This past weekend, Copley Square transformed into a maze of white tents devoted to the seventh annual Boston Book Festival. The attendees, often weighed down with bags of books or dressed up as their favorite literary characters, swarmed booths devoted to local literary staples, such as the Brattle Book Shop and The Boston Globe, and crowded in front of signature food trucks, such as Roxy’s Grilled Cheese and The Chicken and Rice Guys.
As they browsed through the booths, music radiated from the Berklee Festival Stage, on which many Boston-based groups performed throughout the day.
The festival, started in 2009, is a non-profit event organized by a six-person team made of two full time staff members, a part-time employee, and three interns. Norah Peihl, the deputy director of the festival since 2011, highlighted the recent physical growth of the event as it encompasses more geographical space over the course of a weekend.
“We’ve pretty substantially expanded our footprint in Back Bay to extend beyond the immediate Copley Square area,” Peihl said.
Because the Boston Public Library was under renovation last year, the festival had to explore other options for venues that were close to the public garden.
These venues, often rooms in churches within walking distance of Copley Square, hosted both free and ticketed events featuring authors, journalists, or other members of the field, which drew huge crowds of spectators and fans alike. Keynote speeches, of which there were a record eight this year, allow the Boston Book Festival organizers to add more evening programming and creatively expand the duration of the festival. This year the festival began on Friday night, with an interview of the celebrated author Margaret Atwood.
While speaking more about lengthening the festival, Peihl mentioned the possibility of “having a cool after-hours event at the public library, or a pub crawl with a literary focus that could happened either as a cap off for Saturday, or the Friday night before [the festival] starts.”
The Boston Book Festival has also began to partner with other organizations over the past year, such as the French Cultural Center and Consulate.
“[We’re] looking for organizations we can trust to do their own programming in a way that will complement the Boston Book Festival,” Peihl said.
This year, the partnership entailed three sessions focusing on books and research involving French culture, including an interview with New York Times correspondent Elaine Sciolino regarding her latest book, The Only Street in Paris. Her interview drew a warm crowd of Francophiles and French citizens alike, and covered everything from the importance of independent bookstores and French butter to the trials of journalism and making one’s home within a new culture.
The Boston Book Festival is certainly an organizational feat for such a small staff that must raise funds for the festival each year and constantly scout out new venues for its expanding events schedule. The closing keynote on Saturday night featured author and musician Amanda Palmer with her husband, the well-known author Neil Gaiman, and drew an impressive crowd of eager listeners who lined the sidewalks bordering the Old South Sanctuary in order to get a seat.
During the talk, Palmer discussed her memoir The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help, touching on some of the more complex problems of communication and vulnerability that people face in the modern world.
With the success of this year’s festival behind them, the organizers of the Boston Book Festival are already looking toward the future. The Boston Book Festival will focus on its new stand-alone children’s festival, Hubbub, which takes place in June. Hubbub, a children’s version of the festival, will feature more interactive events geared toward younger readers, without detracting from the children’s and young adult events that already exist within the Boston Book Festival.
“The whole idea of having two landmark events over the course of the year is a switch for [the Boston Book Festival], and will expand the kind of offerings we can give people,” Peihl said.
Featured Images by Madeleine D’Angelo / For The Heights