Bay Area Book Festival engages public with theme of literary activism

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Daniel Kim/Senior Staff

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The third annual Bay Area Book Festival captivated readers this weekend, as more than 200 authors from around the world met with readers and activists to achieve the common goal of literary activism. Locals flocked to panels, booths and book-signing events all over Downtown Berkeley.

The Bay Area Book Festival is organized by the Foundation for the Future of Literature and Literacy, a California nonprofit. Each year, beginning in 2015, the Bay Area Book Festival has been a success, attracting more than 50,000 visitors last year.  Featured authors this year included Steve Phillips, Roxane Gay and Lindy West — who participated in panels regarding race, gender and bodies, and their individual works, respectively.

Outside the events themselves, most of which included opportunities to purchase books and have them signed, stood booths from local bookstores, where anyone (with or without a wristband) could purchase their new favorite book.

“Literature is one of the most powerful tools for social change because it shapes the most potent force that humankind has: hearts and minds,” writes Book Festival founder and executive director Cherilyn Parsons in a blog post on the festival’s website. “It is activist because great literature intrinsically holds hope and the possibility of change.”

Hope was a frequent theme throughout the festival, as many panelists discussed a political climate that is grim and dangerous for many members of the Berkeley — and global — community. Attendees frequently sought advice from authors they revere regarding how to cope with the fear and anger they’re feeling.

“I am able to stay hopeful,” said author Roxane Gay during her talk, “If we don’t have hope, then what are we fighting for?”

Several panels were aimed specifically toward political conversations in the post-election world, including “Understanding the Other: How Emotion Shapes Politics and Can Heal our Divides,” “Showdown: Trump vs. the Deep State,” and “Race and Resistance in the Trump Era: Fighting Words and Wisdom from The Nation and Black Lives Matter.”

The festival also featured booths that encouraged budding writers — particularly young writers — get their creative gears going. One in particular, entitled “Speak Your Truth: A Youth Speaks Writing & Performance Workshop,” offered young writers a space to flex their poetic muscles and perform their pieces in a supportive environment.

Booklovers and activists alike flooded the streets once again during this year’s festival in search of new stories to experience, and each with their own story to tell.

As is true in many literary spaces, a key theme across the festival was empathy.

“On the reader’s side, picking up a book means opening oneself to change,” Parsons wrote. “We each have only one life, and it consists of this consciousness and time, and when we read, we offer ourselves to be altered by what we experience in the pages.”

Sophie-Marie Prime covers television. Contact her at [email protected].