10 must-see events at the AJC Decatur Book Festival

Longtime book-lovers tradition goes virtual for the first time.

The 15th annual AJC Decatur Book Festival (DBF) will be virtual this year due to COVID-19, but there are a few benefits to moving the operation online. Instead of cramming all the fun into three days, programming has been stretched out over a month. You’re sure to get a good seat at even the most popular events. And you can watch in your pajamas if you want. All events are free, but you have to register at decaturbookfestival.com. Here are 10 author talks you won’t want to miss.

Credit: Photo: Brian Cornelius

Credit: Photo: Brian Cornelius

Power of poetry

Two Pulitzer Prize-winning poets bookend the festival this year. The keynote is Jericho Brown, director of the creative writing program at Emory University and recipient of the Whiting Award and a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship. His collection, “The Tradition,” was nominated for a National Book Award and won the Pulitzer. He will be interviewed by festival board president Mathwon Howard. The endnote is Natasha Trethewey, who recently published “Memorial Drive,” a memoir about her mother’s murder. A two-time U.S. poet laureate, she won the Pulitzer for her 2006 poetry collection, “Native Guard.” She will be interviewed by Rosemary Magee, vice president of Emory University. (Keynote 2:30 p.m. Sept. 4; endnote 4:30 p.m. Oct. 4)

Credit: Contributed: AJC Decatur Book Festival

Credit: Contributed: AJC Decatur Book Festival

Boy power

Specializing in books that appeal to Black boys, author Derrick Barnes and illustrator Gordon James’ first book was “Crown: Ode to the Fresh Cut,” which won the triumvirate of children’s book awards: the Caldecott Medal, the Coretta Scott King Award and the John Newbery Medal. Now they’re back with “I am Every Good Thing,” about a boy who is proud of who and what he is. Together they present the kidnote event. (10 a.m. Sept. 5)

Credit: Photo: Pableaux Johnson

Credit: Photo: Pableaux Johnson

Spotlight on Black chefs

Debuting the festival’s first cooknote event is Toni Tipton-Martin, the James Beard Award-winning author of “The Jemima Code.” Former AJC food editor Susan Puckett will interview the author about her new book, “Jubilee: Two Centuries of Recipes from African American Cooking.” Tipton-Martin also presents a series of Jubilee Talks with Black chefs from around the South throughout the festival. (6:30 p.m. Sept. 6)

Posthumous tribute

Pellom McDaniels III, formerly the curator of the African American Collections at Emory University’s Rose Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library, died unexpectedly in April at age 52. A former defensive lineman for the Atlanta Falcons, he was an expert on African Americans in sports and wrote several books, including “The Prince of Jockeys: The Life of Isaac Burns Murphy,” about the first person to win the Kentucky Derby three times. In conjunction with Emory’s Rosemary Magee Creativity Conversations series, this event will pay tribute to McDaniels’ many achievements and contributions with a video remembrance and a discussion of his legacy. (2 p.m. Sept. 9)

‘Cue the smoke

Chef Todd Richards, author of “Soul: A Chef’s Culinary Evolution in 150 Recipes,” will give a live demonstration of a few of his recipes on a Big Green Egg grill on the patio of his restaurant, Lake & Oak BBQ in East Lake. Joining him will be Jim Auchmutey, author of “Smokelore: A Short History of Barbecue in America.” (6:30 p.m. Sept. 13)

Law and disorder

Atlanta crime writer Thomas Mullen joins fellow crime writers Attica Locke and S.A. Cosby in this panel discussion called Crime Fiction Down South. A Southern setting and criminal activities are not the only things these authors’ latest novels have in common. They also crackle with racial tension. Mullen’s “Lightning Men” is set in 1950 Atlanta and explores the crime-fighting efforts of the city’s first Black police officers. A Texas Ranger investigates the disappearance of a 9-year-old boy whose family members are notorious white supremacists in Locke’s “Heaven, My Home.” Cosby’s “Blacktop Wasteland” follows the exploits of a former getaway driver from Virginia who’s been living the straight life until he gets sucked back into the underworld to drive for a jewelry heist. (6:30 p.m., Sept. 14)

Bedtime reading

Frontman for the Decemberists and DBF kidnote alumni Colin Meloy pairs up with Dave Eggers, founder of McSweeney’s and author of the New York Times bestsellers “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” and “What Is the What,” to talk about their children’s picture books. Joining them will be Shawn Harris, who illustrated Meloy’s “Everyone’s Awake” and Eggers’ “Her Right Foot.” In a separate event, AJC editor Kevin Riley reads Eggers’ two picture books about civic responsibility. (Picture Book panel, noon Sept. 19; Kevin Riley Reads, 10:30 a.m. Sept. 19)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Cocktail culture

Former beverage director at One Flew South, Tiffanie Barriere is an influential mixologist who consults on restaurant beverage programs, debuts new cocktail creations at pop-up restaurants and appears at food festivals around the South. She is also a food historian who contributed recipes to Toni Tipton-Martin’s “Jubilee: Two Centuries of Recipes from African American Cooking.” Barriere will be the subject of one of Tipton-Martin’s Jubilee Talks. (6:30 p.m. Sept. 21)

Historical context

Former Atlantan Kevin Young has a very long and impressive resume. He is poetry editor for The New Yorker and director of the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. He is a writer of poetry and prose who has been long-listed for the National Book Award three times, most recently in nonfiction for his 2017 book “Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts and Fake News.” But most recently Young has edited a historic anthology called “African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle and Song,” which he’ll discuss at DBF this year. (6:30 p.m. Sept. 22)

Tumultuous times

AJC arts and entertainment editor Nicole Smith moderates a panel on Writing in a World of Turmoil featuring Roxane Gay, author of “Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body” and “Bad Feminist,” and culture critic Soraya Nadia McDonald, formerly of the Washington Post and now a writer for The Undefeated, a website that explores the intersection of race, sports and culture. Expect strong opinions on topics ranging from race and gender to politics and publishing. (3:30 p.m. Sept. 24)


AJC Decatur Book Festival. Sept. 4-Oct. 4. Free, registration required. Via Crowdcast. decaturbookfestival.com