Apropos of its host city, Berkeley’s Bay Area Book Festival is deeply invested in social justice, this year tackling some of America’s most pressing causes with the wisdom of words — from mass incarceration and immigration to women’s issues and the environment.
There will even be socially conscious comic books.
Now in its fifth year, the two-day bibliophile’s paradise will be held May 4-5 at various indoor and outdoor locations in downtown Berkeley. Book fans will have a chance to hear from more than 250 powerful voices in the literary world — authors like Ishmael Reed, Tommy Pico, R.O. Kwon and Charlie Jane Anders — who will participate in panels and literary sessions.
There will be discussion groups, keynote speakers, musical performances, an outdoor fair with four stages, 200 literary exhibitors in a wide array of genres — mysteries, sci-fi, food writing, kids’ books and everything in between — plus a children’s and family area to “grow a reader.”
“This year more than ever, the festival presents a diverse array of authors, exploring some of today’s most urgent, complex issues,” said the festival’s executive director, Cherilyn Parsons, who launched the event in 2015 and has since seen it grow to one of the nation’s premier literary celebrations, expecting to draw about 25,000 people this year. “Magic happens when people come together around books,” Parsons said.
For 2019, the overall theme is “creating a better world through the power of literature.” With this in mind, the keynote talk at 7:30 p.m. May 4 is titled, “Enough is Enough: Fighting Economic Injustice.” Author Anand Giridharadas (“Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World”) will be in conversation with former Secretary of Labor and author Robert Reich (“The Common Good”), and financial justice advocate Kat Taylor. The session will include a musical overture by Indian fusion artist Isheeta Ganguly.
The May 5 closing discussion will focus on incarceration. In the talk, “The Unbreakable Human Spirit: Albert Woodfox on Survival in Solitary,” Woodfox will discuss his recently published memoir, “Solitary,” and share his story about four decades in solitary confinement for a crime he did not commit. He’ll be interviewed by Shane Bauer, Mother Jones reporter and author of “American Prison.” Bauer is also a survivor of solitary confinement, arrested while hiking on the Iran-Iraq border in 2009 and imprisoned for two years.
Other notable festival sessions include a tribute to Lawrence Ferlinghetti for his 100th birthday, a celebration of The Paris Review, a screening of the documentary “Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin” followed by a discussion with the filmmaker, and the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra performing original compositions inspired by the work of Bay Area poets.
Bay Area Book Festival: 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. May 4; 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. May 5. Literary sessions will take place in a dozen venues throughout the downtown area and on outdoor stages. Outdoor venues are free. Indoor talks are ticketed events. Schedule and tickets are available at www.baybookfest.org.