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September 7, 2018

Alison Law Reports on the AJC Decatur Book Festival

Posted by carol

Alison Law is an unapologetic book pusher and author enabler. Host of the Literary Atlanta podcast, she interviews authors who are residents there, as well as those who have subject matter ties to the area, or who are visiting metro Atlanta on book tour. Alison also has had the privilege of interviewing authors or moderating literary discussions at live events like Writers at the Wrecking Bar, the Beyond Books monthly author series, and, of course, the AJC Decatur Book Festival. Thus we are so pleased to be sharing her commentary on this storied festival, as well as her photos, which you can see here.


I have attended every AJC Decatur Book Festival, have worked as a staff member twice, and have volunteered on many occasions to help with the festival. In my completely biased but well-informed opinion, this large independent book festival --- which takes place every Labor Day weekend just outside Atlanta --- gets better with each passing year.

The festival kicks off on Friday night with a keynote presentation. This year’s keynote speaker was Tony Award-winning director Kenny Leon. Leon touched on being famous, growing up in a poor Florida town with his mother and grandmother as strong female role models, and using the theater as a space to bring people of different races and backgrounds together. Afterward, he signed copies of his memoir, TAKE YOU WHEREVER YOU GO.

On Saturday, I had the honor of interviewing Madeline Miller on stage about her #1 New York Times bestselling book, CIRCE. Miller, a classics scholar and dramatist, talked about her reasons for reimagining the life of this minor character from Homer’s THE ODYSSEY. One of the audience members asked Miller during the Q&A if she planned to follow up her novels about Achilles (THE SONG OF ACHILLES) and CIRCE with books about other classical characters. She confirmed that she is working on a novel written from the point of view of a character from Virgil’s "The Aeneid.”

Miller feared her travel schedule would prevent her from spending too much time after the event with readers, so she showed up beforehand to visit with them outside the festival venue and to sign copies of her books. FoxTale Book Shoppe, one of five independent bookstores responsible for book sales at the Decatur Book Festival, sold out of Miller’s books before her 10am session. Fans lined up after the talk, and every person in the long queue had an opportunity to meet Miller and have their books signed before she left for the airport. The opportunity to interact with both internationally bestselling and emerging writers, poets and storytellers is one of the main draws of the Decatur Book Festival. In return, writers who travel to Atlanta to participate in the festival are greeted by intellectually curious and engaged audiences who are eager to ask questions and discover their next great read.

The Decatur Book Festival’s two largest venues are churches, so attendees often fill the pews and spill over the balconies of these beautiful buildings. My husband, friends and I had “skybox” seats in the Presbyterian church for hometown favorite Karin Slaughter, who was there to talk about her new suspense novel, PIECES OF HER. North Carolina native Armistead Maupin often stopped and sought the pastor’s approval before telling his Tales of the City to a crowded nave in the Baptist sanctuary. And when a member of the audience sought enlightenment from author Hannah Pittard, asking her why the characters in the book VISIBLE EMPIRE were such “shitty” people, Pittard altered the woman’s perspective by redefining her fictional beings as “complicated.” Rebecca Makkai, author of THE GREAT BELIEVERS and Pittard’s fellow panelist during that session, reaffirmed the author’s prerogative by saying, “People are made of many things, and shit is one of them.” And the crowd said, “Amen.” Or at least that is what I believe.

With more than 20 different stages and hundreds of featured authors and exhibitors, it is impossible to see everything at the Decatur Book Festival. That’s why I always advise folks to attend at least one session for an author or topic they’ve never explored before. One example: I rarely read science fiction or fantasy, but I left a Sunday panel about those genres a new devotee of V. E. Schwab, who attracted an audience of diverse, intelligent young women eager to hear about her Villains universe. And I’m more than a little curious about half-orcs who ride real hogs and snarky artificial intelligence after hearing from authors Jonathan French and Drew Williams. Anyone who has spent their Labor Day weekend at the Decatur Book Festival will leave disappointed that they couldn’t see more, yet fully sated after spending time with their fellow readers and new favorite authors and books.

More about Alison Law:

Over two different years, Alison Law served as associate program director of the AJC Decatur Book Festival and volunteered on this year's programming committee. She’s on advisory boards for the Decatur Writers Studio and the Georgia Center for the Book, and participated in the 2018 Arts Leaders of Metro Atlanta (ALMA) training program.

Alison is a proud alumna of Georgia State University, where she earned her master’s degree in English in 2015. She helped Georgia State launch the Lost Southern Voices Festival in 2016 and is a part-time instructor at Georgia State University Perimeter College.