The first time I attended the Decatur Book Festival in Decatur, Georgia, was on Labor Day weekend in 2010. At the time, I was an indie author of about nine months and I had a single publication to my name, a novel I’d dreamed up as a 17-year-old and rewritten as a sophomore in college, A Pirate’s Charm. By September 2010, I hadn’t much experience as a marketer or salesperson–these are two of many, many roles you’re obligated to fill if your independent title is going to reach any bookshelf other than your own. I’d done a few signings in my hometown and in the town I went to college, and felt pretty good about myself, but local celebrity is not that hard to achieve in small places. The first time I exhibited at Decatur, I realized that I shared a dream with quite a few other writers–hundreds more, just at that festival–and for the first time I felt truly connected to the larger reading and writing world.
This isn’t to say that Decatur, Georgia is a giant. It’s not, and mostly because it lives in the shadow of nearby Atlanta, one of the busiest and largest hubs of business, culture, entertainment, and the arts in the Southeast. To put it in perspective, as of 2013, Decatur’s population was a little over 20,000 according to the city’s own estimate. It’s small, but it packs a lot of unique identity and personality. Additionally, the town boasts several higher learning institutions and a highly educated populace (currently, around 35.5% of residents hold Master’s degrees), so it’s as smart as it is charming.
Its town square, my favorite area, is where the Decatur Book Festival takes place every year, and is swiftly becoming the hotspot for foodies and other big-reach bloggers from Atlanta. Consequently, two notable Atlanta chefs made an appearance this year:
Hugh Acheson is the chef-owner of restaurants in Athens, Atlanta and Savannah, including the Atlanta showplace Empire State South. He is the author of “The Broad Fork: Recipes for the Wide World of Vegetables and Fruits.” He will team up with Steven Satterfield, executive chef and co-owner of Miller Union and author of “Root to Leaf: A Southern Chef Cooks Through the Seasons.” Satterfield’s book offers 174 vegetable recipes (for “omnivores”).
–Bo Emerson, AJC.com (August 28, 2015)
Nothing complements culture and education like good food and good books. Perhaps this is why the Decatur Book Festival is one of the best literary events in the Southeast (and already claims to be the largest independent book festival in the United States).
The crowd of readers that pours into Decatur, Georgia every Labor Day weekend consistently outnumbers the population that lives there year-round (many times over). Scores of thousands flock to the festival, some coming to take a peek after attending DragonCon, which occurs every year at the same time. Children, teens, parents, grandparents, college students–every demographic is catered to, and diversity shines. This year, the event featured several world-class guests, including feminist writers Erica Jong and Roxane Gay, who participated in author panels.
The festival kicked off on Friday night with a sold-out Keynote event at Emory University’s Schwartz Center for Performing Arts. Former U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey gave a recitation of “Meditation at Decatur Square,” a poem examining how, after personal tragedy, the city has been redeemed for her through the festival.
—Decatur Metro (September 9, 2015)
In 2014, attendance capped at around 90,000 visitors (Decaturish.com). Attendance at this year’s event was as big as it’s ever been, and according to Executive Director and Co-Founder Daren Wang, the event is becoming “a significant part of the nationwide landscape” (Sawicki), and I believe it. I was there. The Decatur Book Festival sees the kind of community involvement, attendance, culture, literature, and social engagement that any great festival should strive for. It’s why I keep coming back, it’s why readers keep coming back, and it’s why, for at least one weekend every year, Decatur is the biggest little town in Georgia.
Decatur Metro. (2015, September 9). Decaturmetro.com – “Decatur Book Festival: ‘Easily Most Successful Festival’ Ever”
Emerson, Bo. (2015, August 28). Artsculture.blog.ajc.com – “AJC Decatur Book Fest highlights: get ready to book it”
Whisenhunt, Dan. (2014, September 4). Decaturish.com – “Book Festival reports record attendance”
Agnes Scott College – www.college-locator.com