Joyce Carol Oates keynote speaker at AJC Decatur Book Festival

Joyce Carol Oates, one of American literature’s most distinguished luminaries, will deliver the keynote address at the ninth annual AJC Decatur Book Festival on Labor Day weekend.

The 76-year-old Princeton professor, who retires in July, is a prolific author who defies genres and formats. Because she’s written so many novels and keeps producing more at a steady clip, her online bios typically say she has written “more than 40.” Add to that scores of short stories, novellas, plays, Twitter essays and memoirs in styles ranging from psychological realism to Gothic sagas to mysteries, and you have a career unparalleled by any other writer.

And that doesn’t even get into her many awards: National Humanities Medal, National Book Award, O. Henry Prize, Bram Stoker Award, plus lifetime achievement awards from the National Book Critics Circle, The PEN Center and Poets & Writers.

“It’s very exciting,” said the festival’s program director, Philip Rafshoon. “Generally she just reads and doesn’t speak, but the hook was that her biographer, Greg Johnson, lives here. She wanted to have a dialogue with Greg. So it’s a combination of reading and interview and book signing.”

Oates’ appearance (8 p.m. Aug. 29 at Emory’s Schwartz Center) comes 12 days before the release of her short story collection, “Lovely, Dark, Deep: Stories.”

This year’s festival, which takes place Aug. 29-31 at various sites on and around the Decatur Square, will feature more than 350 presenting authors on 18 stages.

New this year is a Pat Conroy track, curated by the author, who will also make an appearance. He’ll bring to town several notable Southern authors, including John Warley, Cassandra King and Ron Rash, who gives the keynote address at the festival’s Writer’s Conference on Friday, Aug. 29.

Also new, a Cooking Stage, featuring nine culinary demonstrations by cookbook authors including “The Fabulous Beekman Boys,” “The Messy Baker” Charmian Christie, Jennifer Booker and Susan Puckett.

The Kidnote speaker is picture-book author Jon Scieszka, whose books are popular with boys and often incorporate science, as evident by the title of his August release: “Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor.” The Saturday morning parade will be led by Kebbi Williams and Music in the Park; participants are encouraged to bring instruments and play along. The Sunday parade will be a “Wizard of Oz”-themed production with Serenbe Playhouse and the Center for Puppetry Arts.

Among participating YA authors are Andrew Smith and Maggie Stiefvater, who wrote the Shiver trilogy.

Fiction has an especially large presence this year, represented in five subcategories: Contemporary (Emily Giffin, Stephanie Evanovich); Fantasy (Lev Grossman, Jeff VanderMeer); General (Wiley Cash, Hollis Gillespie); Historical (Ann Hood, Rebecca Makkai); and Literary (Allan Gurganus, Tony Earley).

Altogether there are 33 tracks, including Civil Rights (Pearl Cleage, Louis Sullivan); Civil War (Karen Abbott, Jeffery Renard Allen); Graphic Lit (Kevin Sipp, Ted Rall); LGBT (Ariel Gore, Richard Rodriguez); Poetry (Natasha Trethewey, Vijay Seshadri); Memoir (Krista Bremer, Joe Barry Carroll); and Mystery & Thriller (Karin Slaughter, Ace Atkins).

“The lineup is really great and dynamic,” said executive director Daren Wang, “but there’s a lot of interesting stuff happening in the street fair this year.”

Returning after a successful debut in 2013 is Arts DBF, a showcase of local arts organizations. The majority of performances will be presented at Decatur High’s Performing Arts Center and will include a family-friendly adaptation of the graphic novel “Jane, the Fox and Me” by Theatre du Reve and a preview of Serenbe Playhouse’s “The Sleepy Hollow Experience.” Look for pop-up performances throughout the festival, too, and plenty of music and storytelling in the community bandstand.

A new component this year is the Decatur Makers Tent, where kids and adults can participate in hands-on presentations involving a variety of creative endeavors from beekeeping to programming robots.

“The festival has always had an instinct to reach out to different organizations around the city and partner to make the festival richer — it feels like that’s really stepped up more this year,” Wang said.

For a complete list of authors and events, go to

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About the Author

Suzanne Van Atten
Suzanne Van Atten
Suzanne Van Atten is Features Lead Content Manager for the AJC and editor of Personal Journeys, a long-form narrative feature that appears every Sunday...