After going all-virtual last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Kentucky Book Festival returns this November with an exciting roster of guest authors and a full schedule of in-person and virtual events to connect readers with their favorite writers.
“There’s nothing better to me than being in a room full of people who love books,” says Silas House, one of the 140 authors to be featured this year.
“It’s sort of like a family reunion every year to see each other at the book festival,” he says. “Not only the other writers but the readers who come – they have been coming for years and years and so you get to know them too.”
The 40th edition of the festival (formerly known as the Kentucky Book Fair) will be held the first week of November with a mix of in-person and virtual events and discussions featuring writers from across the spectrum of genres. Since COVID remains an issue, Festival Director Sara Woods of Kentucky Humanities says many of the events will be available online so book fans anywhere can participate.
“If you’d rather watch from home, we’re going to live stream the sessions for the first time ever to our website, kybookfestival.org,” says Woods.
In-person events that week include:
A luncheon at Fasig-Tipton on Nov. 2 with Lexington chef and restauranteur Ouita Michel discussing her book, “Just a Few Miles South: Timeless Recipes from Our Favorite Places.”
On Nov. 3, you can enjoy cocktails and conversation with Native American author and University of Kentucky graduate Margaret Verble as she discusses her new book, “When Two Feathers Fell from the Sky.”
Goodwood Lexington will host an evening of books, beers, and trivia at the brewpub on Nov. 4.
On Nov. 5, Commerce Lexington will host a Spotlight Breakfast featuring Maysville native, business executive, and philanthropist James Hardymon talking about his memoir, “Engineering Corporate Success.”
Then on Saturday, Nov. 6, the festival moves to Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Lexington for a day of book sales and signings, as well as author discussions. In-person and live-streamed events featured that day include:
W. Bruce Cameron, author of “A Dog’s Courage,” in conversation about writing books from a dog’s perspective.
FOX News host Brian Kilmeade will discuss his new book “The President and the Freedom Fighter: Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, and Their Battle to Save America’s Soul.”
Historian H. W. Brands, author of “Our First Civil War: Patriots and Loyalists in the American Revolution,” and Politico journalist Peter S. Canellos, author of “The Great Dissenter: The Story of John Marshall Harlan, America’s Judicial Hero,” in conversation with presidential historian Lindsay M. Chervinsky, author of “The Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institution.”
Romance novelist Elin Hilderbrand, author of “Golden Girl” and dozens of other books, will discuss her career with historical fiction writer Dianna Rostad, author of “You Belong Here Now.”
Kentucky Writers Discuss Their Craft
Silas House will join fellow Kentucky writers Gurney Norman, Bobbie Ann Mason, Frank X Walker, Crystal Wilkinson, Gwenda Bond, and Julian Thomas at this year’s festival to share their books and wisdom about their lives as writers.
“What I tell everybody is to read voraciously,” says House, who is a bestselling author of six novels, “and to not worry about plot as much as you worry about character.”
Once he learned to place his initial focus on character and let the plot grow out of that, House says his writing began to flow more easily. But while he cautions that crafting a novel is still difficult, he says he would be miserable if he weren’t writing.
Gwenda Bond says she hates writing a first draft of a book. The fun, she says kicks in after that when she can shape are revise the work. Like House, Bond is an eastern Kentucky native. She worked in state government for 17 years before making the leap to full-time writer. Now she is a New York Times bestselling author who penned the first official “Stranger Things” novel.
“The thing I always tell people is to make sure you’re putting all the you in your stuff that you can” says Bond. “That is the one thing you have to offer the world that no other storyteller has.”
Whether it’s your world view or your quirky idiosyncrasies, Bond says those personal traits can inform and inspire a good work of fiction.
In addition to compelling characters and a strong plot, Julian Thomas strives to set his writing in a richly detailed world. The former rapper turned teacher, publisher, and creative director will appear at the festival with his new graphic novel “Black Heart,” which features gladiator-style death matches, a government conspiracy, and an endangered soulmate.
“I feel like writing is a really cathartic thing that we do,” says Thomas. “So the more that you learn about yourself, the more that you can advance forward with your writing.”
Although he grew up writing poetry and raps, Thomas says he ultimately realized that rap music wasn’t the best medium for all the messages he wants to offer the world. He turned his attentions to what he describes as the intersection of Black subcultures and geek culture that embraces graphic novels, anime, and manga comic books. Now he’s combining those interests with his writing skills to teach a comic book creation workshop to kids in Jefferson County schools.
“I think that what the students reacted best to is being in an environment where the things that they may have previously considered hobbies or pastimes are being treated as legitimate avenues to success,” he says.
As readers themselves, Thomas, Bond, and House all have their own favorite writers. Thomas says he takes world-building inspiration from English fantasy writer J.R.R. Tolkien, and from science fiction writer Pierce Brown. House says he enjoys American novelist and essayist Marilyn Robinson, and he frequently returns to “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker, which he says transformed him as a writer.
Bond says she looks to her contemporaries in the sci-fi and fantasy genres. She says it’s wonderful to be part of the vibrant community of writers here in the commonwealth. It’s a community she hopes will get stronger over time.
“Your career is the only career you get to have,” says Bond. “You don’t get to have someone else’s career, so being competitive with other writers really doesn’t make in any sense… I want us all to be successful.”