers about the political topics of the day remains essential and real. Today, we’re pleased to announce presenters in two urgently relevant sessions about politics, as well as one more fascinating session about activism and resistance by Black Americans throughout our country’s history. We also are announcing our lineup of poetry presenters, developed in cooperation with Mass Poetry.


In a year when politics are on everyone’s mind, we are pleased to feature two important panels that will prompt deep consideration of our American political systems and landscape.

Black Voters: Power and Promise offers a consideration of a vitally important voting bloc with two authors who urge us to reconsider assumptions about voting behavior among Black Americans: Tiffany Cross (Say It Louder! Black Voters, White Narratives, and Saving Our Democracy) and Chryl Laird (Steadfast Democrats: How Social Forces Shape Black Political Behavior). This session will be moderated by WGBH’s Callie Crossley.

Elections: Is This the Best We Can Do? brings together three authors whose works prompt reflection on everything from gerrymandering to the primary system to the electoral college itself: Katherine M. Gehl (The Politics Industry), Alexander Keyssar (Why Do We Still Have the Electoral College?), and David Daley (Unrigged). This conversation will be moderated by WBUR’s Anthony Brooks.

For a glimpse at another pre-election BBF (and what seems like a lifetime ago), check out the audio archives from this BBF 2016 politics session, featuring McKay Coppins, Ellen Fitzpatrick, Alexander Keyssar, and Joy-Ann Reid, moderated by Anthony Brooks.


We are grateful to the James M. and Cathleen D. Stone Foundation and Plymouth Rock Assurance for sponsoring, for the second year in a row, a session highlighting winners and nominees for the MAAH Stone Book Award, which honors scholarship in African American history. This year’s session, moderated by 2019 Stone Award finalist Kellie Carter Jackson (Force and Freedom) also features Vincent Brown (Tacky’s Revolt), Kerri Greenidge (Black Radical), Garrett Felber (Those Who Know Don’t Say), and Jelani M. Favors (Shelter in a Time of Storm). Their discussion will focus on the many forms of constant, continued resistance by Black Americans against racism and racist policies and practices from the time of enslavement through to the present, the surge of particular Black radical movements at unique moments in history, and the wide range and diverse forms of activism cultivated in the Black community— from religious to academic institutions.

This is just one of several BBF 2020 sessions focusing on activism—read more about these sessions in our earlier blog post here.

You can hear last year’s MAAH-Stone Book Award session, “Black History Detectives,” here; it features Tera W. Hunt and Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers, in conversation with moderator Rayshauna Gray.


We’re pleased to partner with Mass Poetry on two incredible poetry sessions for the BBF online:

A conversation with Boston’s Poet Laureate Porsha Olayiwola (i shimmer sometimes, too) and first-ever Youth Poet Laureate Alondra Bombadilla will consider the role of poetry in civic life. This event is co-sponsored by Mass Poetry and the Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture.

Our perennially popular “Poems and Pints” sessions might be BYOB this year, but we’re excited about the possibilities of the virtual format for bringing depth and multimedia capabilities to readings by Diannely Antigua (Ugly Music), George Abraham (Birthright), Franny Choi (Soft Science), and Kay Ulanday Barrett (More Than Organs), in an evening hosted by Krysten Hill (How Her Spirit Got Out).

Stay tuned, and check back often on our presenters page  for more announcements and updates!

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