There’s an undeniable allure to a ‘backstage pass.’ It has an air of exclusivity about it, doesn’t it? If you’re lucky enough to snag one, you gain access to rare and coveted insights very few will ever know. It’s like being at a movie and you get to meet the lead actor, or attending a concert and hobnobbing with the headliner. Backstage passes let you touch something that is largely – well – untouchable. And in Savannah one of the very best backstage passes around is a ticket to the annual Savannah Book Festival. “You can go backstage in a book?” you ask. You most certainly can…
Each February, the Savannah Book Festival hosts the best-of-the-best among today’s literary geniuses for a four-day festival that is equal parts exhilarating and enlightening (and yes, we’re talking about books – really!). Last year, over 10,000 people enjoyed Festival events and activities and if you attended previous Festivals, you could have asked James Patterson if he’s ever been perplexed by his own plot twists, or taken a selfie with Stephen King right after he signed your copy of his latest thriller. Now in its 11th year, the popularity and renown of the Savannah Book Festival has grown so immensely that best-selling authors and top publishers frequently ask to be included in the Savannah event months in advance.
“The Savannah weather alone holds great appeal to these authors who are typically riding out the winter months in New York City and Chicago,” explained Kim Bockius-Suwyn, executive director of the Savannah Book Festival. “We also have an Author Host program that pairs authors with gracious Savannahians who love to wine, dine and help them enjoy our wonderful city.” Warm weather combined with gracious hosts has earned Savannah a reputation for having a great festival with a ‘literate and enthusiastic audience’ – and what author wouldn’t love that?
This year, the 2018 Savannah Book Festival will be held Thursday through Sunday, February 15-18. The main event, known as Festival Saturday (February 17) is free and open to the public. Yes, you read that right. It’s FREE! From 9 am until 5 pm at six venues around Telfair, Wright and Chippewa Squares in Historic Downtown Savannah, Ga., over 40 authors will speak and take questions from attendees on topics ranging from their own books and experiences to advice and inspiration for aspiring novelists. Among the authors included in Saturday’s festivities you can hear from popular thriller writer Catherine Coulter, Stephen King’s son, Joe Hill and modern literary darling, Tom Perrotta. The Festival also has a first this year in comic-book writer, Reza Farazmand.
“There may be 40 authors but they are all within walking distance of one another,” offered Kim, “and this year we will be introducing a new Festival App with a GPS function to help people navigate where they want to be and when.”
Forty authors in one day may seem like a lot, but it’s planned by design so that when one venue fills up, you can be assured there is another author speaking just a few steps away (helpful tip: plan to park your car near the three squares then walk from venue to venue – they’re that close!). And with the help of the Festival’s new App, you’ll know – real time – if a venue is getting full and then easily identify a Plan B in the palm of your hand.
To make the most of your time – and stave off those embarrassing stomach grumblings that always peak during the quietest moment of a presentation – Festival Saturday also includes a mix of Food Trucks conveniently located in Telfair Square. From tacos to pizza, sweets to food with Latin flair, you’ll get your fill and never miss a beat of the day’s activities.
But wait, there’s more! As in three more authors and three more days to get a delicious literary fix in a truly inspiring setting. On Thursday, Friday and Sunday, those lucky enough to secure a ticket can hear from bestselling authors at the Festival’s Opening, Keynote and Closing Addresses, all held at Trustees Theater in downtown Savannah.
It all begins on Thursday, February 15 at 6 pm, when author Diana Gabaldon will give the Opening Address. Known for her New York Times bestselling Outlander novels, Gabaldon has been hailed as authoring “the smartest historical sci-fi adventure-romance story” by Salon magazine and is currently writing her ninth book in the Outlander series. Gabaldon also serves as co-producer and writer for the equally popular Outlander TV series on the Starz network.
“Diana has been on our “wish list” for years but has been busy writing,” said Kim. “She took a break to welcome her first grandchild this year and we were able to invite her to the Savannah Book Festival.” Not surprisingly, the day the Festival announced Gabaldon’s appearance, their Facebook page experienced the most traffic in its history. “People are coming from all over the U.S. to see her…and I bet a few will be in kilts,” added Kim.
Peak behind the curtain once again on Friday, February 16 at 6 pm, when author Lisa Ko will deliver the Festival’s Keynote Address, also at Trustees Theater. Ko’s debut novel, The Leavers, won the 2016 PEN/Bellwether Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Award. If (like me) you’re not wholly familiar with the PEN/Bellwether, according to the organization’s website, it was created in 2000 by Barbara Kingslover to promote fiction that addresses issues of social justice and the impact of culture and politics on human relationships. In The Leavers, Ko tells the story of a boy who comes into his own after he loses everything and how a mother learns to live with the mistakes of the past. Ko’s fiction work has also appeared in Best American Short Stories 2016 and numerous other publications.
“Lisa Ko is our first debut novelist as a Keynote author,” noted Kim. “Her book has ben a huge critical success and we thought it would be interesting to catch a rising literary star mid-flight.”
The third and final Address is, fittingly, the Closing Address, which will be given by Jodi Picoult on Sunday, February 18 at 2 pm at Trustees Theater. Picoult is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of 24 novels, including Small Great Things, Leaving Time, The Storyteller, Lone Wolf and My Sister’s Keeper among others. She has also written two young-adult novels with her daughter, Off the Page and Between the Lines.
“Jodi’s fans are loyal and eager,” stated Kim. “She writes such fascinating novels about topics we hear about in the news every day and we hope while here she will talk about how she picks such controversial subjects and why she is drawn to them.”
So….are you ready for your backstage ‘book’ pass? Think of it this way: maybe the Savannah Book Festival is the perfect excuse for a girls’ retreat (it is intellectual after all!). Then again, with the Festival being held near Valentine’s Day (in the culinary and romantic mecca of the south no less) this could be the makings of the perfect couple’s getaway. Of course sometimes the best escapes are those that are just for YOU! And the Savannah Book Festival offers a prime opportunity to actually stick to that New Year’s resolution and ‘learn something new’ this year – – with the added bonus of knowing the synapses in your brain are having rapid-fire fun!
Whoever you go with, once you attend you’ll definitely want to return year after year (speaking of, why not go ahead and make your reservations for next year – – it’s never too soon for this sellout event!). Even if you don’t have as much time these days to read as you’d like (I completely relate) you can still up your literary game – big time – all while having a phenomenal time. See you at the Festival!
THIS JUST IN (really – we’re not making this up)! Before we could even go live with this post, tickets for both the Opening and Closing Addresses SOLD OUT within minutes! So if you want to try to secure a ticket to the Keynote, then stop everything and go to savannahbookfestival.org and click the ‘buy tickets’ button in the top right corner –good luck!