Julie Wilson became executive director of the festival last year, and while she stayed close to founder Daren Wang’s successful recipe, she has been thinking about changes for the future. “I’m trying to evolve us as an organization,” she said this past week.
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Here are some of the highlights of the festival:
• The keynote panel will include Richard Blanco, a poet and a descendant of Cuban expatriates, who spoke at President Barack Obama’s second inauguration. He will be joined by Rigoberto Gonzalez, poet, author and memoirist and the son of migrant farmworkers, and Gabriela Ventura Baeza, executive editor of Arte Publico Press, the nation’s largest publisher of works by Hispanic Americans. (Arte Publico was the original publisher of Sandra Cisneros’ iconic novel “The House on Mango Street.”)
A track of author appearances devoted to the topic of immigration has been co-curated by the Decatur festival and PEN America. Outreach coordinator and PEN America spokesperson Katie Zanecchia calls the group “an organization working at the intersection of human rights and literature.”
• Wrapping up activities on Sunday will be Sotomayor, author of the new illustrated children’s book “Just Ask!: Be Different, Be Brave, Be You.” Sotomayor, the first Hispanic and Latina justice of the nation’s highest court, writes about her own experience growing up with diabetes, and shows how children with all kinds of challenges can contribute in their own unique ways.
Sotomayor's presentation will take place in Agnes Scott College's Gaines Chapel at Presser Hall on Sept. 1 and is free of charge, but will require tickets, which will be available later this summer.
• Also among the speakers will be Stacey Abrams, Georgia's 2018 Democratic gubernatorial nominee and former Georgia House Democratic leader. Once upon a time Abrams was a romance novelist, with 100,000 copies in sales to her credit. In her newest book, "Lead from the Outside: How to Build Your Future and Make Real Change," she leaves romance behind and digs into the politics of the outsider.
• "Diamond Doris" tells the story of Doris Payne, 88, a jewel thief for 60 years, who continued to pursue that career well into her 80s, even while she was wearing an ankle monitor from a previous arrest. Originally from Slab Fork, West Virginia, she is now a resident of Atlanta, and will speak at the upcoming festival.
Her book tells of pocketing $2 million in shiny stuff all over the world. She is noted for stealing a 10-carat diamond ring, valued at $500,000, from a jeweler in Monte Carlo in the 1970s. Extradited from France, she was eventually released because authorities were unable to find the ring. (According to reports it was in her girdle.)
• Harper Lee, the publicity-shy author of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” devoted many years to a true crime book that was never published. Author Casey Cep unravels the mystery and Lee’s obsession with the case in “Furious Hours,” which she will discuss.
• Pete the Cat and his creator James Dean (author of the 13th “Pete the Cat” picture book, “Pete the Cat and the Perfect Pizza Party,”) will lead the Sunday children’s parade.
• Jim Auchmutey, a Decatur native and former Atlanta-Journal Constitution writer, digs into the "delicious and contentious history of barbecue in America" when he presents his book "Smokelore." Auchmutey was a guest curator for the Atlanta History Center's "Barbecue Nation" exhibition, which inspired his meaty tome. (This year's AJC Spring Dining Guide focused on Atlanta barbecue restaurants and the feature story was by Auchmutey.)
• The "endnote" speaker on the adult stage will be British author Philippa Gregory, writer of historical novels delving into England's royals and their various fates. She is also the writer of children's books and nonfiction works.
In the years that Decatur has hosted the festival, author events, signings and lectures have proliferated in Atlanta and around the country. This presents a challenge to the festival organizers, who would like to showcase many of those same authors, but now must compete for their attention.
What makes the AJC Decatur Book Festival different than other author events, said Wilson, is the opportunity to put together different writers and watch the mingling of ideas. The event also offers a chance for the audience to participate in that exchange.
“I think we provide readers and curious folks a place to commune with their tribe,” she said. “There’s a new narrative about what the festival represents: It’s conversation and community.”
To see the full schedule of events, go to www.decaturbookfestival.com/
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