Decatur Book Festival spotlights local authors in person and online

Event is part of Decatur’s Festival Weekend that also celebrates music and art
First Baptist Church of Decatur will be the site of the AJC Decatur Book Festival presented by Emory University on Oct. 2. (Ben Gray for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

First Baptist Church of Decatur will be the site of the AJC Decatur Book Festival presented by Emory University on Oct. 2. (Ben Gray for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Think of this year’s AJC Decatur Book Festival presented by Emory University as a concentrated dose of festivals past. There will be big-name authors and lesser-known ones. Fiction, nonfiction and poetry will be represented, as well as books for young adults and children. The lineup is racially diverse, and there is a strong LGBTQ component.

The only difference is, because of COVID-19, the 2021 festival has been distilled to six panels on a single day, Oct. 2. And they’ll be held in a single venue, the First Baptist Church of Decatur, as well as online. Other festivities — a children’s tent, booksellers and food trucks — will be contained to the church grounds. Considering the challenges of the past year and a half, it is a solid program that should satisfy bibliophiles and fans of the festival until the pandemic subsides enough for the return to business as usual.

Take note, though: Proof of vaccination will be required for indoor events, and masks will be required throughout the property. Admission is free, but registration is required to attend in person or online.

Nevertheless, attendees can expect “many of the same things they’ve experienced in the past, although on a more concise scale,” said 2021 Festival Director Rosemary Magee. “We’ll have fantastic writers representing really important books, insightful moderators and avid readers. That’s the book festival at its essence, and that essence will be honored.”

The festival skews more local than ever this year, but it still boasts a lineup of nationally renowned authors.

“The writers and moderators are primarily from Georgia,” said Magee. “The exception is Robert Olen Butler, and he’s from nearby — Tallahassee — which is almost Georgia. We really wanted to recognize all of the talent that’s here. Atlanta, and Decatur in particular, has become such a literary town.”

One of the primary pleasures of attending the festival, besides getting to hear well-established authors discuss their latest releases, is discovering lesser-known authors who might have previously flown under the radar.

Tiphanie Yanique is the author of "Monster in the Middle." (Courtesy of Kay Hinton)

Credit: Kay Hinton

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Credit: Kay Hinton

While high-profile authors such as National Book Critics Circle Award-winner Carol Anderson and Butler, a Pulitzer Prize winner, are sure to be big draws, Tiphanie Yanique, whose novel “Monster in the Middle” comes out Oct. 19, may be a new name to some attendees.

The Atlanta transplant hails from St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands and teaches creative writing at Emory University. Despite racking up loads of literary prizes and having previously published a novel, a short story collection and a poetry collection, her name is not widely known.

“I get this a lot,” said Yanique. “People say, ‘I’ve never heard of you before but I love your work.’ Maybe because I’m tucked away in academia or maybe because I’m from a small place in the Virgin Islands, I’m not always on people’s radar. But I’m grateful to things like the Decatur Book Festival that help me reach a wider audience.”

All that should change with the publication of “Monster in the Middle,” a beautifully wrought story about how our ancestors’ experiences shape our own lives. Not a romance novel in the traditional sense, it is very much about love.

“I wanted to think about the ways we come to understand what love is,” said Yanique. “We think it’s an individual thing. We think when we fall in love, it’s about that person or something in the self. And it seems to me, the older I get, the more I realize that even something as intimate as who you fall in love with is something that is threaded into you by your ancestry, and threaded into you by past experiences that have been passed down to you.”

Yanique will be paired on the literary fiction panel with Anjali Enjeti, author of “The Parted Earth,” which also examines the ways ancestors shape future generations.

The AJC Decatur Book Festival presented by Emory University is part of Festival Weekend. In addition to the book festival, the town will host the Decatur Artists Market Oct. 2-3 and the Amplify Decatur Music Festival Oct. 1-2.

Gilly Segal (left) and Kim Jones will talk about their new book, "Why We Fly," at the AJC Decatur Book Festival presented by Emory University on Oct. 2. (Ben Gray for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Ben Gray

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Credit: Ben Gray

Festival schedule

Unless noted otherwise, events will be held in the sanctuary of the First Baptist Church of Decatur.

James Davis May. The poet who directs the creative writing program at Mercer University and has curated the festival’s poetry lineup since 2013 will kick off the festival with the reading of the poem, “Puffins.” 10 a.m.

Carol Anderson. The chair of African American Studies at Emory University has written a trilogy of hard-hitting books that examine race in America: “White Rage” (2016), “One Person, No Vote” (2018) and her latest, “The Second.” In a review for the AJC, Jeff Calder called it “an engaging analysis of Black history and its agonized relationship with the Second Amendment.” Anderson will be in conversation with journalist Rose Scott, host of “Closer Look” on 90.1 FM WABE. 10:15-11 a.m.

Picture book panel. Carmen Agra Deedy, author of “The Children’s Moon,” will join Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honoree Laura Freeman, illustrator of “Standing on Her Shoulders: A Celebration of Women,” in a discussion about children’s picture books. Storyteller and arts educator Jerry G. White will moderate. 11:30 a.m.-12:15 p.m. in the children’s tent on the church grounds.

Anjali Enjeti and Tiphanie Yanique. Enjeti is the author of “The Parted Earth,” “a multi-generational saga of family members cut off from their pasts, struggling to make sense of their identities,” wrote Phil Kloer in the AJC. It’s set in New Delhi and Atlanta. Yanique is the author of “Monster in the Middle,” a novel that also spans generations and is set in New York City, the Virgin Islands and Ghana. Both novels revolve around a romance, but are also about family and how the decisions of our forebears influence our lives. Nicole Stamant, associate professor and chair of English at Agnes Scott College, will moderate. 12:45-1:30 p.m.

Kim Jones and Gilly Segal. The co-authors of The New York Times bestselling young adult novel “I’m Not Dying With You Tonight” tapped into the zeitgeist with their highly charged tale of civil unrest and violent protest. “Kids are part of how we create change, and it’s important to focus on them and encourage them in their stories,” Segal told the AJC last year. But now they want to talk about their new book, “Why We Fly,” about systemic racism. It comes out Oct. 5. Kelly Quindlen, author of “She Drives Me Crazy,” “Late to the Party” and “Her Name in the Sky,” moderates. 2-2:45 p.m.

Martin Padgett. The author of “A Night at the Sweet Gum Head,” a lively examination of gay rights activism and drag culture in Atlanta during the ‘70s, will be in conversation with AJC reporter Jeremy Redmon. “From day one, there has been a division between achieving queer rights through assimilation versus radicalism. There has always been that tussle. Well, the drag queens won,” Padgett told AJC reporter Bo Emerson. 3:15-4 p.m.

Robert Olen Butler. The 1993 Pulitzer Prize-winning author for the novel “A Good Scent From a Strange Mountain” will talk with 2021 Festival Director Rosemary Magee about his new novel, “Late City,” about a 115-year-old man on his deathbed, having a conversation with God about the highs and lows of his life. “While it has a consistently subtle profundity, ‘Late City’ isn’t exactly a Novel of Ideas — it’s too entertaining and accessible for that, especially with jagged bolts of wry comedy dispensed by God,” book critic Jeff Calder wrote in the AJC. 4:30-5:15 p.m.


AJC Decatur Book Festival presented by Emory University. 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Oct. 2. Free, registration required whether attending online or in person. Proof of vaccination required at indoor events; masks required on church property. First Baptist Church of Decatur, 308 Clairmont Ave., Decatur. 678-570-2041,