Bay Area Book Festival Is in April This Year
By Lou Fancher
The fourth annual Bay Area Book Festival is bigger, bolder, more deeply embedded in Bay Area-based partnerships and bent on a mission to cultivate conversations about the common good.
“We started the festival completely from scratch,” said founder and executive director Cherilyn Parsons. “Now, we have systems, an excellent staff; we know what we’re doing.” In 2018, she added, divisiveness and discord in public and political exchanges led the festival team to zero in on restorative literature. “We’re conscious of reflecting where we are as a society. Last year, it was activism; this year, the responsibility is embracing new ideas, coupledom, overcoming divisions.”
Parsons and a bevy of staff, volunteers, and advisers are tapping into the Bay Area’s diverse, rich literary culture like never before. This year’s keynote speakers are former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich, who is also a UC Berkeley professor, political commentator, writer, with a “commitment to the common good” message, and travel writer Pico Iyer, whose interviews with luminaries including the Dalai Lama and Leonard Cohen provide insights into literature as a cross-cultural bridge builder. Other highlights include over 200 Bay Area, national, and international authors form 12 countries addressing with deliberate sensitivity hot-button issues such as hate, free speech, immigration, masculinity, Islamophobia, the politics of food, sexual assault, gender parity, and more. A free, outdoor fair, food trucks, and a family zone with live performances provide added entertainment and hands-on activities.
Especially for families, children’s book and YA writers are celebrated in appearances by local authors Dave Eggers, Mac Barnett, and former U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera, among others as well as a new initiative with the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria. The West Marin/Sonoma County tribe of Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo Indians in partnership with the festival introduces Native American Indian writers, a film, and a book produced with 600 youth in the tribe. “The students will be reading from their book,” said Parsons. “We’ve wanted to feature more Native American writers for years and decided to develop young writers at the source by encouraging these kids to write.”
Interest from UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ and the Division of Student Affairs influenced this year’s earlier-than-usual festival dates, April 28-29. “UC Berkeley wanted to be more involved. There are more faculty presenters and the chancellor will moderate a panel on women in philanthropy creating great universities. There’ll be a Cal Pavilion where students will read. We’re fully integrated,” said Parsons.
Downtown partnerships extend to the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, with a concurrent 10-film literature-themed festival; Berkeley Arts + Design working with best-selling writer Rebecca Solnit on messages of hope and social change; launch of the 2018 Young Authors Writing Contest open to all Bay Area youth; and what Parsons’ referred to as a “star-studded panel” of reviewers providing behind-the-scenes perspectives on book writing.
Asked to select one event the festival team is most excited to present, Parsons chose 92-year-old Auschwitz survivor and clinical psychologist Edith Eger. Her memoir, The Choice: Embrace the Possible, chronicles her life during the Holocaust, and by interweaving her patients’ stories, Eger paints a portrait of healing and self-acceptance. “It’s one of the most amazing books I’ve ever read,” Parsons said. “She talks about the value of suffering; the decision to turn suffering into a positive. It’s not ‘get over it’ cheerleading. She doesn’t deny suffering; she transmutes it into compassionate insight into how people live through and beyond trauma.”