Downtown Berkeley to host inaugural Bay Area Book Festival

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Ariel Hayat/File

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On the weekend of June 6 and 7, about 300 authors from around the world will participate in the first-ever Bay Area Book Festival in Downtown Berkeley.

The festival, which will take place in and around Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park in Berkeley’s Downtown Arts District, will be free to attend.

The event is the brainchild of Cherilyn Parsons, a former Southern California resident who was inspired by the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. Herself an author, Parsons credited her knowledge of the literary world, along with her background in fundraising, with helping her make the festival happen.

“A close friend of mine started the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, and so I was behind the scenes working on that for about 15 years,” Parsons said.

After Parsons moved to the Bay Area six years ago, she noticed that though there were literary events in the Bay Area, there were no free, family-friendly book festivals on weekends, such as those held in Los Angeles.

“So I quit my job and decided to start one,” Parsons said.

According to city spokesperson Matthai Chakko, Berkeley City Council approved in June of last year a budget referral, which was proposed by Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, to sponsor the festival. The city will provide $25,000 of the event’s $650,000 cash budget, in addition to supplying various permits and logistical assistance.

“This annual, world-class, legacy event can enrich the lives of residents, draw visitors, raise revenues and enhance the city’s reputation regionally and worldwide,” Arreguin said in the referral.

Another key sponsor of the festival is UC Berkeley, which awarded $20,000 as part of the campus’s Chancellor’s Community Partnership Fund.

According to Parsons, many campus faculty members are involved in the event, designing programming and participating on various panels.

“We are pleased that many faculty and alums will be part of the festival and contributing to its inaugural success,” said campus spokesperson Claire Holmes in an email. “The festival is a wonderful opportunity for students and our community to enjoy a rich cultural experience right in our backyard.”

Parsons said she was originally considering holding the festival at Civic Center Plaza in San Francisco but that the campus’ support convinced her that Berkeley was the better option.

“I’m really glad it’s in here,” Parsons said. “Downtown Berkeley is cozy, friendly, welcoming, and BART opens up right there. It’s the perfect place for the festival.”

Parsons said she was particularly excited about the international component of the festival, noting that it will feature authors from everywhere from Australia to Switzerland to India. She added that “there will even a panel on Nordic noir,” which is Scandinavian crime fiction.

Contact Logan Goldberg at [email protected].

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article stated that 150 authors are set to participate in the book festival. In fact, about 300 are.