“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” — Ray Bradbury
Into its 12th year, The Savannah Book Festival continues its mission of promoting the written word with its largest event yet, featuring 48 authors spread out over three days in seven venues across three historic squares.
Most of the festival is presented to the public for free, following the festival’s original mandate to keep costs low. The festival receives 90 percent of its funding from donations and the rest from ticket sales to the main addresses and book sales.
The authors-by-invitation-only festival, with its hallmark Festival Saturday, has grown tremendously from its first year with a handful of authors at Trinity United Methodist Church to a showcase of some of the best authors of our time, including James Patterson, Stephen King, Diana Gabaldon, Colson Whitehead, and Anne Rice.
“We’re just really fortunate that we have a great deal of support in this community, financially, with volunteers and people showing up to the festival,” Executive Director Kim Bockius-Suwyn said.
This year, the selection committee looked at 500 books, whittling it down to 150 invitations for Festival Saturday and 50 invitations for the three main addresses.
The three headlining addresses cost only $20 to attend. As of Friday, there were still tickets available for the opening address Feb. 14 with George and Paula Saunders and the closing address Feb. 17 with Lynn Vincent and Sara Vladic. The keynote address Feb. 15 with Daniel Krauthammer is sold out. The festival has sold out all three headlining addresses for the past two years and expects to do so again this year.
Although the festival operates during the publishing off-cycle, when professional authors are typically not touring new works, they’ve found success by pitching Savannah as a destination. The festival does not pay the authors, but provides travel and lodging for each of them, plus a chance to present a solo presentation — most of them happen on Festival Saturday — and sell some books. Each author averages about 100 to 150 book sales each year.
“It’s a great time in Savannah to have a book festival — in February,” Bockius-Suwyn said. “There’s not much else going on. Before we get crazy. But authors who are on a writing cycle, this is the time that a lot of authors are editing. If we wanted to catch all of the authors out there, we’d be in the fall; that’s when they’re out on the road.
"Because it’s so beautiful, and it’s on Valentine’s Day this year, we have a record number of companions coming with authors. I think people are using it as a little getaway.”
The headline addresses are a little different this year. The Saunders will be presenting together, with SCAD professor, author and SBF Board Member Jonathan Rabb moderating the conversation. Krauthammer will present solo, and Vincent and Vladic will present together in conversation.
“People are used to a single author behind the stage,” Bockius-Suwyn said of the Saunders. “This will be more in conversation, talking about their writing lives.
“He’s speaking by himself,” she said of Krauthammer. “There’s an intimacy there, having your son present your work posthumously, that I find intriguing.
“Sunday is Lynn Vincent, Sarah Vladic, and they’ll be in conversation,” Bockius-Suwyn continued. “The two of them on stage talking about their work. They’ve done this a couple of times and it’s really effective. It’s very interesting. Normally, we just have one author standing there. So it’s new for us.”
Food, fun for all ages
Also new this year is the Children’s Tent event on Sunday, a collaboration with Live Oak Public Libraries. Each year, the library system holds a Children’s Book Festival, but were unable to in 2018. They teamed up with SBF for a modified, smaller event. You can read more about that at dosavannah.com.
For the third year, SBF will bring out the food trucks as well. An estimated 11 food trucks will park around Telfair Square, the festival’s main hub, on Festival Saturday. SBF also teamed up with two food partners this year. Leopold’s Ice Cream has been been a longtime supporter and will return. Each year, Leopold's also renames its flavors after the authors in honor of the festival. Owner Stratton Leopold is a board member of the festival as well.
The new Grey Market has also come on board with literary-themed boxed lunches. The offshoot of nationally acclaimed Savannah restaurant The Grey just opened the doors on the small bodega on Jefferson Street late last year.
“When you’re promoting a book festival, there’s no noise like a music festival,” Bockius-Suwyn said, “or big screens like the film festival. Books are kind of a quiet thing. But when you have food trucks, there’s a smell about our book festival that draws people in. People come into the square that weren’t even intending on attending the festival, but at least they’re aware of us. They see the authors, maybe they’ll stop and buy a book.”
For the festival’s annual community outreach, a record 33 of the 48 authors will arrive a day early and visit area schools. The SMF at Schools program began in 2010, and sends acclaimed authors into local middle schools, high schools and universities to speak with students.
“What a gift to our community,” Bockius-Suwyn said.