Pushing into a new decade of life, the Savannah Book Festival continues to thrive, and its 11th year is no exception as the annual literary festival adds new aspects and showcases several first-time features.
The festival will host 44 authors this year, 41 of whom you can see for free. For the first time in its history, three women will make the keynote addresses this year.
Last year, an estimated 10,000 people participated in the festival. Organizers expect more this year.
"Last year, we took the festival in a bigger direction," Executive Director Kim Bockius-Suwyn said. "Since it was our 10th, we used the opportunity to try some new things; expand our wings a little bit. It was successful. This year, it's been trying to fill some big shoes. We want this one to be even better."
The festival kicks off Feb. 15 with an opening address from acclaimed novelist Diana Gabaldon. On Feb. 16, Lisa Ko will give a keynote address. Festival Saturday will feature 41 authors in six venues around Telfair, Chippewa and Wright squares, all for free. Awarding-winning novelist Jodi Picoult bookends the festival Feb. 18 with the closing address.
"When you look back at our history, women are very rarely in the keynote positions," Bockius-Suwyn said. "We send out 50 invitations for our headline authors. It's about who's available, who's not writing, who's interested in coming to Savannah for the weekend. It just so happened that it was three women. This was before the #MeToo movement. We stopped and said, is this OK? Not only is it OK, but this is fabulous! These are three really powerful voices."
The festival, as it has done in years past, sells tickets to its keynote addresses. Within minutes of going on sale, tickets for Gabaldon and Picoult sold out. As of Feb. 13, there were still tickets available for Ko's address. She is the first debut novelist to have a keynote spot at the festival.
"One thing we wanted to capture was the freshness of her experience," Bockius-Suwyn said of Ko. "Here she wrote a book that is a finalist for the National Book Award. She's getting a lot fabulous reviews. So, what's it like to be on that side of your career? A lot of times, our keynotes are more established, people who have been doing it for a while. More established authors, like a Jodi Picoult, who's had 24 books. I think she's going to be a great keynote."
This year, the festival will expand its digital footprint in hopes of creating an easier, more conducive experience for guests.
Along with a new website, they will introduce a new smartphone application that will enhance Festival Saturday. The app will make it easier to navigate the numerous events that run four at a time, concurrently throughout the day. It will also allow guests to see if a particular venue is full, since assigned seating has been eliminated. Information on each individual author is also available on the app, so guests can get a glimpse at who they are and what they've written.
Working with Savannah Food Truck Association, the festival will have 10 food trucks onsite during Festival Saturday.
"Another way that the festival has grown is, when you go on Saturday, there is a broad range of authors," Bockius-Suwyn said "We have people who are well established, thriller writers. And then we have people who are just starting out.
"One I am really looking forward to hearing from is "Why Bob Dylan Matters," from Harvard professor Richard Thomas. With all the PR about Dylan and the Nobel Prize, I think it's interesting to look at the lyrics he's written and why he would even be considered for a Nobel Prize. This year has an array of authors. We start with 150 invitations to get 40 authors. I start with a broad range of people. There's a little bit of magic in it, in how it all ends up in the end."
IF YOU GO
What: Savannah Book Festival
When: Feb. 15-18
Where: Downtown Savannah
Cost: Festival Saturday is free; keynote addresses are ticketed