Decatur Book Festival goes virtual

Due to the pandemic, the Decatur Book Festival (DBF) scaled back and went fully online this September. The fifteenth year of the festival was limited to 30 events and 42 authors, where they made it their mission to encourage the love of reading, inquiry, and conversation in people of all ages, according to the DBF website.

  “I think the book festival has put Decatur on the map in a very good way,” Joy Pope, the executive director of the festival, said. 

This year she tried to make sure that the pandemic didn’t change that. In February, Pope met with publicists in New York to talk about the book festival. 

“I asked each group what they thought about Decatur,” she said, “and they said you’re one of the best, you’re one of the biggest.” 

These publicists would compare the DBF to ones in larger cities such as Miami and Los Angeles. So this year, Joy said, because of the pandemic, “there was so much loss.”      

To properly pull off this virtual festival, Pope began by observing some other book festivals around the country that took place online in the Spring. “It was a bloody mess,” she said. Previous festivals had tried to transfer large events to the online platform and it did not work. So, Joy decided that Decatur’s festival needed to be smaller this year.

Joy Pope, the executive director of the DBF. (Image courtesy of Joy Pope).

    In their switch to an online forum,  Pope and her staff had to be creative and used the video platform Crowdcast, which is similar to Zoom, but is fit for hosting large audiences. Using Crowdcast, participants were able to attend events from their homes as well as discuss opinions with other attendees. Joy believes this was a crucial part to make the festival as interactive as it can be. 

“[The interactivity] has turned out to be one of the most meaningful parts,” she said, “because the community gets in there and talks to each other and asks questions and makes comments. So, it feels somewhat more dimensional.” 

      Throughout this experience Joy has discovered some new ideas to incorporate when the festival can occur in-person. She believes that including virtual aspects to the physical festival can expand the options for attendees. “Like for people living in an elderly living home,” she said, “virtual [streaming] is perfect and I would like to be able to offer it to them.”

            She did find out though, that many people were not as invested this year, considering all of the changes made. “I do think there is a limit to how many people want to [stream the festival virtually],” Pope said. 

           “We were already seeing that kids and teens were not interested for the most part,” she said, “and I understand because they’re in school all day.” 

             According to Pope, the DBF brings the Decatur community together and, especially now, that is more important than ever.

            “In Decatur today, people are so divided,” Joy said, “The content that comes through with the book festival weaves us together.”