Covid-19 and Book Festivals
With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, life has shifted dramatically for many people and industries. The pandemic has had extensive ramifications for the state of literature including economic, cultural, and community impacts. In this piece, we hope to explore these impacts and shed light on how we can support the literary world and communities that comprise it during this time.
Book festivals are an opportunity for authors to gain recognition, connect with their fans, and generate a following for a new book. Book sales during festivals and book tours help a book gain traction, allowing the publishing industry to gauge interest for other book related events and opportunities. Literary festivals also function as an opportunity for authors to interact in a meaningful way with their readers and audience. In an article published in the School Library Journal, the children’s literature author, Christina Soontornvat, summarized this situation eloquently. “…the loss of connecting face-to-face with readers is the hardest part of all this. We get so few opportunities to meet them otherwise. That sort of human connection can make such a big impression on a young reader. It really can make a big difference in their life or turn them into a lifelong reader.” Not being able to interact with the readers and fans that support them is a devastating blow to authors.
Smaller, independent publishing houses are likely to feel the severity of the pandemic even more acutely. Such publishing houses like Lantana Publishing in the UK and Lee and Low Books here in the US are devoted to increasing the amount of books written by and about ethnic minorities. Festivals allow these publishers to network with bookstores and other book retailers. Connections with book sellers are so important as they unlock new doors for spreading diverse books and increase access to diverse books that helps dispel harmful stereotypes.
Festivals can also be a conduit for cultural exchange, providing an opportunity for vendors to showcase the food, art, and clothing of different countries and cultures. The Brooklyn Book Festival is a prime example of how festivals function as a way to promote diversity. In addition to the festival providing a safe space to discuss and learn about “race, sexuality and belonging; stories of migrants, immigrants and refugees” in a literary context, the festival draws in tens of thousands of people from all parts of the country and the world, providing a unique experience of interacting with people of different backgrounds and cultures. The cultural mosaic of book lovers all brought to one location creates a physical community that is just not available anywhere else.
Though the pandemic surely caused the literary and book industry to change in unprecedented ways, we are all grateful for the quick response so many have had during these times. Many book festivals have shifted to a digital platform with live readings from authors and virtual book giveaways that are free to attend for all. Additionally, many publishers have pivoted in order to address the growing concerns of libraries and teachers that rely on their books for education.
If you would like to support the book industry during these times, consider purchasing books from your local booksellers or supporting online book fairs and celebrations. We are all coping with this time of uncertainty in different ways, but when we come together as readers, parents, book lovers and culture seekers, we can begin to restore the institutions that have been so impactful and necessary to us. Also, look up your favorite book festival! It is likely they now have a virtual option.