While literature has the ability to impact thinking and shed light on critical topics, book festivals afford an additional power — that of exploring the intersections between seemingly disparate areas of writing, and of bringing together the voices behind these different forms in open dialogues addressing pressing social and political concerns.
This weekend, from June 3-4, the streets of Downtown Berkeley — and most of the city’s stage-capable spaces — will be transformed for the influx of visitors attending the Bay Area Book Festival. In addition to the hundreds of exhibitor booths — publishers, distributors and news organizations — that will line the streets, the festival features a multitude of panels and talks hosted by about 220 authors under the theme of “literary activism.”
According to the festival’s founder and executive director Cherilyn Parsons, the theme of activism is one well-suited for literature, and not just in the realm of sociopolitical treatises.
“Just looking at fiction, it’s really one of the only art-forms where you can truly enter another person’s consciousness,” Parsons explained in an interview. “You come to understand what it’s like to live a different life. It’s incredibly valuable to the activist agenda to access these other points of view, and literature allows a way to do that on the emotional front, not just the intellectual front.”
Featured panelists at this year’s festival include professor and feminist writer Roxane Gay, film editor and humorist Lindy West, science-fiction author and creative-commons proponent Cory Doctorow, and Meg Elison — a feminist sci-fi writer and former Daily Californian editor.
Though these writers will be discussing literature as a means of advancing activist agendas — precipitated in many ways by the current political climate — Parsons prefers to couch the overarching goal of the Bay Area Book Festival in terms of hope.
“People have really been struggling, and you might notice that a theme to many of the festival sessions is hope,” Parsons explained. Whether it be through Paul Hawken’s discussion on solutions to climate change, or through the “radical hope” session Parsons will be introducing Saturday, the message that there is hope to be held onto is a guiding principle of this year’s event.
Admission to the exhibition booths and family activity areas, as well as to the San Francisco Chronicle Stage in the Park, are free to the public. A $15 general admission wristband can be purchased, which admits entry to all talks and panels (subject to availability), or $8 tickets can be purchased for individual events — a step Parsons recommends for the several panels that are likely to sell out. All students with a valid student ID — including those who graduated this May — can obtain a free general admission wristband at any of the festival box offices.
To prevent wasted time waiting in lines, the festival has implemented an integrated system with information about priority ticket sales — accessible from all line monitors and at the three check-in stations downtown. The system allows visitors to confirm the capacity-status of venues for each event, and receive real-time advice on how early to stand in line, or whether a priority ticket will likely be needed due to popularity for certain events.
Access to such information will likely be a boon for festival-goers — last year, the festival drew more than 50,000 attendees and is expected to repeat the feat this year. Numbers like these speak to the continued community interest not only in literature, but in advocacy and progressive discourse.